Monday, November 29, 2021

Patriots Take Out Titans 36-13

It wasn't the blowout the score would indicate, but the Patriots shutout the Titans in the second half en route to a 36-13 victory. The win put them atop the AFC East and moved them to the #2 playoff seed in the AFC. Next up is a crucial division tilt in Buffalo, the first of two games with the Bills over three weeks.

Sunday's game was 16-13 after a bruising and closely contested first half. But the Pats defense rose to the occasion in the second 30 minutes, and the offense rode three second half turnovers to a 23-point win.

This game felt a lot like the Atlanta game, only against a better team. Without star back Derrick Henry, the Patriots simply made sure they didn't get beaten through the air and assumed they wouldn't lose the game on the ground. And even though the Titans ran for 270 yards, they threw for just 93 yards, and of course they weren't close to winning in the second half.

Corner JC Jackson was amazing in the game; shutting down receivers, catching a running back from behind and forcing a fumble, and intercepting a ball in the end zone to thwart the Titans only threatened score in the second half. And fellow corner Jalen Mills had his best game with the Patriots: two tackles, two passes defended, and he recovered the fumble caused by Jackson.

The team has been searching for Jonathan Jones' replacement for a few weeks now, and if Mills continues playing like that he could be just that.

Safeties Kyle Duggar and Adrian Phillips continue their excellent play, with eight and seven tackles, respectively.  But it wasn't all good at this position; veteran Devin McCourty took bad angles on two running plays that went for huge chunks of yardage. He did bat the ball that Jackson intercepted, but those positional mistakes were inexcusable for a veteran of his status.

Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley look like a new man this year. He led the team with 10 tackles, had a sack and two forced fumbles, and makes more plays each week than he had in the two prior seasons.

I mostly chalk up Bentley's improvement to playing next to Matt Judon (six tackles, a sack, and two QB hits yesterday), Kyle Van Noy (five tackles, three passes defended, and a forced fumble), and Dont'a Hightower (4 tackles and a pass defended). No way Bentley got *that* much better that quick.

In this game, the defensive line didn't play particularly well. They gave up a huge amount of rushing yards and didn't generate much pressure up the middle. Most of the QB harassment came from the edge or blitzes, though the huge Tennessee offensive line might have had something to do with this.

I will give them credit for another goal line stand. When the Titans had a first-and-goal at the 5 yard line, they stuffed runs for 1 yards, 2 yards, played good disciplined D on a short pass, and then got the aforementioned interception. 

Overall the Patriots defense leads the NFL in fewest points per game (15.8), most interceptions (19), fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (6 all season), is tied for the lead league with three pick-sixes, has allowed the second-lowest opposing quarterback rating (70.2), and is second in number of passes defended (64). Not bad for a team that traded away their best corner before the season started.

Quarterback Mac Jones' first game in the snow wasn't his best. He was high on a lot of throws, missing badly on what should have been an easy touchdown to Hunter Henry. Also, he should have been picked off once or twice, but the Titans defense couldn't hold onto the ball.

He ended the day with gaudy stats: 23 of 32 (71.9%) a season-high 310 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 123.2 QB rating. But don't be fooled; he has some work to do to acclimate to the cold. Fortunately for him, there's plenty of cold coming ::brrrr::

The O-line was great again, mostly keeping Jones clean and opening the way for 105 yards on just 24 totes (4.4 yards per carry). I'm starting to think Rhamondre Stevenson is a better back than Damien Harris, though Harris knows the offense better so he's likely to continue getting more playing time. Stevenson seems to get yards when nothing appears to be available more often than Harris.

Among the receivers, Kendrick Bourne was the star, with two tough runs for touchdowns. And perhaps the scariest thing for the rest of the league is that six players had more than one catch. That kind of offensive diversity is a hallmark of the Patriots championship teams -- though some of them couldn't claim *six* legit targets!

If special teams is your bag, you would have loved the Patriots performance. They forced returns on kickoffs and got short returns and penalties to pin back the Titans. The reborn Nick Folk booted made five of six field goals, including a 53 yarder. (His only miss was from 52.) And it was no mistake that the Patriots average starting field position was their 41, while the Titans was their 24.

Where does that leave us? First six games: 2-4. Last six games: 6-0! 8-4 isn't a bad place to be, and second in the conference is even better. The next three games will tell the real tale of the season. Mobile QBs give the Patriots trouble, and they are about to face Josh Allen and Carson Wentz, both very mobile signal-callers.

The main question with the Bills is whether they can run the ball. With the Colts it's whether they are for real. We'll know in one month!

Biggest on-going concern: How the secondary will hold up against teams with multiple good receivers. They've looked great of late, but they are thin at corner and it could go badly when they play teams like Buffalo or Kansas City with multiple speed receivers.

(Despite media hand-wringing, it is *not* the run defense. Tennessee was missing their featured back yesterday -- but their offensive line, blocking back, blocking receivers, tight ends, and coaches were still there.)

Non-QB MVP: Jackson, though it was a close call with Bentley.

Statistical Oddity: Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have given up over 265 yards on the ground just twice: yesterday and against the Broncos in November of 2013. They won both games. (Trivia question: Can you name the quarterback who lost that game in 2013? Answer below.)

Water-cooler wisdom: "If the media is right about Belichick's drafting, then he must be the greatest coach in the history of the *world* to turn things around this fast."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-4!

PPS. Trivia Answer:














None other than Peyton Manning quarterbacked the Broncos in that game -- wilting as the Patriots stormed back from 24-0 down to win in overtime. I remember because I was there, chanting: "Pey-Ton! Pey-Ton!"

No comments:

Post a Comment