I’ve known Mike Vrabel since I came into the league in 2005.
He’s been a good friend of mine, and my family is really close with his. When we both got traded from the Patriots to the Chiefs in 2008, I was excited because I knew my buddy was coming with me.
We actually lived right down the street from each other, and it was a blast.
We all knew Mike would become a coach at the end of his playing career. He knew the game so well and was so smart that he was always a coach on the field.
When we were in New England, he would join the scout team against the starting offense. He didn’t have to; he was a starter on defense.
But he would love playing safety in 7-on-7 drills and messing with the quarterbacks, giving a disguise, all that stuff. He did it all.
He was one of those guys who just knew the game. So, none of us were surprised when he went into coaching.
I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.
I'm sure Bill Belichick had a huge influence on Mike as he came up the coaching ranks to land with the Tennessee Titans. I can’t speak to whether or not they still speak regularly, but I'm sure they have a good relationship.
That said, any coach who comes from Belichick's coaching tree takes a lot of pride in going up against him. Not only because he's their mentor, but also because they understand that to be considered an elite program, you have to beat the best, and the best has been New England.
The other part of it? Mike and Bill have a lot of familiarity with each others' systems -- their defensive schemes and even in many cases their offensive schemes. You've seen it throughout the course of Belichick’s career: He's just above .500 (14-13) against his former assistants and players.
It’s an interesting concept, because nobody else has had that success playing the Patriots. I can’t put my finger on one thing, but I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Mike should have a better understanding of Belichick’s general philosophy: Will he try to eliminate a certain player? Are they going to go after this kid A.J. Brown and double him to force Tennessee to utilize the tight end and the running back?
On the other side of the ball, Mike and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was also with the Patriots for a number of years, should have a good feel for New England's protection schemes and the different blitzes they can use against it.
You definitely have a better knowledge of all that stuff having been in the Patriots' system.
It's always a chess match, though.
Since both teams know each other very well and are familiar with each others' schemes, there are little wrinkles they can throw in.
The Patriots' offense, for example, might use more seven-man protection because they know Tennessee is a heavy blitzing team.
The coaches might watch the film and say to the offensive line, "This guy is a known blitzer, so we'll base our protection scheme off him."
Based on that familiarity, I think we'll see a really good game Saturday night. The Titans are 7-3 since Ryan Tannehill took over, so this is a good football team that's going to give the Patriots a really tough challenge.
Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.