THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Chris Johnson

September 9, 2012
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Titans’ key player

It’s a critical season for Johnson. If he can return to the form he flashed in 2009 (2,006 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry), it will take a lot of the pressure of young quarterback Jake Locker and the Titans could contend for a playoff spot. If he can’t, he’s a likely salary cap casualty at season’s end.

How he beats you: With speed and quickness. Johnson has a blinding-fast first step and passes through creases with ease. He accelerates at the second level, and if he gets into the secondary, you can kiss him goodbye.

How to shut him down: By making the initial hit hurt. Johnson is not elusive and lacks the power to break tackles. He’s slender and durability will always be a concern because he absorbs a lot of abuse.

Titans’ keys to victory:

1. Southern comfort: It’s imperative to get Jake Locker some quick and easy completions because he’s bound to be more than a little nervous facing Bill Belichick’s schemes.

2. Rush: The Titans have to put pressure on the reworked New England offensive line and Tom Brady. Karl Klug has the strength and quickness to come from the inside and Kamerion Wimbley can be a demon off the edge.

3. Special: Speedy and elusive return man Darius Reynaud has to have an impact in the kicking game. Keeping the field short makes Locker’s job easier. And Rob Bironas is one the league’s best kickers.

Patriots’ keys to victory:

1. Hurt Locker: Send a message in the first quarter. If you allow Locker to make plays early, his confidence will soar. So hurt his body — and his feelings — from the get-go.

2. Groove: Tom Brady has looked like anything but Tom Brady this preseason. It’s time to get on the same page with his new weapons and his old weapons and get moving.

3. The Rookies: Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower were drafted to re-energize the aging defense and get after the quarterback. Give them plenty of plays so they can show their stuff.

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