Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots directs his players during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Game time: Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET, LP Field
Weather: High 70s, partly cloudy
Records: Patriots (0-0), Titans (0-0)
When the Patriots have the ball. New England is coming off a 13-win season and a trip to the Super Bowl, their fifth appearance in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. The offense has some new faces -- left tackle Matt Light retired, center Dan Koppen and wideout Deion Branch were released, and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was lost to the Bengals in free agency -- but there's no reason to think that the results will change. This team made the playoffs 10 times this decade, which coincides nicely with the careers of the aforementioned Belichick and Brady.
So when the Pats face the Titans on Sunday afternoon here's what we can expect: a lot of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, a healthy mix of wide receiver Wes Welker, and maybe even a few down-field shots to deep threat Brandon Lloyd. And the passing game will be balanced by a new-look running attack that features second-year back Stevan Ridley along with veteran Danny Woodhead. It won't remind anyone of Corey Dillon or the "Law Firm," but this is 2012 -- run-heavy offenses are extinct (and when did the Pats do that, anyway?). What it will provide: a nice change of pace for a passing game that will be the engine of this offense.
The Titans will be without one of their best defenders, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who signed with the Rams in the offseason, but if they're going to have any chance at success it will be because the front seven can mount a pass rush. Obviously, that won't be easy.
“Just seeing what he’s been doing over the years, you usually don’t see him get hit that much,” defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said, according to the Tennessean. “You just see him leading the league in passing or being one of the top three, so (the preseason) has been kind of unusual.
“But we have to look at that as a foundation for us to build off of. … We are always going to try and take advantage of the weakness. Just by watching a little film of what’s been happening in the preseason, they have a couple of weaknesses and we’re going to try and exploit it.”
Unless you're the Giants, that's easier said than done.
When the Titans have the ball. The Pats' defense was its Achilles; heel last season. It has been for a few seasons now. Belichick went about rectifying that situation this spring, using first-round picks on linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones. Both are listed as starters and should see plenty of action on Sunday.
Here's what former Pats linebacker and ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi had to say about Jones:
"What I was impressed with in the preseason was that it didn't look like he was feeling anything out. Rushing the passer, setting the edge on those offensive tackles, it all was aggressive and fast. If he was going to make a mistake, it was going to be overcome from effort and his physicality. He didn't look like he was putting his toe in the water; he was diving in and going full speed and seeing what happens. That can be a good attitude to have. I think they'll attack him to see what he really has. He has the ability, but he's still young. You always want to test a rookie early in the season. I think that's something to watch early."
And both Hightower and Jones will be integral to slowing Titans running back Chris Johnson. Presumably, the plan will be to make Tennessee's offense one-dimensional (read: stop Johnson) and shift the onus squarely to second-year quarterback Jake Locker.
"It was a down year for (Johnson), but it was still a good year," linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Johnson's sluggish 2011 season. "Especially in the fourth quarter, he would break a lot of runs in the fourth quarter. We have to stay focused on him, it's going to take 11 guys and that's our goal."
Cornerback Kyle Arrington added: “He's dangerous. He's as dangerous as he ever was. He'll take it up the middle, bounce it out, take it on the edge and hit the home run. We have to be very, very disciplined this week and try to do a great job of setting the edge. It should be a great challenge for us.”
The talking is over. It's finally time for football.