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Six Things to Watch in Titans-Patriots Game Saturday

Posted Jan 12, 2018

TitansOnline.com Senior Writer and Editor Jim Wyatt offers six things to watch in Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Titans face the New England Patriots on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s a look at six things to watch:

Mariota Magic

This has been a category three weeks in a row now, because Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to deliver in magical ways. Against the Jaguars it was a late-game run, and stiff-arm, followed by a stare down - and a Tennessee win. In Kansas City, Mariota threw a touchdown pass to himself, and late in the game he made a key block on Derrick Henry’s game-clinching run. So what does Mariota have in store for everyone on Saturday night? Well, the Titans need him to be on, and don’t be surprised if he does something out of the ordinary.

Derrick Henry

It’s been a tale of two games for running back Derrick Henry and the Titans since starter DeMarco Murray was sidelined. Henry managed just 51 yards and 1.8 yards per carry against the Jaguars, and afterward he felt like he ran soft. Last week, Henry ran like a bulldozer, plowing his way for 156 yards and a 6.8-yard average. So which Henry will the Titans get against the Patriots? The Titans need a big game out of Henry. The Patriots are 20th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (114.8), and 31st in rushing yards per carry (4.7). The Titans need a big performance in the run game.

Red zone

The Patriots give up some yards on defense – New England is ranked 29th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 366.0 yards per game. The problem teams have against the Patriots is scoring points. New England is fifth overall in points allowed (18.5 ppg), and they’ve done a great job stiffening up in the red zone. One of the biggest keys for the Titans will center on how well they perform in the red zone, where the Titans ranked 25th in the regular season. If the Titans can only manage field goals after drives, it’s going to put a lot of stress on their defense. If they’re able to score touchdowns, things could get interesting.

Fluster Brady

OK, slowing down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been a hopeless effort for most teams. He’s a mastermind in the pocket, able to frustrate defenses with his precision passing and uncanny split-second decision making. Heck, I remember well the day he lit the Titans up for 59 points back in 2009 (sorry I brought this up). This is a different Titans defense than that one, of course, and it will fight. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Brady is capable of picking teams apart if he knows what’s coming. So the Titans need to keep Brady guessing with a mix of pressure and coverage. Getting hands up and deflecting balls, which could lead to interceptions, is key.

Slowing down Gronk

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a tough matchup, there’s no doubt about it. He’s one of those guys who is nearly impossible to defend because of his size and strength. Gronkowski led all tight ends with 1,084 receiving yards in 2017, and it was the fourth 1,000-yard season of his career. In the past five postseason games he’s averaged 86.2 receiving yards per contest, and six interceptions. The Titans need to limit his effectiveness. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce was having success last week before he left the game with an injury. The Titans are going to need several guys to keep Gronk in check.

Jurrell Casey, Titans D-line

Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey kept a low profile this week. He politely declined interview requests, saying he wanted to focus on the task at hand. The play of the Titans defensive line has a chance to make a big impact on the game. I mentioned batted balls earlier, but if Casey and others can be disruptive from the get-go, it could change the look of New England’s offense. If Brady is able to deal without pressure, it could be a long day for the Titans. I’m expecting the Titans to create some havoc, starting with Casey.