By Aaron Jackson,
With their playoff matchup now set, it’s now time to take a closer look at the Patriots’ Divisional opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Here are five factors for Saturday’s game.
1. Will Marcus Mariota take advantage of his scrambling ability? He had eight carries for 46 yards this past weekend against Kansas City, and had 312 rushing yards and five rushing scores on the season. Despite improved numbers, the Patriots’ defense still struggles in many areas, perhaps none bigger than their ability to contain a mobile quarterback. We saw what happened against Cam Newton (loss) and Deshaun Watson (very close to loss). If Mariota can prove to be even half of those two there’s a chance the Titans could point some points on the board.
2. Can the Patriots contain Derrick Henry? Demarco Murray’s injury was likely a major blessing in disguise for Tennessee. Henry had proven this season to be the more capable back when both were healthy, and with Murray now out, their hand is forced. Against the Chiefs’ poor run defense, Henry went for 156 yards and a touchdown…oh, and New England’s rush defense is even worse than KC’s. The Pats allow 4.7 yards per carry, good for second worse in the league. If Henry gets going downhill he’s tough to contain.
3. Expect New England to stack the box and play a lot of contain. Given those last two points, the game plan for the Patriots should be quite simple. Lots of help up front, play contain to keep Mariota in the pocket, and make him beat you with his arm (he can’t). I wouldn’t be surprised to see a decent amount of James Harrison and even David Harris as they focus on limiting yards on the ground.
4. In the words of good friend Mike DeVito; New England needs to “get going early.” The best way to stop the run isn’t on defense, but on offense. If the Patriots open up an early 14 or 21-point lead, it force the Titans’ hand, making them move the football more through the air. That’s the best way to stop a potent Tennessee run game.
5. Turnovers will be key. This is the case in just about every game, but especially in the playoffs. An early Pats turnover could give the Titans good field position and confidence on defense, while an early interception thrown by Mariota can drop his non-existent confidence in the passing game even lower. Expect an early turnover that can serve as a game changer.
Prediction: New England 27, Tennessee 14
Aaron Jackson (@AaronRJackson on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.