A Highly Biased Game Preview
For the first time since 2009, the Tennessee Titans head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. Since moving from Houston, the Titans franchise has been 1-6 when facing the Patriots that included a 59-0 beat down in 2009 where Tom Brady threw for 5 touchdown passes in a single quarter during their last visit to New England. Though the Patriots may not have the offensive weapons at their disposal that they had back in 2009, they certainly are looking to get their offense moving late in the 2015 season.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: For a rookie, the Titans’ Marcus Mariota has played very well completing 62% of his passes while having a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has had a great start to his career and has played well away from Nashville but he is going against one of the All-Time greats in Tom Brady.
Running Backs – Titans: The Titans and Patriots have both struggled to run the ball this year but with New England losing both of their top running backs for the season, they will be at a major disadvantage for the rest of the 2015 in this area.
Wide Receivers – Push: Though the Titans’ rookie Dorial Green-Beckham has been their most reliable wide receiver, their overall group have been average at best. However the Patriots pass catchers, without Julian Edelman, are fairly average in their own right making them evenly matched with their Tennessee counterparts.
Tight Ends – Push: Normally the presence of Rob Gronkowski would give the Patriots a decisive advantage in this area. However the Titans’ Delanie Walker and Anthony Fasano have been a formidable duo. With Gronkowski still playing his way back from injury, this matchup is closer than it would normally be.
Offensive Line – Patriots: Neither team has run blocked particularly well this year but the Patriots patchwork offensive line has done a better job at pass protection which gives the Patriots an advantage.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots: The Patriots have a slight edge statistically but both teams’ front sevens have been good at slowing down opponents’ running games and are in the Top 7 in quarterback sacks. With New England losing another key part of their defensive line the depth of this unit will be tested again.
Secondary – Patriots: From a yards allowed and turnover perspective, both Tennessee and New England have similar stats. However, the Patriots are hold opposing quarterbacks to 83.1 Quarterback rating while the Titans are next to the bottom of the league in this statistic and are allowing opponents to post 102.3 Quarterback rating against them.
Special Teams – Patriots: The return numbers for both teams have been fairly even though the Titans have had more kickoff return opportunities. The Patriots have struggled with their punting units the last several weeks but with a game on the line, there may not be a more reliable kicker than Stephen Gostkowski in the AFC.
Coaching – Patriots: Since taking over for Ken Whisenhunt, interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey had guided the Titans to a 2-5 record. Unfortunately for Mularkey, he has yet to have success turning any program around that he has been in charge of and his stay in Tennessee may be a short one.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Unleash James White: With major injuries to the Patriots’ running back corps, New England needs to start featuring James White more to see if he can be a reliable piece of the offense heading towards the playoffs. With the flashes White has shown in the games against Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Houston, he may have earned the right to get some additional opportunities.
2) Clean up the Special Teams: New England’s special teams unit has been awful over the last three games. Whether this is a result of the mounting injuries or having personnel playing in spots that they are not accustom to, the results have been disastrous. If the Patriots continue to struggle in this area, this will be a serious liability as each game becomes more and more important down the stretch.
3) Protect the Players: Though no game is a certainly, if the Patriots jump out to and early lead and try to ‘coast’ to the end of the game, they need to start managing the players that the leave on the field much better. The Patriots have lost key contributors, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, seemingly every week and need to keep as healthy as possible if they intend to make a deep playoff run.
The Patriots snapped their two game skid last week when Rob Gronkowski returned from injury. Though the Patriots have been devastated by injuries on both sides of the ball, they have been plugging in replacements and find themselves still in the running for the top seed in the AFC.
Against the Titans, the Patriots need to ensure that they keep their focus on securing the top playoff spot and not look past what appears to be an inferior team on paper. Expect the Patriots to throw the ball early and often since they appear to have no ability to run the ball.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 24 – Titans 17