2012 NFL Kickoff Weekend: Patriots @ Titans
The 2012 NFL Regular Season has finally arrived. Congratulations Patriot fans, we survived another offseason of bitterness and officially closed the door with a Giants loss two nights ago.
Tom Brady and company will travel down to Tennessee in week one to take on a Titans team that just missed the playoffs last year (9-7) due to tiebreaker. Jake Locker, the 8th pick of the 2011 draft, is poised to make his first career start at quarterback after beating out veteran Matt Hasselback. Both teams have had polar opposite preseasons. The Patriots succumbed to their historically weak exhibition showings, scoring 6 touchdowns at a (1-3) record. The Titans (3-1) lead the AFC in preseason defensive scoring at 16.8 per game and look to keep their early momentum rolling at home as 6.5 point underdogs.
New England will look to win their 9th straight season-opener by taking control of these keys to victory in the Music City:
1) Set the edge on defense: Still viewed as one of the more elusive backs in football, Chris “CJ2K” Johnson is coming off his worst season of production, barely surpassing 1,000 yards on the ground (1,047). He still remains the Titans’ most talented player on the field (WR Kenny Britt suspended), and his “Usain Bolt like” breakaway speed alone will command additional attention on the outside all afternoon. With starting C Eugene Amano suffering a season-ending tricep injury early in camp, the Tennessee interior line will have their hands full trying to slow down Wilfork in the middle. Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower will receive immediate chances to be impact performers on Sunday. If they can turn in a solid career debuts, the Titans are in serious trouble. There is no doubt Belichick understands how critical it is for the Patriots to contain the athletic Locker in the pocket and make him beat the defense with his arm. If he is successful, rookie Kendall Wright should impress. TE Jared Cook has an Antonio Gates like body, possessing great ball skills and YAC ability. Look for New England to disguise their looks up front in hopes of confusing the inexperienced quarterback. This is the first test of how the departures of DEs Carter and Anderson will affect the 2012 campaign in hopes of improving upon their 31st place 298 passing yards given up per game. Although week one can be unpredictable, setting the edge to contain CJ2K and test Locker will be a key to victory and an area of consistent focus for the Patriots defense on Sunday.
2) Protect Tom Brady: After throwing for the second-most yards in NFL History last year (5,235), the addition of deep threat Brandon Lloyd has TB12 and fans salivating. On the contrary, Lloyd serves as a silver-lining for the Patriots offensive unit this offseason. Losing important pieces in Matt Light, Brian Waters and Dan Koppen have left serious question marks on our o-line to start the year. If the preseason pass-protection is any indication of the current state of how well the line can keep Brady on his feet, this game will be more competitive than the Patriots had hoped. Curious to see how other elite QBs faired over the past three seasons, let’s take a look at Tom Brady’s stats/sacks compared to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers:
TB: 611 ATT – 65.6 CMP% – 5,235 YDS – 39 TD – 12 INT – 105.6 RAT – 32 SACK
DB: 657 ATT – 71.2 CMP% – 5,476 YDS – 46 TD – 14 INT – 110.6 RAT – 24 SACK
AR: 502 ATT – 68.3 CMP% – 4,643 YDS – 45 TD – 6 INT – 122.5 RAT – 36 SACK
TB: 492 ATT – 65.9 CMP% – 3,900 YDS – 36 TD – 4 INT – 111.0 RAT – 25 SACK
DB: 658 ATT – 68.1 CMP % – 4,620 YDS – 33 TD – 22 INT – 90.9 RAT – 25 SACK
AR: 475 ATT – 65.7 CMP% – 3,922 YDS – 28 TD – 11 INT – 101.2 RAT – 31 SACK
TB: 565 ATT – 65.7 CMP% – 4,398 YDS – 28 TD – 13 INT – 96.2 RAT – 16 SACK
DB: 514 ATT – 70.6 CMP% – 4,388 YDS – 34 TD – 11 INT – 109.6 RAT – 20 SACK
AR: 541 ATT – 64.7 CMP% – 4,434 YDS – 30 TD – 7 INT – 103.2 RAT – 50 SACK
The increasing number of sacks year by year for the Patriots indicates the maturity of our seasoned veterans; as Brady remains the lone standing Patriot from SB XXXVI. In games (9-16) of the 2011 season Brady netted 19 TD and just 2 INT – mirroring his 2010 campaign. This comparison illustrates how valuable QB mobility is in the NFL. In 2009, Aaron Rodgers was sacked 50 times but still had more TDs and less INT than Tom Brady. While TB12 may have the best “pocket presence” in the league, he isn’t getting any more nimble on his feet year after year. No additions and many subtractions to the offensive line marks a turning point for New England in 2012.
The Titans are the youngest they have been since 2006 and are hard to predict. DE Kamerion Wimbley logged 7 sacks last year, highlighting an aggressive defensive front. Belichick gave high praises to 24-year-old signal caller/MLB Colin McCarthy out of “The U”. Will Witherspoon and Akeem Ayers are at OLBs and talented FS Michael Griffin leads the Dbacks alongside SS Jason Babineaux, CB Alterraun Verner and CB Jason McCourty. The McCourty twins will be facing each other for the first time in the NFL. If all goes well for the Patriots offensive line, we will be hearing the names of Titan defensive backs rather than defensive lineman on Sunday.
3) Set the tone: This last key to victory surrounds the psychological aspects of Sunday’s matchup. Locker is already nervous enough starting his first NFL game and I am sure he is well aware that he needs to piece together the best 60 minutes of his career to even come close to a Tennessee victory. Aforementioned above, look for New England to disguise their defensive schemes early and often. Early season jitters should cause at least one costly mistake from the second year QB. While the Patriots prefer to defer, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brady comes out in the no-huddle offense upon receiving the football. There is nothing more demoralizing to a defense than being exposed when you know it’s coming right at you. Expect OC Josh McDaniel’s to have something up his sleeve. The sleeper of the day is the New England rushing game. If Ridley/Woodhead/Bolden can establish a consistent ground game early, the Titans will have to respect the play-action. This leaves a plethora of options for the future HOFer Brady to choose from. The energy at LP field will most likely be dictated by the first possession of the game. Heads or Tails?
It’s hard not to remember the 59-0 shellacking we put on the Titans in our last matchup at a snowy Gillette Stadium in 2009, what do you think the score will be on Sunday?
With Kenny Britt serving a one game suspension, the Titans just don’t have enough weapons and I have my money on the Patriots winning 27-17.