FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots always aim to eliminate an opponent’s most dangerous threat. Take him away and see how they function without being able to lean on him.
New England has been hurt by big days this season, from the likes of Frank Gore, Golden Tate, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Devonta Parker.
But the defense minimized weapons like Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce, Le’Veon Bell and Terry McLaurin this season. And historically it’s been their defensive goal.
Saturday night, presumably, the Patriots will look to quiet Derrick Henry. And if they can do that, they’ll also look to quash A.J. Brown.
As I mentioned earlier this week, the Titans play the most three-tight end in the NFL and are top-five in two-tight.
Since Week 9, 28 percent of targets against the Patriots have been to the tight end, per Warren Sharp. And New England is allowing a greater success rate to two- and three- tight end packages than any other over the course of the season.
Ryan Tannehill has a passer rating of 154.2 on passes to the middle of the field, the best of 34 qualified NFL quarterbacks. That’s 54.7 points better than the league average, throwing to an area where tight ends often roam.
That may put Jonnu Smith in prime position.
“I don’t know what they are going to do, I am sure they might try some things,” Logan Ryan said. “But we’ve got a good team that’s scoring some points right now. We’ve got to do it on Saturday.
“They’re pretty good at stopping not only primaries but seconds and thirds as well.”
Odds are the Titans are going to need at least a couple plays in this game from guys beyond Henry, Brown, Smith and Corey Davis, guys who aren’t near the top of the stat sheet.
The way the regular season played out, they should be equipped to get some.
“We’ve had games where I think maybe 10 different offensive players have touched the ball," Mike Vrabel said. “So, it’s great to have guys that have had successful seasons, but ultimately you’re going to need everybody to contribute.”