The Tennessee Titans dominated the second-best team in the AFC and made a statement against a team they’ve modeled themselves after.
For various reasons, many people have called the Tennessee Titans “Patriots South”. This moniker comes from GM Jon Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel having spent various years in New England. Many of the Titans players were also Patriots, so the name makes sense. On Sunday, the Titans got a chance to stick it to “Patriots North”, and they did exactly that.
QB Marcus Mariota completed 16-of-24 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, adding 21 yards on the ground. RB Derrick Henry averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 11 totes and found the end zone twice. WR Corey Davis caught seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, and he drew several flags from Patriots defenders, though it should’ve been more. TE Jonnu Smith continues to develop, as he went for 45 yards on three catches and scored a touchdown for the second-consecutive game.
This game was personal
With the Titans having a bunch of former Patriots within their organization, this game was likely marked on the calendar by all of them. The Titans came out with a fire that didn’t dissipate until the clock hit zero; in fact, it continued through the postgame. After the game ended, RB Dion Lewis ripped into the Pats for not paying to keep him once he hit free agency.
During the game, on the drive after the Patriots had used a trick play to get a six-yard reception by QB Tom Brady, Vrabel gave his old team and coach a taste of their own medicine. He called nearly an identical trick play (it was mirrored because Darius Jennings is a lefty) that resulted in a 21-yard Mariota reception. In the postgame press conference, Vrabel said with a smirk that he just wanted to see if their trick play would work better than the Patriots’. It did. In fact, everything about the Titans worked better than the Patriots on Sunday. And all of the former Pats on the Titans roster took pride in the victory.
The Titans have the best defense in the league
While many weren’t shocked that the Titans defense kept up its stellar play on Sunday, it was still jarring to see the Tennessee defense make Brady looks so out of sorts. Brady completed a measly 21-of-41 passes and didn’t put the ball in the end zone. He also took three sacks, as he was consistently under duress all game — and it showed in his performance and statistics. Brady threw the ball away several times and missed a few throws while the windows to his covered receivers were too tight to string together completions.
The Titans now rank first in the NFL in scoring defense, giving up a minuscule 16.8 points per game, a number that is a whole point less than the next-best defense (Baltimore Ravens). In terms of yards per game, the Titans rank sixth. Considering that they’re middle of the pack when it comes to sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles, the Titans can hang their hat on the fact that they are playing fundamentally sound and don’t have to rely on turnovers to play shutdown defense. Consistent pressure and solid coverage is all Dean Pees’ defense needs.
Derrick Henry has a role, but Dion Lewis is the feature back
Over the last three games, the Titans have made a committed effort to make Lewis the team’s primary running back. In the process, the Titans’ offense has looked the best it has all season, and the entire unit is finally in rhythm and playing with confidence. While the numbers from Sunday don’t show it, the Titans were able to jump out to a big lead in this game with Lewis picking up chunk gains on the ground. He was stuffed a fair amount of times throughout the game, but Lewis’ pass-catching and after-the-catch ability forces a defense to account one or two defenders to his area constantly. That allows more space for other weapons to operate in, which helps the whole offense.
Henry was very good against the Patriots as a change-of-pace option, which might be his most suitable role at the moment. He just wasn’t getting anything going during the first half of the season, but as we’ve been saying since DeMarco Murray was still in Nashville, Henry’s best role is as the “closer”. He can punish tired defenses late in games, and that’s exactly what he did on Sunday, while even getting his second touchdown out of wildcat — which has worked stupendously every time it has been used this season. His limitations in the pass game might never allow him to be a 20-25 touch, every-down back in the NFL, but he can contribute in the right capacity; Sunday we saw what that role can be and how efficient he can be in it.