Thursday, December 2, 2021
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Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots


SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

The Patriots have won five in a row and take on a banged-up Titans team at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

When the Patriots run – Edge: Patriots

The Patriots will have their hands full dealing with the Titans tough and physical front. Tennessee ranks fourth in the league in run defense, allowing just 97.2 yards per game and seventh at 4.1 yards per play. Defensive end Jeffrey Simmons in particular is a beast, and along with nose tackle Teair Tart and Denico Autry the group has allowed linebackers Rashaan Evans, David Long, Jayon Brown and Monty Rice to make plays. Both Evans (ankle) and Long (hamstring) missed the Texans game and their status is unknown for this week, and Tart was carted off against Houston. Even with the absences, Tennessee’s run defense is formidable, but the Patriots physical brand of offense will be a much different test. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson split the workload against Atlanta and that figures to continue this week. Both run with power and break tackles consistently. And with the offensive line continuing to gel expect Josh McDaniels to keep pounding the football. That physical approach has allowed the Patriots offense to rack up some impressive numbers on the ground and New England now ranks 14th in the league, averaging 116.3 yards per game. McDaniels has been content to run it early and often, even when the success is immediately apparent, and that approach has allowed the Patriots to control the line of scrimmage and wear down opponents.

When the Patriots pass – Edge: Patriots

Mac Jones and the Patriots passing game have been a bit sporadic this season. Two weeks ago it was outstanding in a 45-7 win over Cleveland that saw Jones toss three touchdowns. Last week in Atlanta was a different story as the Falcons were content to allow the short stuff and avoid the big plays. The Titans secondary has struggled this season, ranking 24th in passing yards allowed with 253.3 yards per game. However, the Titans allow only 6.6 yards per pass play, ranking 10th, which could bode well for the visitors as they try to limit Jones to the underneath stuff. The rookie continues to use all his weapons as he spreads it around among Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. In the red zone he’s gravitated toward Hunter Henry and the tight end leads the team with seven touchdowns. The Titans will try to contain that group with corners Kristian Fulton, Janoris Jenkins and Chris Jackson, although Jenkins missed the Texans game with a chest injury. Elijah Molden and Chris Jones also see time in the secondary with safeties Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker. The safety tandem is strong, especially Byard who leads the team with five picks. The key for the Patriots will be protecting Jones as Harold Landry (10 sacks) and Simmons (7.5) can apply the pressure. Assuming the protection holds up, the Patriots should make some plays.

When the Titans run – Edge: Patriots

The complexion of this matchup takes on an entirely different look with the absence on MVP candidate Derrick Henry. Henry’s foot injury has altered the Titans attack greatly as the team averages about 3.5 yards per rush in his absence. Tennessee has tried to replace Henry with a combination of D’Onta Foreman and veteran Adrian Peterson. Neither has enjoyed much success, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is actually the team’s second leading rusher with 172 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries. The Titans have a physical offensive line and the running game remains the team’s identity so the Patriots will have to continue their strong play in that regard. Led by rookie Christian Barmore up front, the Patriots now rank eighth in the league, allowing 101.7 yards per game on the ground and just 4.1 yards per carry. Bill Belichick will likely commit to stopping the run in an effort to make Tannehill beat them, and given Henry’s absence it’s not a stretch for that happen. Peterson flashed some of his old self in the loss to the Texans, picking up 40 yards on just nine carries, but it’s hard to imagine the 36-year-old being productive enough to control the game on the ground for the Titans.

When the Titans pass – Edge: Patriots

Everything the Titans do on offense has been predicated on Henry’s success. With him controlling the tempo and opposing defenses geared up to stop him, Tennessee likes to have Tannehill take his shots off play action and designed roll outs. The problem without Henry is there hasn’t been a running threat worthy of occupying the defense’s attention. That has led to turnover problems for Tannehill, who has 12 interceptions including four in the loss to the Texans. Tannehill is still a capable quarterback who has completed nearly 67 percent of his throws but without Henry he’s been forced to carry the load. He’s also been without his top wideouts at times as Julio Jones is currently on IR with a hamstring injury while A.J. Brown is dealing with a chest injury that knocked him out of the Houston game. If Brown can’t go Tannehill’s life will be even tougher as he tries to make do with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Marcus Johnson and Dez Fitzpatrick. Tight ends Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt and Geoff Swaim, who is also injured, are a solid if unspectacular group. Overall this is a passing game the Patriots secondary should be able to maintain its solid play against. J.C. Jackson has been taking the ball away on a weekly basis, and given Tannehill’s recent struggles it would not surprising to see that continue.

Special Teams – Edge: Patriots

Nick Folk’s magical season continued against the Falcons as he delivered four more field goals including a season-long 54-yarder. He’s been the team’s most consistent player this season. The Titans counter with Randy Bullock, who has been solid in his own right. Bullock is 18 of 20 on field goals and 28 of 30 on PATs. Veteran Brett Kern does the punting for Tennessee and has a net average of 41.6 yards with 10 kicks downed inside the 20 and no touchbacks. Jake Bailey has been a little inconsistent this season but remains one of the best in the business. The punt return game has been on the uptick as of late for the Patriots with Gunner Olszewski back in the lineup after missing the Browns game with a concussion. He’s averaging a healthy 12.6 yards on 21 returns. Rogers isn’t bad in that department either, averaging over 10 yards per return for Tennessee. Neither side has mustered much on kickoff returns but the Patriots coverage units have been more consistent. Expect more of the same for the Patriots special teams.



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