The Patriots welcome the Titans to town to start a pivotal 5-week stretch. The Patriots are riding high on a five-game win streak, punctuated by a 25-0 shutout of the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday. The extra time comes at a great for the Pats, as they have yet to have their bye week this year.
The Patriots have been the hottest teams in football for the last month. They rank first on offense and defense in expected points added since week 7. While the rest of the NFL continues to be unpredictable with weekly upsets, the Pats have provided a steadying force.
The Titans enter this Week 12 matchup on a bit of a different note. The Titans were on a 6-game winning streak, beating the likes of Buffalo, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Rams. Bookending their win streak are unsightly losses to the New York Jets and Houston Texans.
Injuries have taken their toll on a talented Tennessee roster. Rushing champion Derrick Henry is on IR, the Titans are without top backup Jeremy McNichols and placed top receiving threat A.J. Brown on IR on Saturday. Once pegged as a marquee match-up, the Titans will enter the game severely hindered by injuries and facing a freshly rested Patriots team.
Let’s get to the breakdown of Patriots vs Titans.
Patriots Pass the Ball
The Pats have been a middle-of-the-pack passing attack. Mac Jones has been safe and smart with the ball for the most part. They continue on their schedule-based attack by playing smart and staying ahead of the chains. But this might be the week the Pats should open it up. The Titans have allowed the 9th most completions of 20 or more yards this season.
A similar game plan as what the Patriots instituted against the Browns may behoove the Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots threw early and often against the Browns, forcing them to play catchup in the second half. Against a beleaguered skill group in Tennessee, a similar game plan may allow the Pats to play aggressively early on offense and allow Tannehill to make mistakes down the stretch.
The Patriots have been extremely efficient in protecting Mac in recent weeks. This will need to continue to allow the rookie time to be smart with the ball and keep the offense efficient. The Titans feature a premier defensive tackle in Jeffery Simmons. Simmons has the ability to single-handedly wreck a game plan with interior penetration.
It will be an absolute dog fight up front between him, David Andrews, Ted Karras, and Shaq Mason. Who wins that match-up will dictate who wins the passing game here.
Patriots Run the Ball
The Titans ruled out talented linebacker Rashaan Evans on Saturday as well. His absence will be felt trying to slow down this Patriots rushing attack. During the 5-game win streak, the rushing attack has been the motor that has driven the Patriots’ offense.
The Titans have held their last six opponents to 84 yards rushing per game. They offer a stiff test for a Patriots team that is hoping to ride their talented running back duo into January. The return of Trent Brown has opened the right side of the running attack. Look for the Pats to continue to punish opponents behind the behemoth right tackle and road grader Shaq Mason.
As the weather turns colder, the violent running styles of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are sure to start wearing defenses down. Look for the Pats to let the passing attack get them ahead early before salting this one away behind their backs.
Titans Pass the Ball
Remember last year when Patriots’ nation complained about the level of talent the receiving corps possessed? The group the Titans are going to dress on Sunday could make last year’s Patriots group look like Pro-Bowlers. Tannehill has been efficient in Tennessee when Henry has been healthy.
Without Henry, the Titans’ passing attack has also suffered. The Titians’ offense has gone from eighth in expected points added to 16th after just three games without Henry. Since Henry’s injury, Tannehill’s yards per attempt off play-action has fallen from 10.2 yards per attempt to 8.2. That’s bad news going against a Patriots defense that allows the second-fewest yards per attempt off play-action.
The loss of Henry is perhaps the most significant, but the Titans have also struggled with injuries along the offensive line and at wide receiver. That’s not a good combo going against a Patriots team that leads the league in interceptions and has been getting pressure at an unprecedented clip over the last five games.
Matt Judon should find plenty of success against David Quessenberry. Coupled with interior pressure from Christian Barmore and company, the Patriots’ pass defense should find plenty of success on all levels.
Titans Run the Ball
The Pats have a leg up in prep as the Titans’ offense is very similar to both the Browns’ and Falcons’. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith got his education under Mike Vrabel in Tennessee, serving as the Titans’ offensive coordinator before joining the Flacons. The Titans want to set up their offensive attack off the running game, build play-action off their running game, and only go obvious pass in obvious passing situations.
The problem is the Titans haven’t been as good running the ball without Henry. The Titans were surprisingly averaging negative expected points added per rushing play with Henry (-0.021) but have fallen even further without him (-0.122).
The Titans utilize a zone run-blocking scheme on 40% of their runs this season. The Patriots’ defense has improved dramatically over the course of the season in defending these plays. The Falcons had extremely limited success utilizing zone-blocking schemes against the Patriots last week, often running into a wall and losing yards.
The big boys upfront will need to continue to win their one-on-one matchups and gain early penetration. Winning upfront allows the Pats linebackers to play cleanly to the ball and make a play. Against a backup running back and a few backups on the offensive line, the Patriots should be able to force the Titans away from the ground.
The Patriots’ special teams’ units have found their form. They have been winning the field position battle and are always a likely candidate to make a game-changing play. Nick Folk has been as steady as they come while Jake Bailey is returning to All-Pro form.
If Folk has been consistent, then Titans’ kicker Randy Bullock has been right up there with him. Bullock is 18 of 20 on-field goal attempts this season. Brett Kern is back punting for Tennessee and has been solid as well. Both these teams feature well-coached units in the third phase and will be a sneaky fun story line for this one.
The Patriots are hot as possible and taking shape as a Belichick-coached team. However, Mike Vrabel is one of very few coaches to be able to claim success against Belichick. Vrabel has a 2-0 record against the hoodie. The Titans will not play scared despite their injuries.
They will be ready to go after a disappointing loss and will be feisty early. The Patriots need to play smart and get a lead to force the Titans to play a game they don’t want to. I think Belichick and his crew get it done this time and get one in the win column against Vrabel and co.
The Patriots will be approaching this game as another chance to legitimize their team this season. Multiple players have mentioned maintaining the 2-4 mindset despite their recent success. While the Titans may be limping into this one, the Patriots will not be taking them lightly.
With a win on Sunday against the Titans, the Patriots can realistically put the number 1 seed into play. This game will be chippy and close early before the Patriots pull away due to the lack of talent on the opposing sideline. Patriots win 31-17 amid a flurry of Tannehill turnovers.
Bonus coverage: after a game full of penalties the Pats get a ref crew that is a little less flag happy. Enjoy a relatively laundry-free Sunday!