What to Watch For: Titans vs Patriots - 2018 AFC Divisional Playoffs
Saturday, January 13, 2018
New England Patriots open the 2018 playoffs on Saturday night when they host the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round at Gillette Stadium.
The Titans are coming to Foxboro after rallying to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 last Saturday.
“They've basically won two playoff games - one to get into the playoffs and a playoff game last week. It just shows how tough they are, how fundamental they are and that they're ready to bring it in the clutch times,” said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during his press conference on Tuesday.
The game will also mark a return to Gillette Stadium for former Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan, who signed with the Titans as a free agent prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.
“The guy, he's a brother to a lot of us in there, a real good friend of mine, but there's nothing I want more than to see him lose Saturday night. So, as close as we are, that's not going to change, and he's going to compete and be the same way. It will be fun to talk a little trash to each other,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty during his press conference on Tuesday.
A win would put the Patriots in their seventh straight AFC Championship game.
Game time is set for 8:15 p.m.
Titans vs Patriots
The Patriots and Titans have not played each other since the 2015 season, when the Patriots beat the Titans 33-16 at Gillette Stadium.
New England and Tennessee have met just seven times in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Era with the Patriots holding a 6-1 record in those games including a playoff win in January of 2004.
The last time the Titans beat the Patriots was 2002.
Related Slideshow: 5 Things to Watch For: Titans vs Patriots - AFC Divisional Playoff 2018
The New England Patriots are expected to have a full complement of running backs for the playoff game.
However, it will be the pass catching ability of Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White that will make a difference.
The Titans are one of the worst defenses when it comes to covering pass-catching running backs out of the backfield.
According to football outsiders, Tennessee allows 58.3 yards per game on 8.7 targets per game, the worst in the league.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is one of the leaders of the Titans defense with six sacks on the year.
"He's a great player. He does a good job, very active, strong in the running game. He's not a real long guy but he plays with great leverage. He's got very good quickness. He's a disruptive player. He's quick enough to get up field and get the edge. He's explosive and powerful enough to knock guys back, so he can win with his quickness, win with his strength, win with his power," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Tuesday.
Overall, the Titans come in as the fourth-best rushing defense in the league and a total of 42 sacks on the year.
Derek Morgan and Brian Orakpo are the other sack leaders with 7.5 and 7 sacks respectively.
On the Titans defense, Belichick added, "Defensively, Coach LeBeau is as good as there is, as good a defensive coach as there is. He has an outstanding scheme, does a good job of in-game adjustments. They're very aggressive. They turn the ball over. They have very good edge players. They have good inside players."
A big part of Tennessee's game plan will be to run the ball and shorten the game.
Tennesee's top running back DeMarco Murray is still out with a knee injury, meaning Derrick Henry will once again carry the load. Last week against Kansas City, Henry ran for 150 yards to help the Titans win.
"He's a hard guy to tackle. He runs strong, he's powerful, breaks tackles. He's very good in the open field, he's elusive, he's good in space, he can run like a small back in space and he's had some long runs - 60-yarders, 65-yarders, whatever they were - where he runs through multiple guys, cuts back against the grain," said Belichick during his Thursday press conference.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota also factors into the running game using read-option plays and quarterback keepers.
The Patriots defense one of the worst defenses in the NFL when it comes to yards per attempt, 31 out of 32, and rank 20th when it comes to yards given up per game.
As good as the Titans rush defense is, their passing offense is ranked 25th in the league.
Expect Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to throw the ball early and often as well as mix in some no-huddle early on in the game.
It has been a rough month plus for Brady, who hasn't had a 300-yard passing game since November 19 against the Raiders. He has also thrown six interceptions in the last seven games.
Last week, ESPN reported that there was friction in the organization between Brady, Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft. The Patriots responded to the story by releasing a joint statement.
During his press conference on Thursday, Brady was asked about handling the distraction.
"We do what we always do. We show up to work and try to do the best we can do. We know there's a lot at stake and I think everyone's put a lot into it. It doesn't really matter what happened outside of this facility and what we're trying to accomplish. It's a big task to go out and win a playoff game," Brady said.
Look for Brady and the Patriots offense to get back on track against the Titans defense.
Chris Hogan is expected to return to the Patriots lineup having played in only one game since October 29 due to a shoulder injury.
Hogan's return will give Tom Brady another trusted option to throw to in key situations, while also serving as a deep threat either over the middle or down the sideline.
In his Patriots career, Hogan has averaged three catches per game and 15.5 yards per catch. He has nine touchdowns.
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