Curran's Patriots-Titans Preview: Managing Mariota
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
The Patriots just need to do what they’ve been doing between the tackles against the running game and do a better job on the perimeter getting backs to turn up inside. Derrick Henry is a load but if the Patriots can set a solid edge (and James Harrison’s in town for precisely that reason) then the linebacker and safeties can clean Henry up. Beyond that, the edge is vital for keeping Marcus Mariota from rolling up yards on the ground with read-option. The Patriots will have to play zone coverage because Mariota’s a threat to run. That means communication on tight end Delanie Walker deep threat Corey Davis and the Titans most productive wideout Rishard Matthews is vital. The Patriots may give up yards. But don’t expect many points.
THE KICKING GAME
The Titans punter, Brett Kern is a big hitter. He averaged 49.7 gross and 44.6 net on his punts. More than half of his punts were returned, though, while Patriots punter Ryan Allen doesn’t boom as often but only had 23 of his 58 punts returned. (Better offense for the Pats enters into that). Ryan Succop missed seven field goals outside 40 yards and two extra points this season. Stephen Gostkowski missed just three field goals all year and two PATs as well. The Patriots main returners are Dion Lewis on kickoffs and Danny Amendola on punts. Adoree Jackson holds down both jobs for the Titans.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
QUESTIONABLE: RB Mike Gillislee (knee), RB Rex Burkhead (knee), RB James White (ankle), LB Marquis Flowers (illness), DT Alan Branch (knee), DL Eric Lee (ankle/finger)
TITANS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: RB Demarco Murray (knee)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Red zone offense. Both for both teams. This is a hidden stat for New England that explains why they can be seemingly average in overall stats but still be the best team in football. Offensively, they went 25 for 36 scoring touchdowns on red zone trips during the final eight games of the season. In the first eight games? They were 17 for 34. That’s a massive improvement – 70 percent touchdowns on red zone trips up from 50 percent. The Eagles were the best team in the league in the red zone over 16 games – 65 percent TDs. Tennessee, meanwhile, scored TDs on 52.5 percent of their red zone trips over 16 games. Over their final eight, they were 11 for 20. Last week they were 1 for 2. Defensively, the Patriots allowed eight touchdowns in 23 red zone trips over the final eight games. That’s 34 percent conversions. Over 16 games, the Chargers were the NFL’s best defense in the red zone at 36.1 percent. Tennessee’s defense allowed 10 TDs in 28 red zone trips over the final eight games. That’s 36 percent. The Chiefs were 3 for 3 last week, which means … I don’t know what it means. But the Titans can’t be out there kicking field goals.
TITANS GOTTA STOP
Rob Gronkowski. Last week in the Wild Card round, Travis Kelce had four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown before getting concussed at the end of the first half with the Chiefs leading 21-3. Gronk is better than Kelce. Tom Brady is better than Alex Smith. The Titans best figure out how to deal with one of the NFL’s most dominant skill position players who happens to be playing at his all-time best.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
Jurrell Casey. At 6-1, 300 pounds, the lightning-quick heavyman is the central focus of the Patriots offensive line this week. "He’s a great player," Bill Belichick said this week. "He does a good job, very active, strong in the running game. He’s not a real long guy, but he plays with great leverage. He’s got very good quickness. He’s a disruptive player. He’s quick enough to get up field and get the edge. He’s explosive and powerful enough to knock guys back, so he can win with his quickness, win with his strength, win with his power.” Joe Thuney better hold on for dear life.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“We know how teams are trying to attack us because they’ll look at the success that other mobile quarterbacks might have had against us. So, we know we’re going to have to be ready to fix the mistakes that we might have had against those mobile quarterbacks. And, we know when you give up something on tape, a team is always going to try to test you there and see if you got the problem fixed, and if not, they’re going to keep running it. So, we’ve just got to look back and do a little self-scouting on ourselves and see where we’re vulnerable at when going against mobile quarterbacks.” – Duron Harmon, Patriots safety, on dealing with a roving Mariota.
THAT SUMS IT UP TITANS STYLE
THE CREW, THE BOOTH, AND THE LINE
Ron Torbert. It’s a so-called “all-star crew” in the postseason in which officials who perform well with their own crews during the season are thrown together for the playoff games. That means that Torbert’s crew – which was a little on the flag-happy side – won’t be in full effect. The line is 13.5, the total is 47 and the booth is CBS’ lead team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 27, Titans 13