What to Watch For: Patriots vs Titans

Sunday, November 11, 2018


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Trey Flowers

The New England Patriots will see a handful of old friends when they travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans on Sunday afternoon.

Former Patriots Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, and Logan Ryan now bolster the Titan roster, while the Titans head coach is former Patriot linebacker and three-time Super Bowl Champion, Mike Vrabel.

"I think he's a great person. He was a great teammate and I'm sure he's brought those things to the locker room. Just being a really mentally and physically tough player, and I'm sure he wants his players to be the same. They're playing hard and they have confidence as a team,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Friday.

Brady is one of only three players on the Patriots roster to have played with Vrabel, the other two are Matthew Slater and Stephen Gostkowski.

The Patriots enter the game with a record of 7-2, while the Titans come in with a record of 4-4.

"This is really a good, well-balanced football team. Mike's [Vrabel] done a great job. Certainly, the bye week, they came out and played about as good of a game as you could play and doing a good job, as I said, in all three areas," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday. 

Game time is set for 1 p.m.

See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below

Patriots vs Titans

Sunday’s game will be the 43rd all-time meeting (including postseason) between the two teams with the Patriots leading the series 25-16-1.

The last time the two teams met was in last year’s AFC Divisional playoff game when New England beat Tennessee 35-14 at Gillette Stadium.

New England’s last trip to Tennessee came in 2012 when the Patriots cruised past the Titans 34-13 in the season opener.

Tennessee has not won a game in the series since 2002.

See What to Watch For in the Slideshow Below


Related Slideshow: 5 Things to Watch For: Patriots vs Titans - November 2018

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Red Zone

The Tennessee Titans enter Sunday’s game as the number one red zone defense in the league.

Opposing teams score touchdowns inside the 20  just 31.8 percent of the time against the Titans and come away with any type of points just 72 percent of the time.

"Yeah, they're good in the red area. It's hard to run the ball in when they mix their coverages down there. Again, they make you earn every yard. They don't get many penalties so you don't get a lot of second chances on cheap 5-yard illegal contact penalties and stuff like that to give you cheap first downs. You've got to go out there and earn it against them. They're pretty stingy," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Friday.

The New England Patriots offense has struggled in the red zone at times over the last couple of weeks.

In their last three games, the Patriots are scoring touchdowns in the red zone just 58% of the time. In road games, the number is lower. 

On the road in the red zone this season, the Patriots are coming away with touchdowns just 54% of the time. 

Against Buffalo, the Patriots only managed one offensive touchdown in the game despite being in the red zone on numerous occasions and having to settle for field goals.

Against Green Bay, the Patriots were stopped on third and fourth and goal from the Packers goal line.

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Sony Michel

After missing the last two weeks with injury, running back Sony Michel is expected to return to the Patriots offense this week. 

So fo far this season, Michel has carried the ball 95 times for 422 yards and four touchdowns.

He averages 4.4 yards per carry and 70 yards per game.

Michel’s return takes pressure off of James White and likely takes Cordarrelle Patterson out of his running back role.

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Malcolm Butler

Since leaving the Patriots in the offseason and signing a five year, $61 million deal with the Titans during free agency, cornerback Malcolm Butler has struggled. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Butler is ranked as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL this year, ranking 98th overall with a grade of 51.9. 

“Butler has been brutal especially where it matters most. Of the 11 touchdowns the Titans have surrendered through the air, Malcolm Butler has been in primary coverage on seven,” writes Pro Football Focus.

Last week in Tennessee's game against Dallas, Butler was beaten for two touchdowns and has been caught biting on double moves most of the season.

"I've always loved playing against him and in practice, it was very competitive. He's a very competitive person. He wants to try to win every play and hopefully, we can have a good plan against that entire defense," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Friday. 

Look for the Patriots to use Butler's aggressiveness against him by testing him with double moves early and often. 

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Pats Defense

After giving up just 17 points to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last week, the Patriots defense has a chance to have another big performance against the Titans. 

The Titans enter the game ranked 30th in offensive yards per game with 288, 30th in passing yards per game with 178 and 29th in points, averaging just 16.8 points per game.

The Titans have scored more than 20 points on only two occasions this season, last week against Dallas and in their September 30 game against the Eagles.

After a few rough performances earlier in the season, the Patriots defense is ranked 11th best in the league in points allowed (22.4) and 14th best in rush yards allowed per game with 106.8.

"I think here, everyone thinks of the season as a continual, gradual process of getting better. We work hard on the practice field – you guys see it. Days like last week, a short week, we were still in full pads on Thursday preparing and getting ready. So, I think that enables us to get better throughout the year," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty during his press conference on Thursday. 

Defensive end Trey Flowers is ranked as the best pass rusher in the league by Pro Football Focus while Adrian Clayborn is ranked 23rd best. 

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Vrabel vs Belichick

For the first time in Bill Belichick’s head coaching career, he will face an opposing head coach who is one of his former players, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.

Vrabel played for the Patriots from 2001-2008 and helped the team win Super Bowls in 200, 2003 and 2004.

He has been a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame in each of the last two years, but has been beaten out by Raymond Clayborn in 2017 and Matt Light in 2018.

“Mike's got a lot of great qualities - great player, tough mentally and physically, smart, had a real passion for the game, was in great condition, could go all day, loved to play, loved to practice, great leadership. So, I think all those things transferred when he went to coach at Ohio State and then down to Houston and now Nashville. So, I have a ton of respect for Mike and I think he's been a great coach. I think he'll be a great head coach,” said Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday.

About facing Belichick, Vrabel said earlier this week, “I respect his friendship and his guidance and leadership when I played there. Now we're competitors and we have to do everything we can to beat the Patriots."

Belichick has gone against former coordinators plenty of times, Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Eric Mangini etc… but never a former player.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find many situations like this in NFL history where a former player turned head coach faces his former coach and team.


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