Patriots Preview - Tackling the Titans
Friday, September 07, 2012
The quest begins.
Not just for another spot in the Super Bowl, but for another championship. The New England Patriots came up short, as Pats fans know all-too-well, against the New York Giants last February.
And while the 2012 edition of the Patriots may be a younger version of teams that have taken the field in recent years, also know that this season the entire organization – from ownership, through the coaching staff on down – realizes time is growing short. A window of opportunity doesn’t always present itself like it presently does, with a franchise quarterback leading this team onto the field…perhaps with a few choice years remaining on his own biological clock.
To this end, how best to take advantage of Tom Brady’s twilight seasons? With a defense that was statistically at the bottom of the NFL a year ago, Bill Belichick set out to become younger and faster on that side of the ball…while remaining potent enough on offense behind Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along with the addition of Brandon Lloyd at receiver .
We find out if the off-season additions and adjustments will take hold starting Sunday, with the regular season opener at Tennessee. Previewing the match-up, here are three keys to watch for in Game One – if the Patriots are to kick-off the season successfully:
Protect the Franchise
No, the Patriots aren’t in any danger of losing the team to, let’s say, London…but if ultimate success is to be found, it has to start with protecting Tom Brady. Beaten up a bit with an ever-shifting offensive line in front of him during the pre-season, the line presents one of the larger question marks for the team going into the year. Matt Light retired, Dan Koppen was released, Brian Waters did not return, and Logan Mankins did…from a knee injury sustained in the Super Bowl…four (potential) starters whose roles aren’t easy to fill. For the Patriots to score points, to keep the pressure off of the defense – and keep Brady healthy, in the pocket where he belongs – the line must do the job. Tennessee did not have a good pass rush overall last season (next to last in the NFL in QB sacks), so this week could be a good week to get things together up front.
Corralling Chris Johnson
Can a revamped New England defense contain the Titans’ best offensive weapon, in running back Chris Johnson? If Johnson is allowed to run, giving Tennessee an opportunity to control the ball and keep 1st year QB starter Jake Locker out of trouble, the Titans will be in it to the end. A Belichick defense has, in the past, proved problematic for young QB’s…if the Patriots’ younger (quicker?) “D” can find a way to make Locker’s day difficult, and keep Johnson from breaking the big ones, the Patriots should be in good shape.
Score early, and often
Championship teams know they need to deliver body blows to their opponents early, especially on the road. Take the Titans, and their fans, out of their emotional high by jumping out early…and then keeping the foot on the pedal offensively. Expect Brady to look for Hernandez and Welker a lot, as Gronkowski will undoubtedly be a target for Tennessee’s defense. But they won’t be able to keep him quiet all day. Avoid mistakes, and turnovers…especially on the road. Mistakes are always a great equalizer.