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The Patriots are poised to take on the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round, and they enter the game as heavy favorites. The defending champs are 13-3 and coming off a bye week while the 9-7 Titans had to post a miraculous comeback from a 21-3 deficit in Kansas City to defeat the Chiefs 22-21.
Now the stakes get higher for the inexperienced Titans, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have personnel that can cause some problems. Tennessee’s offense hasn’t been particularly sharp this season but dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota is capable of getting hot, and bruising running back Derrick Henry, who is coming off a 154-yard performance in KC, also is a handful.
The Titans boast a good receiving group with Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis as well as underrated tight end Delanie Walker, so the Patriots defense will need to shake off any potential rust from the bye week and be ready to go.
This week’s Samsonite Make Your Case question is: Which member of the Titans offense will be toughest for the Patriots defense to deal with?
The Patriots run defense has struggled for most of the season. They ranked 20th in rushing yards allowed and 30th in average per rush allowed. Derrick Henry is a big, physical back who can pile up yards if he’s allowed to get going. The Patriots defense needs to focus on him to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Normally the Patriots do a good job working against bigger backs, especially ones who like to make their living between the tackles. But this season that hasn’t always been the case. Most of the damage has been done on the edges, but teams have found running room more often than not regardless of approach in 2017.
Henry is capable of wearing down a defense so the Patriots need to get bodies on him early to limit his impact. Stout play from Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and maybe Alan Branch assuming he returns will go a long way toward eliminating Henry from the equation. If that happens, the Patriots defense should dominate.
It hasn’t been a great season for the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Oregon. Marcus Mariota has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13), which in this day and age is almost unheard of. But he showed last week that he’s capable of getting hot and carrying the team when it counts, so he needs to be the focus of the defense.
What makes Mariota potentially dangerous is his running ability. Mobile quarterbacks have given the Patriots occasional problems this season, and if the Titans use him on planned zone-read keeps toward the edges that could put some stress on the Patriots front seven – especially if Kyle Van Noy experiences any problems with the calf that kept him out of the lineup down the stretch.
Mariota is not a precision passer and the Titans don’t have a bevy of playmakers, but he is talented dual-threat quarterback. Keeping him in check is the top priority.
Now it’s your turn to cast a vote in this week’s Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.
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