The Tennessee Titans are massive underdogs heading into their divisional-round showdown with the New England Patriots.
It doesn’t come as a surprise. The Patriots have a convincing edge in multiple areas on paper.
However, no football game is ever won on paper, and no team understands that principle better than Tennessee’s opponent — the Patriots haven’t lost in the divisional round since 2010 and haven’t lost to an opponent in the postseason that won less than 10 regular-season games since Super Bowl 46.
In order for the Titans to slay Goliath and stun the Patriots, a lot has to go right, and some luck will have to be involved. Maybe Marcus Mariota can throw another touchdown to himself. Maybe the Titans can get Brady suspended in the second half after exposing another scandal.
Here’s the blueprint for a Titans win on Saturday.
No. 1) Mariota has to air it out
After Derrick Henry’s monster performance against Kansas City last week, a common talking point heading into this matchup is that the Titans must continue to establish Henry on the ground.
Except, that’s not going to work against the Patriots, as teams that emphasize the ground game against New England often lose.
The Patriots were 7-3 in the regular season against teams that rushed for 100 yards. In those three losses, the ground game was accompanied by an exceptional aerial assault.
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If the Titans want to legitimately threaten the defending champs, Mariota must have his best game of the season, which isn’t saying all that much considering his struggles. The third-year quarterback hasn’t tossed three touchdowns in a game since Week 10 of last season and only has eight 300-yard passing games to his name.
Luckily for Mariota, the New England secondary is susceptible to big plays. They ranked 21st in pass defense according to Football Outsiders, so if Mariota can decode and break a secondary that often only bends, then the Titans have a shot.
No. 2) Pressure without blitzing
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau loves to blitz, but it’s probably in his best interest to not blitz Tom Brady.
For starters, once Brady spots the blitz in his pre-snap read, he’ll audible to the correct play and torch any defense. More importantly, LeBeau’s defensive philosophy has yielded horrendous results against Brady.
Instead of artificially creating pressure through blitzing, the Titans must organically create pressure from their defensive line. That way, the pressure comes from unpredictable areas. Any time a defense can limit Brady’s ability to diagnose and outsmart you before the ball is snapped, that’s a win for the defense.
No. 3) Do not turn the ball over
It’s a common cliche in football — win the turnover battle.
The truth is, while there’s certainly merit to that sentiment, there are moments where losing the turnover battle doesn’t have that much of an impact.
But against New England, the Titans cannot under any circumstances turn the ball over. Not even once.
That’s because the Patriots are a team that prides itself in making the correct decisions and not turning the ball over. More than likely, if a team commits even one turnover aginst New England, they’re losing the turnover battle, and ultimately, the game.
Since 2010, the Patriots have committed only 113 turnovers. For comparisons sake, the Cleveland Browns have turned the ball over 119 times…since 2014.
New England doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. They play clean football and if Tennessee has any chance at being competitive in Saturday’s game, they can’t turn the ball over.
Not even once.
(Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press)