The regular season is finally here! With it comes a match up with the Tennessee Titans down in Nashville at 1 p.m. There is no doubt that Tom Brady and the boys are itching to go out and put last year’s upset behind them. Fortunately, the numbers are in the Patriots’ favor. The Pats have won eight straight season openers. Wondering what happened the last time these two teams met? Well you should; the Patriots demolished the Titans 59-0 in a 2009 snowy matchup in Foxborough. Even though both teams are drastically different, and the chances of snow in Tennessee are slim, I expect the Patriots to find similar success.
3 Keys on Offense:
1. Find a consistent running game. Lets be honest. The Patriots are not a running team by any stretch. However, if Tom Brady drops back to pass 50 times a game, the Pats will have their share of struggles against most teams. A decent running game will force the Titan’s secondary to stay honest and respect the run. This will allow Brady and the receiving corps to take advantage. It would also open up play action passes that target Gronk down the field. This will be a major theme for the Patriots all year with youngsters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen getting the carries. A solid running game could be the difference between a great offense, and a legendary one.
2. Find the rhythm fast! The Patriots offense was quiet during the preseason. They managed only 6 touchdowns this preseason. Brandon Lloyd caught only 1 pass and Wes Welker caught none. Sure, the timing can be managed during practice, but the speed of a regular season game does not compare. With Jake Locker getting his first start in this game, the Titans likely will not put up many points. As long as Brady and his corps can get off to a good start, they could be looking at a runaway.
3. Protect the Football. As I just said, Jake Locker is making his first start. Add in the fact that WR Kenny Britt is suspended, and no one knows what to expect from RB Chris Johnson, it doesn’t look like the Titans will be scoring at will. If the Patriot’s offense can avoid turnovers and keep momentum as well as possession, the Patriots will coast on offense, and greatly help their defense.However, this will be no easy feat. The Titans had the most interceptions in the preseason with 8.
3 Keys on Defense:
1. Get after the Youngster! This revamped front seven for the Patriots will be licking their chops early in this game. Pressure is the worst enemy for young quarterbacks. Jake Locker is a good athlete, but does not have vision or awareness to consistently make plays on the run. Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower should get pressure on blitzes and force Locker into some poor decisions. That being said, if they let Locker sit in the pocket, he will make plays down the field. I don’t see this happening and expect several sacks during the game.
2. Don’t underestimate Chris Johnson. Johnson was one of the biggest disappointments last season as he rushed for a miserable 1,047 yards. Johnson is well known for his blinding speed and elusiveness in the open field. However, after his lockout stint last season, he lost that agility and hunger he showed the year earlier when he ran for over 2000 yards. Johnson claims he will rebound this season and go back the superstar he used to be. While this remains to be seen, the Patriot’s front 7 must keep contain and prevent CJ from hitting the corner. If the defense can keep Johnson between the numbers, he’ll be off to another rough start.
3. Don’t give up the Big Plays. If the Patriot’s defense can force Locker to consistently drive down the field, he will struggle. Young quarterbacks often look for the big play, especially if they are down in the ball game. Chris Johnson is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball and Locker has a cannon for an arm. If the Patriots can force Locker to hit his check down routes and give up the 5 or 6 yards passes, they will have more opportunities to take advantage of Locker’s youth.
My prediction: Patriots 38 – Titans 17