Patriots -Titans: Game Plans

What will the Patriots do on Sunday against the Titans? Here's the game plan, with injury news, notes and more


The obvious big news this week is the re-acquisition of linebacker Junior Seau, a 12-time Pro-Bowler who is back for the second time and is now in his third stint with the Patriots.

Seau adds depth despite his age and can provide a reprieve from time to time for second-year pro Jerod Mayo. With Seau in tow, the Patriots are expecting their run defense to improve. This added depth also gives them more flexibility and more confidence in their 3-4 scheme.

Without two, solid interior linebackers, the Patriots are better-equipped to run the 4-3. Seau's presence allows them to do both. He can also help in the pass rush from time to time, though it's unlikely he'll spend much time on the field on third down.

GAME PLAN: Coming off a tough loss at Denver, the Patriots return home to face a winless team that hasn't beaten them in nearly seven years. What seems too good to be true could end up that way if the Patriots aren't careful.

The Titans have shown flashes of that 2008 defense, though they haven't been nearly consistent enough. Still, this is a dangerous, wounded team looking to rebound from last week's loss to the Colts. If the Patriots can't get it together after absorbing a second-half shutout last weekend, this could be a low-scoring game.

With Tom Brady and Randy Moss having trouble connecting on deep balls, this might be the week to try to air it out against Tennessee's secondary. Given the Titans' struggles on both sides of the ball, a few miscues along the way shouldn't be debilitating; in other words, the Patriots have some wiggle room to work on their timing without the outcome of the game being in jeopardy.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Titans CB Cortland Finnegan vs. Patriots WR Randy Moss. The Titans have struggled collectively, but Finnegan is still one of the game's top cover corners. Despite missing two games, he remains a force in Tennessee's secondary and could make life miserable for Moss as the Patriots try to connect on some big pass plays. They've yet to do so this season and Finnegan intends to keep it that way.

Titans C Kevin Mawae vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork. This is one of the game's classic matchups -- a gritty, no-holds-barred nose tackle lining up across one of the most feared centers in football. Mawae has been described at times as a dirty player, but it's obvious he gets results. His ability to keep the pocket from collapsing is what allows Tennessee's offense to thrive. The Patriots want to apply as much pressure as possible and it starts with Wilfork batting Mawae in the trenches.

Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. Patriots T Sebastian Vollmer. With injured starter Matt Light's status in doubt, Vollmer might be called upon to fill in at left tackle this weekend. He'll draw a tough assignment in Vanden Bosch, who is still one of the game's premier pass-rushing defensive ends. Vollmer had an impressive camp and earned himself more playing time with the regular rotation. This would be a great initial test to see if he can hold up over the course of several weeks, which might be necessary depending on the extent of Light's injury.

INJURY IMPACT: Matt Light's absence could be a problem if he's unable to get back on the field in time for Sunday. The Titans have had problems this year across the board, but from a pure talent standpoint they still have one of the league's strongest defenses. Light's potential replacement, Sebastian Vollmer, will have his hands full against the Titans' pass rush. Likewise, the Patriots need to do a better job filling the gaps in their own running game now that Fred Taylor will miss a few more weeks. Their inability to run the ball consistently in Denver caused problems in the passing game, which played a major role in the glaring zero the Patriots posted on the scoreboard offensively in the second half.


The switch from Jevon Kearse to William Hayes as a starting left defensive end could be the first of a few lineup changes for a team that is 0-5 and has plenty of 30-somethings who can be free agents as season's end.

Hayes has improved as a pass rusher and in stopping the run, nudging him ahead of Kearse, an 11-year veteran whose contract is up after the current season.

While the changes won't be wholesale for the Titans, if they don't find some spark in the next two to three games, look for them to have to find ways to get guys like WR Kenny Britt, TE Jared Cook, LBs Gerald McRath and Stanford Keglar, RB Javon Ringer and G/C Leroy Harris more playing time over the second half of the season.

--CB Cortland Finnegan did only individual work Wednesday as he tries to make his way back from a hamstring injury. In a secondary decimated with injuries, Finnegan is needed to lend some stability to a struggling defense set to be challenged by Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
--RB Chris Johnson had just 34 yards on nine carries against the Colts, and the Titans need to get him involved and keep him involved in the offense. Johnson, despite 468 yards rushing, has been getting bottled up on too many carries, putting the offense in long yardage situations on second and third downs too often.
--P Reggie Hodges has a net of only 33.2 yards since taking over for injured Craig Hentrich and has had only one of 16 punts downed inside the 20, adding to the Titans' all-around special teams woes.
--WR Kenny Britt still leads the Titans in receiving yards with 289 and receptions with 19. In fact, his 15.2 yards per catch average represents the only Titans player averaging more than 11 yards per catch.
--DE Kyle Vanden Bosch continues to be the soul of the defensive line, but his numbers have suffered this season as he is still looking for his first sack after five games.

GAME PLAN: Is prayer an option? The Titans take a banged-up secondary and spotty pass rush into New England having been routed in back-to-back games by the Jaguars and Colts. Now, they have to find a way to stop Tom Brady and Randy Moss using a rookie cornerback and a rookie nickel back, and that's if Cortland Finnegan can return from a hamstring. On Wednesday, only one of the top five defensive backs -- safety Chris Hope -- practiced.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Titans CB Cortland Finnegan. Assuming Finnegan can make it back from a hamstring injury, he gives the Titans their best chance to match up with Moss, even if he isn't 100 percent. That still leaves Wes Welker being guarded by a rookie, either Jason McCourty or Ryan Mouton in the nickel, which doesn't bode well for Tennessee's chances.

Titans RB Chris Johnson vs. Patriots LB Jerod Mayo. Mayo has quickly established himself as a playmaker for the Patriots' defense, while Johnson has to not worry so much about the big plays, but to carry the load for a team that desperately needs to win time of possession Sunday in order not to get embarrassed a third straight week.

INJURY IMPACT: CB Cortland Finnegan hasn't practiced since Oct. 8, though the Titans denied he suffered a setback with his injured hamstring. If he can't go, Tennessee would have Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton and Cary Williams to choose from as their corners, and have all three on the field in nickel situations. CB Nick Harper is out four to six weeks with a broken forearm. FS Michael Griffin didn't practice Wednesday due to a neck stinger. TE Craig Stevens is likely out with a concussion, while the team hopes C Leroy Harris, who also had a concussion, can practice and play later in the week. LBs Colin Allred (shoulder) and Stanford Keglar (hamstring) were limited and are key special teams performers, while G Jake Scott was out with illness on Wednesday. DT Jason Jones (shoulder) was back after missing two games.

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