The last time these two teams face off Tom Brady threw for 345 yards and five touchdowns in the first half in the blistering snow. That was 2009 and these are two different teams now. With Sunday approaching fast I will address the five things to watch as the New England Patriots prepare to take on the Tennessee Titans week 1.
The Offensive Line:
It is pretty evident that this is the biggest concern for the Patriots coming into the 2012 season. With Matt Light retired and b not showing up to camp, the offensive line has been played by almost everyone in the preseason. Though Brady stated that he has faith in whomever is named the starting five, faith won’t keep Brady getting sacked or having to rush throws all night. Though the bunch has looked iffy during those exhibition games, it’s going to take a few games to mesh properly. With the Titans defensive line not as great as it used to be, expect the offensive line to set the tone for what may be an up-and-down year for the bunch .
The minute the Patriots announced the release of veteran wide out Deion Branch, this automatically meant an increased role for the third year tight end. He may not even be considered a tight end after this season. With Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster, expect to see Hernandez full-out replace Branch as the slot receiver and possibly the third overall receiver on the team after Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. With his speed and size, he’ll be a match-up nightmare for defensive backs and linebackers.
The Defensive Backs
This is a show and prove league and after last years efforts, the Patriots’ defensive back have a lot to show and prove. A big difference from last year and this year is that the bunch is healthy from the safeties to the cornerbacks. With Kenny Britt suspended for Week 1, I expect this bunch to handle their business this week. After a successful preseason, it’ll be interesting to see what rookie Nate Ebner can add to this secondary. Expect Devin McCourty to have a good game as bragging rights are on the line (twin brother Jason McCourty plays for Titans).
The Running Game
The Patriots haven’t had a “feature back” since they released Corey Dillon in 2007. Last season, the Titans were 24th against the run allowing 128.3 yards per game. This could be the beginning of something special for Stevan Ridley if he can prove that he is the definite number one running back for years to come. On 87 attempts, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season. If he can keep this around 4.5 to 5.1, this may be his coming out party. As Belichick stated in the preseason, it’s not about just running the ball. It’s running they ball when the other teams know we will. A good game will keep Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden away from the starting position for a while.
Though the numbers don’t show the true impact he had in the preseason (3 games, 4 tackles, 1 sack), Jones had a very good preseason. Though he is a rookie, his speed coming off the edge will keep Jake Locker on his toes and aware the entire game. It will also be a learning experience as he will be a big help to keeping Chris Johnson from getting to the outside. He may not leave the game with multiple sacks and tackles, but his presence alone can make life easier for the Patriots defense, and more importantly, their defensive backs.