The New England Patriots defeated the Green Bay Packers last week 31-17 on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots outscored the Packers 14-0 in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a rout. After a 1-2 start including losses to Jacksonville and Detroit, the Patriots have won six straight games to streak to the lead in the AFC East.
The Patriots went back and forth with the Packers never leading by more than a touchdown during the first three quarters. Twice the Packers came back to tie the game and their defense seemingly figured out the Patriots’ offense in the third quarter holding them scoreless and forcing a turnover on downs and a punt.
In what was billed a duel between two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, the biggest pass of the game was thrown by wide receiver Julian Edelman who connected with James White on a 37 yard catch-and-run to set-up White’s go-ahead one-yard touchdown run. That drive was set-up by Lawrence Guy forcing a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter.
New England put away the Packers in the fourth quarter with a combination of strong defense (a huge sack on third down by Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers to force a punt) and following that with with a 55-yard touchdown to a wide open Josh Gordon to make it 31-14.
After playing four primetime games in five weeks, the Patriots return to a Sunday afternoon game time as they head into their bye week in week eleven. Tennessee is 4-4 on the season having defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football last week.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI Channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.
Sunday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Sports USA One. Larry Kahn will call the game with Doug Plank providing analysis
Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback and talk radio star Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on OFfense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The win over Green Bay was the sixth consecutive victory and the seventh game of nine where they scored 25 or more points (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). The Patriots’ offense that was ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored after week three is now fifth in the NFL with 270 points scored.
Coming out of week three ranked 29th in the league on third down percentage converting on just 28.6% of their third downs, the Patriots are now 12th in the league converting 42.3% of third downs for the season. The Red Zone scoring percentage of 64.7 (22 of 34 drives) is good for tenth in the NFL.
The last game before a bye week is often considered to be a trap game as the players are naturally looking ahead to a week off after a long, grueling first half of the season.
How do the Patriots plan to keep this offensive momentum against the top-rated defense of the Tennessee Titans?
The New England Patriots face a tough test on the road heading into Tennessee to take on Mike Vrabel and the Titans’ number one ranked defense. Tennessee has allowed an NFL-best just 141 points (17.6 points per game) so far through eight games.
The Titans have two cornerbacks intimately familiar with quarterback Tom Brady in former teammates Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. Add in impressive young cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and safety Kevin Byard and free agent Kenny Vaccaro and the defense has made it difficult for opponents to move the ball through the air.
Teams have struck with the big pass plays, particularly targeting Butler. In fact, per Pro Football Focus, seven of the 14 touchdowns allowed by Tennessee have come against Butler. On Monday Night Football last week, the Dallas Cowboys lit up Butler in front of a prime-time audience as both Amari Cooper and Allen Hurns scored on him.
In fact, again per Pro Football Focus, Butler allowed eight completions on 11 targets for 108 yards and two touchdown against Dallas Monday night with quarterback Dak Prescott (never one to be confused with Tom Brady) actively targeting Butler throughout the game. In his first half of a season in Tennessee, the former Super Bowl hero has allowed 39 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
That said, he will have extra motivation to play well this week and expect Tennessee to keep Jackson or Ryan on the dangerous Josh Gordon. In fact, safeties Byard and Vaccaro will likely be spending a lot of time focusing on Gordon to prevent the big plays downfield which have hurt Tennessee at times this season.
New England will have to take a page from the Philadelphia Eagles’ game plan against Tennessee earlier this season. Philadelphia was the only team to top 300 yards passing (and needed overtime to do it), but Carson Wentz found spread the ball to eight different receivers.
Tennessee took away slot receiver Nelson Agholor allowing just five catches for 22 on 12 targets. Carson Wentz feasted on the safeties and linebackers in coverage of tight end Zach Ertz (10 catches for 112 yards) while outside receiver Alshon Jeffery won some one-on-one matchups outside (eight catches for 105 yards).
Wentz completed six passes to the running backs, 12 to the tight ends and got a touchdown from Jordan Matthews. The Patriots should look to duplicate this effort, particularly if tight end Rob Gronkowski is healthy (heck, even if Jacob Hollister is healthy). Everyone knows leading receiver James White is a big part of the game plan, but working everyone into the game plan is a necessity.
Look for the Patriots to involve the tight ends (if healthy) and if only Dwayne Allen and James Develin again, those two may be needed to be involved in the passing game. Phillip Dorsett had three receptions last week getting re-established in the passing game and should continue to be used as part of the game plan.
The disappearance of Chris Hogan is a concern as he was shut out last week against the Packers. His receptions are down after having a key role in 2016 and 2017. Re-establishing his role in the offense would be helpful this week against Tennessee’s deep secondary.
That is only part of the offensive game plan–the Patriots also must get back in the groove in the running game:
POUND ON THE GROUND:
The New England Patriots’ offense has functioned best when they have been balanced on offense. Their best running back from last year–Dion Lewis–is on the opposite sideline this week. Rex Burkhead is still on injured reserve (but practicing finally) and impressive rookie Sony Michel has been banged-up and missed the last two games after injuring his knees versus the Chicago Bears.
Michel is a game-time decision on Sunday, but even if he cannot go, the Patriots have leaned on wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as the lead back. The Patriots are clearly not going to overwork James White between the tackles and Kenjon Barner is filling the “Brandon Bolden” role of giving the lead running backs a breather for one series a game.
Patterson has filled the big lead back role surprisingly well the past two weeks. He rushed for 38 yards on ten carries against Buffalo and for 61 yards on 11 carries against Green Bay. Getting 99 yards on 21 carries from any running back over two weeks is impressive–from a wide receiver, it is fantastic.
Running the ball against the Titans is a must. The pass defense is too good not to be able to beat without being able to involve play-action to get the linebackers and safeties sucked up to the line of scrimmage. The Titans are 3-1 when allowing less than 120 yards rushing and 1-3 when allowing over 120 yards on the ground.
The Titans are strong in the middle with superstar Jurrell Casey inside. Next to him are big bodies Austin Johnson and former Chiefs nose tackle Bennie Logan. Da’Quan Jones is another player who is not a household name, but played a key role on Monday night slowing Ezekiel Elliott.
For the Patriots, getting Shaq Mason back to full strength would help the running game. Ted Karras filled in well last week, but Mason has been playing at an All-Pro level in 2018 and is the Patriots’ best run blocker on the offensive line.
Establishing the run is a must for the Patriots, and while they do not need to rush for 160 yards (though that would be nice), they will be happy to have their running backs average four yards per rush and keep the Tennessee defense honest and force them to respect the running game and help create space for the passing attack.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01