New England Patriots: 3 keys to beating the Tennessee Titans

Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots will have one of their toughest tests yet in the 2021 season when they face off against the formidable Tennessee Titans in Week 12.

The Mike Vrabel-coached Titans are 8-3, only one game ahead of the Patriots in the AFC standings. After the Patriots 2-4 start, that of itself is a major achievement.

The targets for New England now should be winning the division and or reaching the top of the AFC. Either way, the Patriots will have to go through the Titans. A win Sunday will help out a lot.

The New England Patriots 3 keys to beating the Tennessee Titans

The first key for New England is to pass often and accurately. Tennessee’s pass defense is allowing the ninth most yards per game at 253.3, so it’s clear they have some weaknesses that can be exploited in their secondary. So, the Patriots have to take advantage of one of their own strengths to counter a Titans weakness.

New England’s offense is stellar in completing passes. Mac Jones is one of the most accurate passers in the league. While they normally would use the run to set up the pass, the opposite might be in order against the Titans.

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Jones should come out firing screens and quick crosses to put the Titans on their heels to set up the run. Play action will help there.

It’s a different strategy than their norm, but it just might work against the Titans if the Patriots can also achieve the next key on this list.

The New England Patriots second key is to protect Mac Jones

The second key for the New England Patriots is to stifle the Titans’ pass rush to allow Jones time to rifle his pinpoint passes.

Jones has to have a clean pocket or this entire offensive plan falls apart. Once again the responsibility falls on the offensive line.

The return of Trent Brown helps immensely. This mammoth tackle is capable of shutting down even the best outside pass-rusher. He should be deployed at left tackle. He won’t be.

Isaiah Wynn will and the Patriots should expect the Titans’ best pass-rusher, outside linebacker Harold Landry III to rush from the right or weak side as Myles Garrett did for the Cleveland Browns in Week 10. Tennessee is fifth in the league in sacks. Protection is key.

Landry has 10 sacks to date. Yet, he is on the smallish side and not a good fit to rush against Brown on the right. Instead, they’ll try to pick on Wynn and he’ll need lots of help.

Look for New England to motion a tight end or receiver to chip Landry or deploy a back to assist Wynn on any play that’s not a quick hitter to his opposite side. If not, expect Jones to get flattened.

The New England Patriots third key against the Tennessee Titans

The New England Patriots offense is ranked third in the league in points scored. That’s a good place to be. Yet, the Titans are ranked seventh. They both score a lot of points.

The third key for New England is to force Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill into turnovers, as in interceptions. He’s vulnerable. The Titans and Tannehill rank 29th worst in the league at throwing interceptions.

Against Houston in Week 11 he threw four picks. Turn the ball over that many times and you’ll get beaten by any NFL team. Turn the ball over that many times against New England and you’ll get blown out.

The goal here is to force those interceptions. Vrabel may choose to run more to avoid that eventuality. That’s where the Patriots rejuvenated run defense comes in.

Defensive tackles Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, and Carl Davis are playing their best football of the year now including against the run. The Titans are not likely to profit much there.

So when they do pass, as Tannehill did 52 times last week, the Patriots pass rush, led by Matt Judon, Barmore, and Kyle Van Noy, has to force him into interceptions or sacks.

Win the sack and turnover battle, and you’ll likely win this game. These are two top teams on defense. Whoever forces more mistakes will probably prevail and own at least a share of the top spot in the AFC.

It’s a new era for New England Patriots football. They’ve always said that the season starts after Thanksgiving. The Patriots will be at home on Week 12 a couple of days after that turkey-fest.

If they continue their upward climb, there may be no stopping them. In front of them is the Titans, a huge obstacle, one of the best teams in the AFC.

One last footnote that really isn’t a footnote at all. If there is an overarching huge additional key to this game that’s just off the playing field, yet impacts it like no other, it’s the coaching match-up.

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It’s teacher vs. pupil (of sorts). Patriots head coach Bill Belichick versus Titans head coach and former star Patriot player, Mike Vrabel.

This is a key element that sets the table for everything else that happens. And its importance can’t be overestimated.

So there it is. It’s going to be a player and a coaching slugfest, mano a mano. Finally, in Week 12, we will see just how good the 2021 New England Patriots team really is. Can’t wait.