FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots are not revealing their plans to defend against Titans running back Chris Johnson in Sunday’s game in Nashville. But their strategy is likely to be based on perseverance and strength in numbers.
“You have to play against him for 60 minutes,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said Friday. “Last season was a down year for him but it was still a good year, especially in the fourth quarter. He would break a lot of runs in the fourth quarter. You have to stay focused on him. It’s going to take 11 guys, and that’s our goal.”
The Patriots can’t take quarterback Jake Locker lightly, either.
“First and foremost we’ve just got to stay alert to him throwing the ball downfield,” said cornerback Devin McCourty. “We’ve got to be aware of where all those guys are at, where those guys are on the perimeter.
“I think we approach it like we always do. We talk about getting to the quarterback. It’s always important. We don’t want their guys to be comfortable back there.”
But the player most capable of giving the Patriots fits is Johnson, who three years ago eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing, and has four straight 1,000-yard campaigns.
“When you talk about speed, you talk about C.J.,” McCourty said. “I mean, he’s definitely one of the fastest guys in the NFL — no one really ever catches him when he breaks out.”
Said Mayo: “He can break tackles, he’s fast, super fast. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He just does it all, and there’s not too many guys out there like that.
“You can’t just put one guy on him, you have to have different guys covering him, different guys trying to tackle him. It’s going to take a group effort.”
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich stressed containment.
“It’s about everybody being on the same page,” Ninkovich said. “We’ve been together awhile now, a whole training camp. They have a couple guys who are pretty good running backs, the quarterback can move pretty good. We’re going to have to play fast and keep them contained.
“Everyone has a job to do, everyone is counting on each other to do the job — that’s what team defense is all about.”
McCourty said the Patriots are ready to get the season started.
“We’ve just got to play football,” he said. “It’s a new year and we’re excited for the first game of the season. Throughout this whole locker room we’ve got guys who go all the way, from rookies playing in their first game to guys who have played for a long time.
“It’s a new season. A lot of people focus on what the team did a year ago, in previous games, but we’re focused. This is the first game of the season, so we know they’re going to give it their best shot and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
The Patriots will rely on some young players this year.
“When you get out there the speed picks up,” said McCourty, who’s in his third year. “Rookies see it’s not as friendly as in preseason — a lot of times you see a lot of guys you went to school with, there are a lot of free agents on each team. Guys are really focused on winning in the regular season, so I think the pace and attitude kind of changes a little bit.
“I’ve just been telling those guys, at the end of the day it’s just football. You’ve been playing football your whole life. It’s a bigger stage but it’s the next stage for you, so just be prepared and try to stay settled. I told them once you get out there, after a maybe a play or two, they’re just out there playing football.”
Ninkovich is hoping to focus less on pass coverage this season.
“I mean, every year’s different,” he said. “You have to come in and use what you have to the best of your abilities on defense. This year, it’s a little different. I enjoy being able to rush a little more than covering. That just gives me more opportunities to get after the quarterback. If you look at the way it is now, there are just a lot more throws in a game than the ground-and-pound way it used to be. Obviously, it’s a passing league now so you’ve got to have those rushers.”
McCourty said he had not talked to his twin brother, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, since Wednesday.
“We usually talk about opponents,” McCourty said. “So that doesn’t really work out so well this week.”