Divisional Playoff Preview: Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

By Ha Kung Wong  Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Saturday, January 13, 2018 – 8:15 PM ET

Current Line – Patriots by 13.5

NOTE: Ryan Whitfield and I also broke this game down in this weeks podcast, so give it a listen!

Titans Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 20th

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 199.4 (23rd)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 8th

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 114.6 (15th)

Points Per Game – 20.9 (19th)

The Titans can’t make mistakes.  As I mentioned, they’re 24th in turnover differential (minus-4).  They have no margin for error against the Patriots.  I know they made an impressive 18 point comeback against the Chiefs in the Wild Card, but the Pats aren’t the Chiefs.

And although my co-host on the podcast disagrees, I buy on to the popular narrative that you need to keep Brady off the field if you want to win.  But the reason I buy the narrative is not because I think staying conservative is the only way to win.  I buy the narrative because I don’t trust Mariota to be aggressive while not turning over the ball, as he’s thrown more INTs (15) than TDs (13) this season.  That’s why I think Mariota needs to stay conservative over the air, but that he shouldn’t hesitate to scramble, and that the Titans otherwise continue to lean on Derrick Henry.  Keep in mind, the Patriots have the 3rd worst rush defense in the NFL this season, so if there’s anywhere the Titans should win the matchup, it’s there.

That’s not to say that Mariota shouldn’t go down field a few times, as he’s ranked 2nd in passer rating vs. pressure and for big time throw percentage pursuant to Pro Football Focus.

Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews are the top two threats in the passing game, but both have been inconsistent.  Walker hasn’t been terrible, but has lacked upside, while Matthews has had more games with 50 yards or less (8) than more (6), and has only 3 total receptions in his last 2 regular season games, not to mention a huge letdown in the Wild Card game.  The Titans will need a lot more from their passing attack to be successful this weekend.

But Derrick Henry should be the focus.  Henry has now got back-to-back solid games in relief of DeMarco Murray, with 28 carries and one long catch and run TD against the vaunted Jaguars defense and 23 carries for a whopping 156 yards and TD against the Chiefs in Wild Card Weekend.  He’ll need to keep this going to give the Titans a chance.

And last, the Titans will have to avoid penalties, which shouldn’t be an issue.  They have the second least penalties per game (5.5) of any team in the NFL this season.

Titans Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 24th

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 239.3 (25th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 7th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 88.8 (4th)

Points Allowed Per Game – 22.3 (17th)

The Titans defense has been relatively up and down, but they’ve been particularly effective against opposing RBs.  They managed to keep the NFL’s leading rusher, Kareem Hunt, in check last week, but part of that might have been due to Kansas City’s bizarre lack of running plays in the second half.  The Titans have had lapses in their secondary, and they won’t have a safety net against the Patriots.  According to Pro Football Focus, CB Adoree’ Jackson has allowed 0.99 yards per cover snap through the Wild Card round of the playoffs, tied for fourth-fewest among rookie CBs, and S Kevin Byard has been incredibly effective this year in coverage, but I suspect they’ll need more than that to slow down Brady and company.

Trading TDs for FGs will lose the game for the Titans for sure, but holding the Patriots to FGs while in the redzone may be enough to keep them in the game.

Patriots Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 1st

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 394.2 (1st)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 3rd

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 118.1 (10th)

Points Per Game – 28.6 (2nd)

Tom Brady, unsurprisingly, has had an amazing year.  He has averaged the 2nd most completions (24.1) for the most passing yards (286.1) and the 5th most passing TDs (2) per game of any QB this season.  And he’s just ask good in the post season with almost identical stats over his 34 postseason appearances.  In addition to that, Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy and is one of the most formidable postseason weapons at any position, getting at least 1 TD in 5 postseason games straight, and averaging 10.8 targets over that span.  With Chris Hogan also coming back, this 1st ranked passing attack is unlikely to be slowed.

As for the ground, Dion Lewis has been a revelation…again.  Back in 2015, after being picked up by the Patriots, he played for the first time in 2 years in relief of a suspended LaGarrette Blount, and was amazing.  He eventually got a 2-year contract, but soon thereafter tore his ACL and ended up out for the rest of the season and most of 2016.  In 2017, Lewis was stuck behind new acquisitions Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, but after several injuries, Lewis was thrust back in the limelight and was amazing once again.  In the last 3 weeks of the regular season, he’s averaged 96.3 rush yards, a rushing TD, 25.7 receiving yards and .67 receiving TDs per game.  And with Burkhead and Gillislee likely to sit out again, Lewis will be the prime ball carrier facing the 7th ranked Titans run defense.

But let’s be honest, the Pats are going to throw the ball.  And they shouldn’t have significant issues with the Titans 24th ranked pass defense.

Patriots Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 21st

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 251.3 (30th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 30th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 114.8 (20th)

Points Allowed Per Game – 18.5 (5th)

The Patriots defense started out horribly, but have actually turned the corner in recent weeks.  Plus, although they allowed the 3rd most passing yards and 13th most rushing yards per game they allowed the 5th LEAST amount of points to opponent offenses.  So stats be damned, perhaps you can move the ball on the Pats, but they sure don’t allow a lot of scoring.  The “bend but don’t break” defense is just good enough to allow the Pats to trade FGs for TDs, which is always a bad thing for opponents.

Prediction: Maybe, just maybe, the Titans can effectively make the Patriots one dimensional by stopping the run and create a few 4th downs.  And maybe, just maybe, the Titans can increase time of possession and play ball control behind Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry, taking advantage of the Pats weak run defense.  But the more likely scenario is that the Patriots get their foot on the gas and Brady to Gronk happens again…and again.

Patriots Win, but take the Titans with the Spread

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