Remember the Titans?
Tennessee Titans (0-5) at New England Patriots (3-2)
4:15 p.m., Ch. 4 Line: Patriots by 9 1/2
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
New England’s rushing game continues to be a mystery. The team is getting production from a number of players, but when push comes to shove, the Patriots abandon the run and go with a pass-happy attack. The versatile Sammy Morris doesn’t necessarily lead the ground game but he will start today. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is a fullback/halfback hybrid. He possesses excellent vision and cutback moves, and though he lacks breakaway speed, he can be elusive in the open field. Morris is strong and will push the pile as a fullback in short-yardage situations. Laurence Maroney had a couple of nifty runs last week in Denver and could see his workload increase. He has the power and explosiveness to be an elite running back but he needs to stop tippy-toeing and start hitting creases with the authority that highlighted his first two pro seasons. Kevin Faulk will get some carries, and while he rarely loses yards, he has neither the bulk to be a workhorse nor the speed to be a game-changer. BenJarvus Green-Ellis could get his chance today. He’s a tough, between-the-tackles runner who always keeps his legs churning. The Patriots interior linemen have to fire off the ball against the Titans’ ornery defenders. Center Dan Koppen (smart and takes excellent angles) and guards Logan Mankins (relentless and nasty) and Stephen Neal (quick and agile) don’t take plays off. This trio must get to the second level and cut down playmaking linebackers Keith Bulluck (an explosive hitter with outstanding range) and Stephen Tulloch. (a powerful tackler with excellent instincts).
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
There has been a lot of talk about New England’s inability to hit big pass plays. That’s likely to change today, because the Patriots have emphasized it in practice all week and the Titans secondary is banged up. Tom Brady, long one of the league’s most accurate passers, has lacked zip on his throws. This won’t last. As Brady continues to shake off the rust of missing a season, opponents will start to pay the price. Brady reads defenses quickly, audibles effectively, and consistently finds his secondary options. Randy Moss, always a primary option, could be in for a big day with cornerback Nick Harper out with a broken arm and cornerback Cortland Finnegan also out with a nagging hamstring. Moss has tremendous acceleration and high-end speed. He will lull corners into a false sense of security by starting slow before exploding into his route. Wes Welker, one of the toughest hombres in the league, remains Brady’s security blanket. Welker, still dealing with a balky knee, gets off the line quickly and exposes soft spots over the middle. Welker, who has strong hands, consistently moves the chains. Brady’s options are limited after Moss and Welker. Julian Edelman and Sam Aiken show flashes but drop too many catchable balls. Tight end Ben Watson has awesome physical skills but is too often MIA. Rookie tackle Sebastian Vollmer gets the unenviable task of trying to keep explosive end Kyle Vanden Bosch off Brady’s back.
WHEN THE TITANS RUN
The Titans boast a terrific running back tandem in Chris Johnson and LenDale White. Johnson is the starter and he possesses special skills. A 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pounder, Johnson burst onto the NFL landscape last season with awesome speed and acceleration. A very decisive runner, Johnson can slip through the slightest openings before exploding into the secondary and bowling over defensive backs. Johnson is a threat to take it for 6 points from anywhere on the field. White is a poor man’s Jerome Bettis. Built like a fullback, the 6-1, 235-pounder has exceptionally quick feet and balance. He can run for the tough inside yards but also has the ability to break to the corner and head upfield. He reads his blockers well, runs with good pad level, and will power through arm tackles. Veteran center Kevin Mawae controls the offensive line. An outstanding athlete with high intelligence and a mean streak, Mawae knows all the tricks (including the dirty ones) of the trade. He’ll smack you hard when you’re looking and twice as hard when you’re not. Right guard Jake Scott is quick and athletic but lacks strength despite being 6-5, 295. Left guard Eugene Amano takes excellent angles and will get into linebackers’ legs quickly. The Patriot run defense begins with mammoth nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Despite lingering ankle woes, Wilfork continues to play at a high level. The 6-2, 325-pounder (that’s conservative) is pretty nimble for a man his size. His tremendous lower-body strength allows him to anchor against inside runners while his quick feet allow him to make tackles in space. Athletic linebackers Gary Guyton and Junior Seau will shoot the gaps created by Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Jarvis Green.
WHEN THE TITANS PASS
Kerry Collins has prototype physical skills for an NFL quarterback. He’s 6 feet 5 inches, 245 pounds, with excellent vision and a cannon for an arm. Collins throws an outstanding deep pass and can zip the ball into tight spaces. He’s developed into a solid leader and has handled the pressure of playing and thriving while former first-round pick Vince Young stands in the shadows. Expect the Patriots to bring pressure with linemen Jarvis Green and Mike Wright and linebackers Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas. Collins has a tendency to get flustered, and a few early hits will affect his decision-making, leading to poorly thrown balls. Collins’s top receivers are Justin Gage and Nate Washington. Gage (6-4, 212) is big and fast with reliable hands. He runs sloppy routes, however, allowing corners and safeties to stick with him. If he learns to stop slowing down and rounding off his turns, he has the tools to become an elite player. Washington has speed to burn. He’s still raw and gets open by flying past defenders rather than juking them. He has tremendous body control and will sell out to make catches. He drops too many easy ones, however. Bo Scaife is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. The Titans will run him out of multiple formations (expect a lot of H-back looks). Scaife has the strength to power through press coverage and the smarts and hands to expose soft spots over the middle. Tight end Alge Crumpler has exceptional hands but no longer possesses the speed that made him one of the NFL’s best. Hard-hitting Patriot safeties Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriweather do an excellent job in pass coverage and run support.
Prediction: Patriots 23, Titans 10