We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x’s and o’s football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
Week one of the NFL regular season is finally here! The games are now meaningful and the New England Patriots have been dealt a tough first one; they are set to face the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
The last time the two teams clashed, it was 59 point drubbing by the Patriots. However, this time is expected to be different. For starters, the Titans have a different head coach with Mike Munchak, who replaced Jeff Fisher last season. Munchak’s team went 9-7 in his first season, which was a transitional year that saw the offense shift from a run first to pass first philosophy while the defense introduced rookie linebackers Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, who will be the starters in week one.
Inside the Titans’ offense
Staring with the offense, the Titans played a lot of 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end), 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 tailbacks, 1 tight end) personnel in the preseason with new starting QB Jake Locker.
Locker is a much different quarterback than last year’s starter, Matt Hasselbeck. He is much more mobile and has a stronger arm. The latter is particularly important as the Titans are willing to throw vertically, especially in the seam, by utilizing offensive coordinator Chris Palmer’s Run and Shoot concepts out of the shotgun formation. Palmer will utilize five and six man protections in these situations.
Moreover, although Palmer has the trust in his young quarterback to throw the ball all over the field because of the talent he possesses, he knows that Locker is a bit of a gunslinger and will throw the ball up for grabs, which is why he‘s likely to call short throws early on to reel the young signal caller in and boost his confidence. Despite this, there will be turnover opportunities throughout the game for the Patriots defense.
The Titans will also look to run the ball well, which they did not do last season. The running game is led by star back Chris Johnson, who comes off a career low year in rush yards with 1,047. Despite the struggles, the former 2,000 yard rusher showed elusiveness and game breaking ability on Lead and Power plays in the preseason that once made him the league’s most dangerous running back.
Inside the Titans’ defense
Defensively, the Titans lost top cornerback Courtland Finnegan in the off-season but still possesses talent in the back end.
They are led by cornerbacks Jason McCourty, who is Devin’s brother, and Alterraun Verner as well as safety Michael Griffin. All three defensive backs are able to make plays on the ball in the Titans Cover 2 scheme.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray emphasizes discipline to his players as they play Cover 2 and several of its variations (Tampa 2, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 2 Man Under) as well as Cover 3. In the Cover 2 scheme, the middle linebacker is crucial as he is forced to run down the middle of the field with tight ends, and the Titans have a good one in second year linebacker Colin McCarthy.
McCarthy is a disciplined MIKE linebacker that has the speed to run with pass catching threats while also possessing the instincts and intelligence to play the run. He is a promising defender that is quick to read and react, which is why the Patriots must get their hands on him when running the ball.
The Titans also spend the majority of their snaps in a 4-3 defense with Over and Under fronts complimenting it. Strong-side linebacker Akeem Ayers is one of the keys to these fronts because he plays both on and off the line of scrimmage in his attempts to cover tight ends or rush the passer. Ayers is used in a variety of alignments and roles, such as a stand-up rusher on third down when the Titans go to their three man front in their nickel (5 defensive backs) package.
What to watch for
Titans Run Defense: Whether it was against the Seattle Seahawks or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Titans starting run defense had issues at times. Against Seattle, the interior defensive linemen got swallowed up and the defense struggled to play the run laterally. In week two of the preseason, the Buccaneers found some success running through the interior as well as finding the cutback lane where contain defenders were undisciplined. Last season, they gave up an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
Locker outside the pocket: Whether he is scrambling or rolling out, Locker is very dangerous outside of the pocket. This is where the majority of his big plays come from, especially against man coverage where he can tuck the ball and run, and the Patriots have to play disciplined in their pass defense to keep him contained.
Titans play-action defense: The Titans are a very aggressive defense that likes to swarm to the ball and because of that, they can be taken advantage of by a good play action passing team. Linebackers Will Witherspoon and Akeem Ayers can sometimes be caught out of position, consequently resulting in completed passes over their heads.
RE Kamerion Wimbley vs. LT Nate Solder: Wimbley is by no means an elite pass rusher, but he is a dangerous one. He plays with a good motor and tests offensive tackles’ pad level and quickness with a deadly speed rush. He will force Solder to bend his knees and slide his feet, which could be problematic for the young blocker. I expect Solder to get help from the tailbacks and tight ends in this matchup.
WR Kendall Wright: First round pick Kendall Wright is small and doesn’t time fast on a track (4.61) but he plays faster and is a threat after the catch. He is quick out of his breaks and can get down the field in a hurry. He poses a threat to the Patriots defensive backs as the lone Titans receiver who can really do damage after the catch consistently.
Titans no-huddle offense: Locker and the Titans ran a no-huddle offense against the Seahawks in week one of the preseason and used an empty backfield in the process. This is something that may or may not be used in week one but if it does, it is likely to force the Patriots to go to their base defense and could potentially do damage.