New England Patriots Team Notes

It's no secret that any team that faces the Titans must concern itself with quarterback Steve McNair's ability to run the football. Through four games this season, McNair has run it only eight times for 31 yards, but the Patriots watched him run around and through them in last year's meeting to the tune of six rushes for 49 yards and two touchdowns, including one on an 11-yard run where the Patriots had a spy assigned to McNair and still couldn't stop him.

"He'll make yards running if he wants to," Patriots coach Bill Belichick emphasized when McNair's low rushing totals were mentioned. "He's tough. He's not running for 2 yards and sliding; he's running over you to get a first down."

"He's a major threat both running it and throwing it," Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. "People talk about his injuries, but he plays every week. I have a lot of respect for him personally."

His runs are also impact, break-your-back types of runs. Five of his six rushes in that game last December resulted in either a first down or a touchdown on a day when the Titans held the ball for 41:30 and piled up 20 first downs to just 11 for New England. In fact, Tennessee had 48 rushing plays to just 13 for the Patriots while outrushing New England 238-56.

Despite that physical domination by Tennessee, the Patriots trailed just 14-7 with the ball and 10 minutes to go in the third quarter when Rich Coady intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown that broke the game open.

It was almost the reverse outcome of a game between the teams in Foxborough in 1998. That game was tied, 13-13, entering the fourth quarter, but Al Del Greco gave Tennessee a 16-13 lead. New England scored late in the fourth quarter to take the lead on a 51-yard Drew Bledsoe-to-Terry Glenn pass and then iced the game when Lawyer Milloy returned a McNair interception 30 yards for a touchdown that gave the Patriots an 11-point lead. But even in that game, Tennessee's pound-it-at-you style helped it to a 36:30-23:30 time of possession advantage.

The Titans style of play forces an offense to be efficient with its opportunities and the Patriots have not been that through four games. In last year's game, New England ran only 47 offensive plays compared to Tennessee's 74. Additionally, the Patriots have only scored on 11 of 49 offensive possessions through four weeks and of those 11, only six have been touchdowns.

With Tennessee certain to come in and try to grind out first downs, eat the clock and leave the Patriots offense on the sideline, Tom Brady and Co. will have to increase their efficiency against a defense that is tough to move the ball against. The Titans defense enters the game ranked fifth in the league and third against the run.

--The game is a meeting between a teacher and pupil. When Bill Belichick was the Browns head coach, he hired current Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to work in the Browns scouting department.

--Patriots safety Aric Morris played his first three seasons in Tennessee and asked for his restricted free agent tender to be rescinded this past offseason. The Titans granted his request and the safety signed in New England. Morris was almost cut by the Titans last year for picking up too many personal foul penalties for his over-aggressive play.

--Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown is the only Patriot to play for New England against the Houston Oilers (Oct. 17, 1993). ...

The Titans are one of just three teams Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has played against, but has a losing record. Brady is 0-1 as the starter against the Titans and is .500 or above against 15 other teams. Besides Tennessee, Brady has a losing mark against Denver (0-2) and Green Bay (0-1).

--The Titans are one of seven teams from the old AFL that appear on the Patriots schedule this season.

NUMBERS GAME: 18.4 -- the third down percentage (7-for-38) of the Patriots last three opponents (Redskins, Jets, Eagles) since allowing Buffalo to convert 50 percent (7-for-14) in the season opener.

QUOTE: "The only problem he has is that sometimes the other guys get (to the quarterback) first." -- Bill Belichick on the full-time return of Tennessee pass rusher Jevon Kearse.

Expect the Patriots to continue managing the playtime of special teamers like Matt Chatham, Don Davis and Larry Izzo since all are getting some snaps with the regular defense due to the rash of injuries at linebacker.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Patriots have to give their banged up offensive line the opportunity to line up and run the football to measure itself against a physical Tennessee front seven. New England can't simply rely on its passing attack and allow Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter and Carlos Hall to pin their ears back in pass rush mode. So look for Antowain Smith to get some early touches with the Patriots mixing in a steady diet of draws, delays, screens and quick passes to the wideouts designed to make Tennessee defend sideline to sideline and also to slow a rush that could give the Patriots inexperienced offensive line some quickness problems in pass protection. Don't expect Tom Brady to go downfield very often, though, because he may not have the time to hold the ball that long. The Patriots simply don't have a proven, legitimate deep threat nor has Brady shown the ability to consistently deliver the ball accurately beyond the 10-15-yard range.

Defensively, the Patriots will spy McNair on occasion and likely move cornerback Ty Law around rather than line him up solely on Titans No. 1 wideout Derrick Mason. When Law moves off Mason, expect free safety Eugene Wilson to roll toward Mason's side to prevent a big play. The Patriots have played a ton of man-to-man coverage the past two weeks while using blitzes to generate some pressure and that is expected to continue this week.

But the key for the Patriots will be third down and red zone defense, both signs of mental toughness. Tennessee will have success running and will have some success throwing against a banged up defense that will struggle to pressure McNair and may have trouble containing him when they do pressure him. But if the Patriots can shorten drives and take carries away from George by getting off the field on third down while also forcing substitute graybeard kicker Gary Anderson onto the field for field goal tires rather than PATs, they will remain in the game and may find a way to pull one out.

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