After an impressive win against the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday, the Patriots will travel to Tennessee to take on the 4-4 Tennessee Titans.
The Titans are coming off of an imposing 28-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys, a win that ended the teams 3 game losing streak. Quarterback Marcus Mariota produced an efficient stat line as he threw for 240 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Former Patriot running back Dion Lewis was the other star of the game for the Titans, as his 62 rushing yards and 4 receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown in the passing game was enough to propel the Titans over the Cowboys. On defense, the Titans claim the top spot in the league when it comes to giving up points, as their league leading 17.6 points per game is a stellar statistic.
Let’s take a look at what the Titans provide on both sides of the ball.
The offense for the Titans is led by Quarterback Marcus Mariota. The second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has been a solid player throughout his first 4 seasons in the NFL, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Mariota tends to rely on his feet when the pocket breaks down, which explains his 1,130 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing in his career. The best part of Mariota’s game is his escape ability, but it can also be one of his biggest weaknesses. Often times Mariota will look at his first two options on a play and then tuck the ball and run instead of continuing to stand in the pocket and find an open receiver. He is on pace to have his worst passing season statistically of his career this year, as through 8 games he only has 1,270 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Mariota did miss a game and a half dealing with an injury, but his stats are incredibly low regardless.
At running back, the Titans use a dual-threat attack with Derrick Henry and former Patriot Dion Lewis. Henry is used as the power back, as his 6’3, 247 pound frame gives him the ability to run through arm tackles and through lots of smaller linebackers. So far this season he has 300 yards and two touchdowns through 8 games. He is a downhill runner that can be very effective in short yardage situations. Former Patriot Dion Lewis is continuing to impress in both the passing and the running game. Lewis is a smaller running back but has a great base and can stay low to the ground, all while having incredible speed and crazy elusiveness. He is the leading rusher on the Titans as he has totaled 339 yards and one touchdown. Lewis does the most damage in the passing game, as his 33 receptions for 259 yards and one touchdown prove his versatility.
The receiving core for the Titans is led by Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe. Davis was drafted by Tennessee with the 5th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He hasn’t quite showed his full potential as he dealt with injuries last season, causing him to miss 8 games. In his first full season playing Davis has put up 375 yards on 34 receptions. Not exactly the type of numbers you want out of your 1st-round pick, but much of the blame can be put on quarterback Marcus Mariota’s lack of production. Sharpe was drafted by the Titans in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He put up promising numbers in his rookie campaign, as his 41 receptions for 522 yards and 2 touchdowns were enough to propel him into the #2 wide receiver role. Unfortunately for Sharpe he spent his sophomore season on the injured reserve while he dealt with a complicated foot injury. His first half of the season has been underwhelming, as he only has 17 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown.
At the tight end position, the Titans obtain Luke Stocker. In an offense that relies heavily on the run game, a run blocking tight end such as Stocker fits Tennessee’s scheme. He signed a two-year deal with the team during last season that pays him $2.2 million. In 91 career games Stocker only has 61 receptions for 491 yards and 4 touchdowns, which shows that his blocking is the key to his game.
On the offensive line, the two names that stand out most are left tackle Taylor Lewan and right guard Josh Kline. Lewan was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and has proved to be worthy of the high selection. Throughout his 5 year career, Lewan has been one of the top tackles in the game so his recent 5-year, $80 million contract is well deserved for the two time pro bowler. His contract made him the richest offensive lineman in NFL history, as he get $50 million of that money guaranteed. Kline has been a member of the Titans since 2016 after spending his first seasons with the Patriots and helped New England win Super Bowl 49. He recently signed a 4-year, $26 million contract with Tennessee that keeps him and Lewan on the line for years to come.
The defensive line for the Titans is led by Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan. Casey provides a veteran leadership in the Titans locker room, as he has been with the team since 2011. Throughout his 8 years in the NFL, Casey has put up 422 combined tackles, 100 quarterback hits, and 42.5 sacks. His play since 2015 has been great enough to thrust him into 3 straight pro bowl appearances. He masters in the ability to apply pressure up the middle at the quarterback which ultimately forces a QB into making bad decisions. Morgan has been with the Titans since 2010, and like Casey, provides another veteran presence in the locker room. His production over the years is similar to Casey’s, as he has 289 combined tackles, 111 quarterback hits, and 44 sacks. The Titans have gotten incredible production out of two of their best defensive lineman. The duo of Casey and Morgan can cause trouble for an opposing quarterback, so it will be key for the offensive line of the Patriots to contain these two pass rushers.
Linebackers Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard headline the Titans linebacking core. Orakpo joined the Titans in 2015 after 6 successful years with the Redskins. Since coming into the league in 2009 Orakpo has made the pro bowl 4 times, his most recent appearance being 2016. In his 4 years in Tennessee he has racked up 161 combined tackles, 25.5 sacks, and 50 quarterback hits. He is having a slower start to this year as he only has one sack and 20 combined tackles in 8 games. Orakpo is due for a breakout game, so the Patriots will have to know where he is at all times when he is on the field. Woodyard has been in the league since 2008 and spent his first 6 seasons as a member of the Broncos. He has a top notch ability to find the ball carrier and make plays, as his 801 combined tackles throughout his career proves that point. He is still getting the job done this year as well, as he has 47 combined tackles and 2 sacks.
The secondary for Tennessee is made up of two familiar names with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Kevin Byard is turning into one of the top safeties in the league. In 40 career games he has racked up 10 interceptions, so it’s safe to say he obtains some of the best ball skills and instincts in the league. He had an superb season last year as he led the league in interceptions with 8. His play last season earned him his first pro bowl appearance as well as being named a first-team all pro. Byard lurks over the middle of the field and will make it difficult for Brady to target his receivers over the middle. Butler has not had the season he hoped for after signing with the Titans this past offseason. The 5-year, $61.25 million man has been statistically the worst cornerback in the NFL this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Butler has allowed 39 catches for 618 yards and 7 touchdowns this season. Butler has developed a bad habit of of looking into the backfield while covering a receiver, which makes him lose track of where the receiver is on the route. Ryan, who is also a former Patriot, is having a better time in Tennessee compared to his close friend Butler. He signed with the Titans in the offseason before the 2017 season for 3-years, $30 million. He has yet to record an interception since joining the Titans, but his 15 pass breakups and 103 combined tackles shows he can make tackles in open field and disrupt passes well.
Sunday’s matchup in Tennessee shouldn’t be much of a challenge for Tom Brady and company. The Titans defense is allowing a league leading 17.6 points per game, but with the return of Sony Michel and possible return of Rob Gronkowski could provide a real test for the Titans defense. If the Patriots pick up where they left off defensively from last week than the Titans offense shouldn’t be scoring more than 20 points. It will be key to contain running back Dion Lewis and force Mariota into tough situations. Hopefully the Patriots roll into their needed by week with a 8-2 record.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr