Patriots offense vs. Titans defense
While Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will win the battle against the Tennessee Titans defense, it won’t be the easiest thing in the world. The Titans have a good cornerback duo in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, with McCourty coming off of a huge 2011 season and an even bigger contract extension this offseason. Devin’s brother will have a tough match-up against him in Brandon Lloyd. An added benefit of having a big-time deep threat like Lloyd is that he will focus the attention of the opponent’s top coverage player and the safety bracketing him, which in turn will open things up for the other weapons.
Verner, who has effectively taken over Cortland Finnegan’s role with the team, will be getting quite a bit of time against the uncoverable Wes Welker. Although he has excellent ball skills and can blitz and make plays against the run, Verner is better covering receivers on the outside than in the slot. While he won’t get embarrassed by Welker, I expect Welker to comfortably win this battle.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will likely command the coverage of safety Michael Griffin at some points. An elite playmaker, Griffin is prone to mistakes and isn’t the best tackler, which would leave him vulnerable if asked to tackle a pass-catcher the size of Gronk. One of those two players will go off for a huge game, as Tommie Campnbell is inexperienced as the RCB in nickel sets (Verner is the RCB in base sets).
With Shane Vereen out of the picture, this is Stevan Ridley’s time to shine. He will hoard carries against a Titans run defense that struggled last season. Colin McCarthy is an extremely promising second-year player, but the Titans run defense as a whole is shaky. Casey, the team’s top run stuffer on the defensive line, is nicked up while Akeem Ayers and the safeties can be exploited in the open field. Verner and McCourty can make plays in run defense, but Ridley should be in for a breakout game to start the season.
The biggest concern for the Patriots is going to be at both offensive tackle positions and for different reasons. Nate Solder will eventually develop into a good pass blocker, but he is a better run blocker at this point and will struggle mightily against Kamerion Wimbley. He was a big signing for the Titans this offseason and is at his best against younger tackles. Able to consistently deliver a high amount of pressure, Wimbley will be a constant disruption to Brady’s game.
The fact that Sebastian Vollmer is questionable is something former first-rounder Derrick Morgan should be salivating at, because he has yet to prove his first-round worth. But his talent is undeniable and he has shown flashes during his career. He could have a big start to the season if matched up against Marcus Cannon, who is clearly not ready to start at the tackle position just yet.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Titans 23
The New England Patriots are going to win this game; there’s not much doubt about that in my mind. But this game is definitely going to be a close one, because the Titans have an explosive offense and some good role players on defense. The problem is that their defense just isn’t good enough to stop the Patriots passing attack and the multitude of weapons they have, as they have several liabilities scattered across their D in players like Tommie Campbell. The Titans, however, should give the Pats a run for their money and won’t lose by more than two touchdowns. Expect Johnson to have a couple of highlight reel runs and prove his return to form.
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