FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Most of the eye for Saturday night time’s AFC divisional playoff sport between the Patriots and Titans at Gillette Stadium has targeted on the defending Super Bowl champions and whether or not their pursuit of a sixth title is likely to be derailed by reported turmoil inside their ranks.
Much much less consideration has been paid to the Titans, who scrapped their means into the playoffs with a 9-7 document after a shaky end to the common season and superior to this sport with a comeback 22-21 wild-card win over the Chiefs final week in Kansas City.
If the Titans are to advance to the AFC Championship sport, they may want virtuoso performances from two key offensive gamers — quarterback Marcus Mariota and working again Derrick Henry.
The 13-Three Patriots averaged 28.6 factors per sport on offense, second within the NFL. So the Titans, who averaged 20.9 factors, know they’re going to should sustain with New England on the scoreboard.
That means they may want Mariota to be higher than he was within the common season, when he threw solely 13 landing passes to 15 interceptions.
“This is what I’ve labored arduous for, it’s to get into these conditions, to get in these sorts of video games,” Mariota stated.
The Titans consider, primarily based on his efficiency in Kansas City, that Mariota has put his sub-par common season behind him.
“He’s a person on a mission,” receiver Corey Davis informed reporters in the course of the week.
“The man is a magician on the market; he does every thing we will ever ask him,” left deal with Taylor Lewan informed reporters. “Some issues haven’t gone his means right here and there. The man simply performs arduous constantly. He simply will get it carried out.’’
With the Patriots protection having had points towards cell quarterbacks, Mariota’s working capability might be one thing to observe. He has 106 speeding yards previously two video games.
Henry rushed for 156 yards final week in Kansas City, 85 yards of which got here within the fourth quarter.
The Patriots are susceptible to the run, having allowed four.7 yards per carry.
Since Henry entered the NFL in 2016, the Titans are 12-Zero when he has not less than 11 carries, however 7-13 when he has 10 or fewer carries. So Henry working constantly towards the Patriots and holding Tom Brady and the New England offense off the sector would be the key to the sport.
Titans CB Kevin Byard vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady
Byard leads the NFL in takeaways with 10 — eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Brady was intercepted 5 instances within the Patriots’ previous 5 video games. Byard is licking his chops and never afraid to name out Brady regardless of his lofty G.O.A.T. standing and the very fact the Patriots quarterback had solely eight INTs all season.
“It’s a playoff sport, so it’s not prefer it’s the preseason the place I can go on the market, ‘Oh, it’s Brady,’ and I’m chillin’,” Byard informed the Tennessean this week. “I don’t actually care if it was Joe Montana. I wish to make [Brady] appear to be Blake Bortles if I can to catch a pair picks.’’
Byard picked off Bortles, Jacksonville’s maligned quarterback, twice in Week 17. Brady had one multi-interception sport this season, when he was picked off twice towards the Dolphins, and has 9 multi-interception video games throughout his 34-game playoff profession.
Familiar face: Logan Ryan, now the highest cornerback on the Titans, spent his first 4 NFL seasons in New England and can reunite along with his former teammates Saturday. His closest associates on the Patriots are fellow Rutgers alums Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.
Ryan, who signed a three-year, $30 million take care of the Titans final offseason, didn’t have an interception this season.
“They went their means, I went mine, and there’s no dangerous blood there,” he stated. “You win two Super Bowls, play with Hall of Fame gamers, play for Hall of Fame coaches, after which going to a spot like Tennessee, which wished me. I wished to assist change one thing within the [defensive backs]room, change the tradition. We consider in one another and I’m having fun with the experience.”
Spy vs. spy: This is an intriguing matchup of minds, Brady towards Dick LeBeau, the Titans’ venerable 80-year-old defensive coordinator.
“He nonetheless likes to blitz,’’ Brady stated of LeBeau. “You’ve acquired to count on strain, and it might be safeties, corners, linebackers. They have lots of motion. He is only a nice coach. He is aware of the right way to assault offenses and assault protections, and everybody has acquired to be alert.”
Brady has fared effectively towards LeBeau with a 6-2 document in his profession, together with seven matchups towards the Steelers and a win over the Titans in 2015. Brady has accomplished 68 p.c of his passes for two,496 yards (312 per sport), 19 TDs, three INTs and a 110.9 passer ranking. The Patriots have averaged 32.eight factors per sport with Brady enjoying towards a LeBeau-coached protection.
The Titans, below LeBeau this season, tied for fifth with 43 sacks. They ranked 13th in general protection and fourth towards the run, however had been 25th towards the cross.
To the rescue: As in the event that they want the assistance, the Patriots get receiver Chris Hogan again after he missed seven of the ultimate eight video games of the common season with a shoulder damage. Before he was damage, Hogan caught 33 passes for 438 yards and 5 TDs within the first eight video games.
Hogan turned a Patriots postseason hero final yr when he had a 180-yard receiving efficiency towards the Steelers within the AFC Championship sport. He has been a essential half to the passing assault, with the Patriots shedding Julian Edelman to damage earlier this season, and instantly provides depth to an already potent receiving corps, which incorporates Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and tight finish Rob Gronkowski, simply in time for the playoffs.
Harrison issue: Can’t you simply sense an enormous contribution coming from James Harrison, the previous Steelers defensive finish who was signed by the Patriots just some weeks in the past after he was launched by Pittsburgh?
Harrison, 39, might be enjoying in his third sport with New England and he appeared fairly productive within the first two video games, ending with two sacks towards the Jets within the season finale.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey could be very acquainted with Harrison, having coached on the Steelers when Harrison was on the staff.
“[He’s] nonetheless good,” Mularkey stated. “He simply gained’t go away. I do know him. I used to be there at Pittsburgh with him. He’s a man that’s simply captivated with it. He doesn’t look a lot completely different. I can say that. He nonetheless can play.”
Harrison could also be an enormous consider not solely serving to the Patriots’ run protection towards Derrick Henry, however with containing Titans elusive QB Marcus Mariota. Mobile quarterbacks have given the Patriots issues this season.
Three weeks into his time with New England, Harrison referred to as himself “somewhat extra comfy’’ with the protection. That may not be excellent news for Tennessee.
The Patriots are merely extra skilled and deeper in expertise than the Titans and it’ll present on the scoreboard on the finish of the day. Look for Belichick to bottle up Mariota’s scrambling with some schemes and Brady to make simply sufficient performs to maintain the Titans from an upset.
Patriots 31, Titans 14