Saturday, September 8, 2012

Opening weekend game primer: Patriots at Titans


The New England Patriots travel to Tennessee to open the regular season against the Titans in a 1 p.m. game that bookmakers have the Patriots favored by less than a touchdown (-6.5). The Pats have dominated the Titans in recent years, and with Tennessee's young quarterback, Jake Locker, and several looming question marks on offense, the Pats are looking to open the season with an explosion.
Keys for a Patriots win:

Hold up on defense. With coach Bill Belichick's recent switch to a 4-3 defense, depending on how it jells in the team’s first game of the season, the Titans could be forced into airing it out if running back Chris Johnson is limited by the Pats’ D. And that’s what Belichick & Co. want: force the young QB to make plays to receivers who are not usually the No. 1 wideout.

Continue to contain Johnson throughout. Like Belichick said earlier this week, the Patriots are expecting some surprises out of the Jeff Fisher-less Titans, but they’re still keying in on Johnson (photo: Parker Anderson, Flickr) to stop Tennessee in its tracks.

Build early chemistry among new young defenders. The Pats have plenty of new faces on defense. How will the fit in? Front-seven defenders Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, among others, will be champing at the bit to get after a young signal-caller in Locker.

Keys for a Titans win:

Set the tone early. Hard and fast. Once the Patriots get ahead, good luck catching them. Tennessee needs to take charge, ideally by winning the coin toss, getting the ball, and marching downfield on a defense that was the weakest part of the team last season.

Locker needs to be better than solid. The Titans are confident in Locker's preseason performance, when he threw a pair of touchdowns and passed for 316 yards this preseason while splitting time with three other QBs. Even more glaring was that Locker (photo: Parker Anderson, Flickr) wasn't sacked at all, and his pocket presence was strong. He's aware, confident and clearly capable. Now they just need it to roll over to the regular reason when it counts. 

Nate Washington has to step up. Kenny Britt won’t be playing this week due to an injury. He actually has healed up, but he was previously on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He can’t play or practice with the Titans until the day after Sunday’s game vs. the Patriots. That means the receiver spotlight is on Washington, and the Titans need every bit of production out of him.
Week 1 Patriots posts:

Probable: S Pat Chung, shoulder. Questionable: CB Alfonzo Dennard, hamstring; CB Sterling Moore, knee; OL Nick McDonald, shoulder; OT Sebastian Vollmer, back; TE Daniel Fells, shin. Out: RB Shane Vereen, foot.

Titans injury report:
Questionable: DT Casey Jurrell, elbow; LB Zac Diles, hamstring; DE Scott Solomon, knee; Doubtful: DT Sen’Derrick Marks, knee. Out: T Mike Otto, finger/knee. Also out: G Steve Hutchinson, not injury related.