The New England Patriots offense is one of the most effective and efficient in the league. It will take creative schematics and meticulous execution to slow down the NFL’s second-highest scoring offense. We will go position by position to examine the most consistent franchise in the NFL.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Do we really need to go into detail here? The GOAT only gets GOAT-ier. One of the greatest players in NFL history keeps on delivering when it counts. Putting up 4,577 passing yards to lead the league at 40 years old is quite the accomplishment. Consider that Brady has been sacked 35 times this year, tied for ninth highest in the league, and those numbers pop even more. Being 40 years old makes all the success very impressive, but the flip side is every hit taken hurts just a little more, takes a little longer to come back from and creates a pinch more panic as pressure arrives. Dealing with Achilles and Shoulder injuries throughout the year haven’t shown to hinder Brady, but the effects have to be felt. However, Brady will be accurate and precise as ever, showcased by his 66.3 completion percentage, even in the face of pressure, but making him think twice in the pocket will go a long way to helping the Titans limit the damage.
Running Backs: Dion Lewis, James White
The Patriots are the definition of running back by committee. Deploying four backs who all have a specific set of skills throughout the year. Dion Lewis and James White have seemed to become the primary options. Injuries have affected do-it-all grinder Rex Burkhead and free agent signing Mike Gillislee, but that has not held the Patriots running game back. Lewis has returned to form after recovering from an ACL tear in 2015. Over the past six games, Lewis is averaging 85 yards a game. That number does not sound incredibly intimidating, but combined with the juggernaut that is the Patriots passing offense and the mixture is intoxicating for defenses. James White is the Super Bowl hero from 2016 who excels as a passing down back. White has 56 catches on the season for 429 yards. He must be accounted for any time he is on the field and be treated as a wide receiver.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski
Tom Brady’s primary target continues to dominate the league. Selected to his fifth All-Pro team in 2017, Gronkowski has the ability to out-physical any safety and outrun any linebacker. The Titans have consistently struggled against tight ends throughout the Dick Lebeau era so limiting Gronkowski will be the key to stopping this Pats offense. The statistics make this obvious. Gronk racked up 69 catches(We know, Rob, we know), 1,084 yards and 8 scores. Titans rookie linebacker Jayon Brown is a pass coverage specialist and will be tasked with dealing with Gronkowski often on Saturday night, but the Titans can’t stop there. Safety help will be required to deal with the most imposing tight end in league history. Look for Gronkowski to move all over the formation to create matchups. He has lined up inline as a traditional tight end, split out wide and even as a slot receiver in bunch formations. How the Titans defense adjusts and communicates to identify where Gronkowski is within the formation will be a major key to stopping this force. Especially, on third down. Gronk has an insane 82.6% first down rate on his catches. He is the drive mover for New England.
Wide Receivers: Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan
The Patriots do not rely heavily on the receiving group due to the abilities of Gronkowski and White in the passing game, but the few receivers that consistently are targeted know exactly where and when to be there within this scheme. An emphasis on option routes and zone-specific reads keep defenses on their toes. This approach has allowed the Pats to be successful all these years without top-notch receiving talent.
This is why adding a high-level receiver like Cooks this offseason was so intelligent. Cooks has the speed to compete with the fastest players in the league while also having some of the most reliable hands in the business. Cooks was acquired this offseason in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. Giving up the 32nd pick for a player of Cooks skill is a boon for Coach Bill Belichick. Cooks is second on the team in every major receiving category. He has been their big-play threat and field-stretcher. Amendola plays the Julian Edelman role after Edelman went down with an injury early this season. While not as effective as Edelman, Amendola understands the scheme and is typically on the same page as Brady when it comes to viewing the field. Amendola does have a tendency to get banged up. Playing physical with him can really affect his performance. Look for former Patriot Logan Ryan to man the slot against Amendola and try to do just that. Finally, another offseason addition for the Patriots, Chris Hogan. Hogan has been in and out of the line up all season with varying injuries. Most recently, a shoulder issue. Hogan has significantly less production than the other members listed above, but he had been a constant threat in the red area. Hogan has five receiving scores this year which is third on the team despite missing seven games this season.
Not a single Pats receiver is listed in the Top 70 in yards-after-catch this season. Gang-tackling will be vital to make sure this trend continues. The Titans will have their hands full with Gronkowski and White. They will need to severely limit the receiving group to have a chance at slowly done this offense.
The offensive line for New England has drastically improved since the beginning of the season. Moving Cameron Fleming into the starting right tackle spot in place of Marcus Cannon has been a significant upgrade, but this season-long improvement also points to the wizardry of line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Widely considered one of the best position coaches in league history, Scarnecchia always has his unit coached up and a ready to play. They have been around or below league average in sacks and QB hits with 35 and 84, respectively. They have given Brady enough time to amass the most passing yards in the league while also being top ten in total rushing. Their most success on the ground comes from running left. Directly over Nate Solder and Joe Thuney. The Patriots have gotten 49 total first downs while running left. This is more than the center and right side totals combined. While successful on their side in the run game, Solder and Thuney have struggled in pass protection. Combining to give up six sacks, 12 total penalties and five holding penalties. Combine any two current starting lineman for New England and they will not come close to the Solder/Thuney combo. It will be imperative that the Titans find ways to pressure the left side of the line and get heat on Brady in the pocket to have a chance to pull off another upset victory.