Patriots - Titans: Game Plans

A quick scouting report on both teams with key matchups, injury impact, and strategy for the week 17 regular season finale. The Patriots have already clinched a playoff spot and may be ready to rest some starters while the Titans are still fighting for their playoff lives. Tennessee carries a 6-game winning streak and all the momentum that goes with it.


Vince Young has really provided the Titans with a spark after the team started the year 0-5. He doesn't always put up huge numbers but Young is a winner who makes big plays when the game is on the line. Now he gets the toughest test of his rookie season; facing a Bill Belichick coached defense.

In a couple of years from now, Tennessee's passing attack could be something special. However, at this time, it's below average. Young has made some plays here and there with his arm but he's been sporadic throwing the football, completing just over 52 percent of his pass attempts. He's much more dangerous on the run, so expect the Patriots to use their outside linebackers to keep Young in the pocket.

The Patriots front seven should be able to generate a good pass rush and their defensive backs match up well with the Titans receivers. Drew Bennett is Young's favorite receiver, although his numbers look more like that of a solid No. 3 receiver. Tight end Bo Scaife has seen his reception total increase since Young took over and second-year receiver Brandon Jones also provides some big plays for the Titans offense. This passing game is still a work in progress and should struggle against an opportunistic Patriots defense.

Belichick's game plan will most likely be to keep Young in the pocket and make him beat the Patriots with his arm. However, if he gets into the open field, he'll be a handful for New England's defense because of his speed and explosiveness. The Patriots front seven should get pressure on the rookie, forcing him into making some bad throws. That will give Asante Samuel and the rest of the defensive backs an opportunity to create turnovers.

Game Plan: The Titans can't stop anyone from running the football on them. The Patriots ground game has been MIA and this would be a good time to rediscover it with the playoffs right around the corner. New England had one of the NFL's top rushing attacks over the first month of the season. However, it's since dropped to the middle pack. There's no excuse for the Patriots not to run the ball in this game. They have a talented offensive line and two good backs in Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. The Titans defense is opportunistic, although it isn't deep and can get worn down against physical teams. New England is supposed to be a physical team and it's time to prove it against a porous Tennessee rush defense.

Matchups To Watch: Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi vs. Titans QB Vince Young - Young is going to take off and run, that's a given. What the Patriots need to do is make sure and limit the athletic quarterback when he scrambles. If Young runs for 5-yards, the Patriots defense will take that every time. It's the big gains they'll have to prevent and a big part of accomplishing that goal is on the shoulders of Bruschi and the linebackers. If Young gets by them, watch out.

--Patriots WR Reche Caldwell vs. Titans CB Pacman Jones - - Expect the Titans to put Jones on Caldwell so they can neutralize the Patriots top receiver. Jones is emerging as one of the best cover corners in the league. When defenses have been able to take away Caldwell, New England's passing game has struggled. With few viable options at receiver, Caldwell has been Brady's one consistent target. If Pacman eats him up on Sunday, another Patriots receiver will need to step up and make an impact.

Injury Impact: Injuries have no impact on the Patriots. Unless No. 12 gets hurt, this team has proven they can compensate for the loss of any player. In the last two seasons, they've won games with the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Ben Watson, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Laurence Maroney all missing time. No team in the NFL does a better job of getting its backups prepared to play than the Patriots. Mike Wright and David Thomas are great examples of this. Playing without Wilfork and Watson the past two weeks, Wright and Thomas have stepped up and contributed in their absence. The Patriots are getting healthier as the postseason nears but even if they suffer an injury to a key player not named Brady, this team knows it can still achieve its goal thanks in large part to the best coaching staff in the NFL.


With DT Tony Brown going down in Wednesday practice, the Titans could be thinned out at the position. X-rays were negative and he walked through the locker room looking OK after practice. If he can't go, Jesse Mahelona would be back in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 19. DT Robaire Smith, who suffered a tie injury in Buffalo, was expected to miss the entire week of practice and likely fall into the game-time-decision category.

Game Plan: The Titans know whether the Patriots take some regulars out of the lineup or not that Bill Belichick and his staff will throw something different and new at Tennessee. Jeff Fisher said the Titans have to prepare for everything and be able to adjust to anything in order to have a chance to win. New England's struggled some against teams with physical linebackers, so this game could provided an opportunity for Keith Bulluck and David Thornton to shine. As always, the Titans will be looking to establish the run with Travis Henry and win the turnover battle to maximize their chances.

Matchups To Watch: Titans RB Travis Henry vs. ILB Tedy Bruschi. Bruschi leads the Patriots with 115 tackles and will be central to their run-stopping efforts.
--Titans OLBs Keith Bulluck and David Thornton vs. RB Laurence Maroney. Tennessee can't afford to let the speedy rookie get around the corner.
--Titans WR Brandon Jones vs. RCB Ellis Hobbs. The Titans hope Jones can follow up his first 100-yard game with another big performance.

Injury Impact: TE Bo Scaife (ankle) may have a chance to return to action against New England after missing the last two games. DT Robaire Smith (toe) and DT Tony Brown (knee) are in doubt.

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