Hear me out, the Patriots are not invincible, and anyone who has followed the team knows this year in particular they are vulnerable. Now, in 18(!) years the team has shown great resiliency and strength in overcoming absurd and borderline insurmountable obstacles. However, they can be beaten. Maybe. If the 2010 Jets did it, why not the 2017 Titans?
For the Tennessee Titans this week, they can advance to the AFC Championship with a perfect game.
Here’s what that would look like:
Run Derrick, Run!
Tennessee will have to rely on their running game here. They match up favorably against New England with a strong running attack led by Derrick Henry, the former Heisman winner. The Titans have a jumbo package that has an absurd rate of effectiveness. According to ESPN, Henry has a 10.52(!?!) YPC average with 6 OL and 2 TE. Henry also has had success bouncing outside with a 5 YPC average. The Patriots have had a huge problem setting the edge this season and that could spell disaster for New England. This could easily drown the Patriots if they can’t at least limit the run.
The Titans will need Delanie Walker to have the game of his life and continue to produce like he has been. The 33 year old California Native has been the Titans main threat in the passing game this season with 807 yards on 74 receptions. The Patriots are 8th in the league this year defending the #1 TE so Walker will have his work cut out for him. But if he can produce, it will spell trouble for New England.
Marcus Mariota is a proven threat as a runner. The Patriots are known to struggle against more mobile QBs, and the Titans could look to exploit that. If Mariota runs wild and makes some good throws, he can put his team in good position to get some points against this Patriots defense. Of course, they could just design some plays for him as the lead blocker, or new number 1 WR.
Make them Bend and Break!
New England has once again churned out a good scoring defense by December, but they always give up yards. Henry will get his yards, but if he can get in the end zone on the runs, the favor will tilt to Tennessee. Mariota is notoriously careful in the red zone with 0 INTs. His red zone completion percentage on the other hand, is low at 44.64% but if he can pick that up and find success in the red zone, New England will no longer be in control of the clock or the score. Bent, and broken.
Sylvester Williams, Jurell Case, and Wesley Woodyard are the Titans premiere defensive players in the middle and if they play like everyone in Foxboro is afraid they’ll be, the Patriots could have some problems on offense. It’s a well known fact that if you can pressure Brady up the gut, you have a shot. These three guys are very solid players, and can be the catalysts in a Patriots takedown.
Don’t let Ponies run wild
One of the most exciting and threatening parts of this New England offense is the stable of running backs. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald tweeted that Rex Burkhead was struggling with a brace on his left knee and looks to be limited at best Sunday, and Mike Gilislee hasn’t played since Week 16, but James White and Dion Lewis are nothing to sneeze at. The Pony package (2 pass catching backs) isn’t a common appearance for this edition of the Patriots but considering the health of the team, it could make an appearance. Both backs are well versed in this offense by now and could play in the hurry up with Brady’s trust. This is all without mentioning Pro Bowl FB James Develin. This will be a tall task for the Tennessee defense, but eliminate the running backs from being a threat, and the Patriots could come tumbling down.
Force the Receivers to Win
If your game plan is to out smart Brady, you’re in for a rude awakening, especially if you’re a Dick LeBeau defense. TB has had his way with the Hall of Fame (Class of 2010) player who was a long time Pittsburgh Steeler DC. LeBeau’s scheme is heavily zone based and Brady finds those holes in the defense with relative ease. The easier way of going about this is to focus on eliminating the receivers. Get physical with them at the line of scrimmage and ruin the timing. If the the front 7 can get pressure up the gut and the WRs are bullied out of their routes, Tom Terrific might have some difficulty on Saturday. I know Gisele is aware of Brady’s limitations, but we can’t all be as talented as Mariota.
Some other do’s and don’ts for Tennessee:
Don’t let Gronk beat you. Do whatever you have to do to keep him at bay in the passing game, he’s Brady’s best target on 3rd down, or any down for that matter.
Don’t beat yourselves. Nobody pounces on mistakes like Bill Belichick and his Patriots
Do remember the importance of the kicking game. God knows Belichick will
Do get an early lead. Derrick Henry being allowed to run wild and kill the clock with a lead spells big trouble for Tom Brady and Co.
So here you go Titans, here is your blueprint. It’s a tall order for a team that some may not feel are worthy of the matchup. But this is the NFL and any given Sunday, any given team can win. But I wouldn’t sweat too much (yet) Pats fans. To give an accolade often awarded by BB himself, “Nobody works harder,” than Belichick.
Good luck Tennessee. You’re going to need it.