NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans face the New England Patriots on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is coming off an impressive performance against the Cowboys. He threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns in that contest, and ran for another score. All indications are he's as healthy as he's been since Week One, and the fact he shed the glove on his throwing hand last week offers proof. The Titans need Mariota to stay hot against the Patriots. While his last performance Nissan Stadium was a dud vs Baltimore (sorry I brought this up), the good news is he's thrown for 275 yards-plus in two of his last four home contests.
When the Titans faced the Patriots in the playoffs last year, running back Dion Lewis made life miserable for them, racking up 141 yards from scrimmage. Well, Lewis is now with the Titans, and put some butter on him -- he enters this Sunday's game on a roll. Lewis had 122 scrimmage yards last week (62 rush, 60 receiving) and he has 444 scrimmage yards (111 per game) and five touchdowns in his past five vs the AFC East. He'd love to stick it to his former team on Sunday.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a future Hall of Famer who has terrorized defenses for years. The 13-time Pro Bowler has been a real thorn in the side of the Titans. Case in point: Brady has 10 TD passes and 0 INTs for a 134.7 rating in his last three meetings with the Titans. Of course a lot of the faces have changed, even since last year. Enter Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who leads the NFL's No.1 ranked scoring defense. The Titans won't be able to shut Brady down. What they need to do is limit effectiveness. Getting some pressure on him would help.
OK, I'm not picking on Butler for mentioning him here. Yes, he's struggled this season, and he's the first guy to admit it. I can't help but think the Patriots – and Brady – will come after him on Sunday to test him, no matter who he is covering. The Patriots have some talented wide outs, from Julian Edelman to Josh Gordon. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is on the injury report, so questions still surround him. No matter what Gronk's status ends up being, expect some action on Butler's side of the field from the receivers. How will Butler handle it?
Still a Problem
Some of the Titans probably still have nightmares about trying to coral Lewis in last year's playoffs. And while Lewis is no longer on the other team, the Patriots have a running back in James White who has been – and will be --- heavily involved. White leads the Patriots with 61 catches for 531 yards, and he's scored six touchdowns. He has 235 yards and four scores running the ball. So the Titans are going to have to deal with dangerous back, and this time around they'll need to do a better job of limiting his effectiveness.
All the connections are really off the charts: Titans guard Josh Kline, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Butler, and Lewis all formerly played for the Patriots. Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke used to play for the Titans. Titans coach Mike Vrabel played under Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Pees is a former Patriots DC, and Titans GM Jon Robinson spent 12 years with the Patriots, including his last five years (2009-13) as the director of college scouting. If you think this game doesn't mean something extra to these guys, think again. It will be interesting to see who rises up on reunion day.
The Tennessee Titans take the field for practice on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the New England Patriots. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)