BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are not enjoying a postseason bye, and are instead preparing for a matchup with the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round. It will be New England’s first Wild Card appearance since 2009, and just their fourth time playing in the Wild Card round under Bill Belichick.
The Patriots have some serious self-exploring to do after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to Miami, but they don’t have much time to dwell on that defeat. Instead, they have a short week to prepare for Mike Vrabel’s Titans, a team that beat them 34-10 during the 2018 season.
A lot has changed with the Titans since Week 10 of last season, and Belichick offered up his initial thoughts on New England’s first playoff opponent on his conference call on Monday. Belichick made it clear that while Tennessee may be the No. 6 seed in the AFC, they’re a very talented football team that is going to put up a heavy fight on Saturday night.
“They do everything well,” said Belichick. “Well-balanced offense, lead the league in rushing, or has the rushing leader, have an outstanding group of receivers, quarterback is playing well. Good on defense, good up front, good secondary, good scheme. Probably the best punter in the league, so they do a lot of things well. They play hard, they’re disciplined, they’re well-coached. They’re a good football team.”
Belichick covered all the bases there, including some love for punter Brett Kern. But he expanded on four Titans on offense in particular, starting with the emergence of Ryan Tannehill under center. Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota in early October, and went on to complete 70 percent of his passes, tossing 22 touchdowns (and rushing for four more) and only six interceptions in his 12 games. He started 10 of those games for Tennessee, and the Titans won seven of them.
“I think he’s been a good quarterback throughout his career. He’s an athletic guy, he’s very smart, can handle things at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments and so forth,” Belichick said of the seven-year veteran. “He’s athletic, has a good arm. He’s played well for the Titans, but played well in Miami, too.”
It helps that Tannehill has a pair of talented receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. Brown led Tennessee with 52 receptions for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns in his first NFL season, while Davis had 43 receptions for 601 yards and a pair of scores. New England is plenty familiar with what Davis has to offer, after he torched them for seven receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown in last season’s matchup.
“They’re both very good receivers,” Belichick said of the duo on Monday. “They do a good job in the running game. They block well, and that complements the running game and the play-action passes. So, you’ve got to be aggressive to come up and support the run with them, but then they do a good job of combining those with play-action passes. Those guys can get free, but they’re fast, they’re hard to tackle, and they’re big targets. The quarterback’s done a good job of putting it on them and hitting them. But, when you combine their running game with their passing game that looks like the running game, it’s obviously hard to defend, and basically every team that they’ve played has had trouble with that.”
Yeah, about that running game. That’s where the Titans are the most dangerous offensively, with Derrick Henry leading the charge. He’s fresh off of leading the NFL with 1,540 yards on the ground, averaging a ridiculous 5.1 yards per carry, to go with 16 rushing touchdowns. He’s run for 708 of those yards in the last five weeks alone, finding the end zone eight times in that span.
Belichick said that Henry is the best running back the Patriots will see all year.
“He really does everything well as a runner. He’s got good vision. For his size, he sees things well,” the coach explained. “He has good quickness, he can get into space quickly and make the right cuts. He’s elusive in the open field, but he’s also very strong and powerful, and he can run through tackles and he has the speed to make long runs. So, he’s got a good stiff arm, he’s got good lower-body strength. He’s a very hard man to tackle, but he’s got excellent quickness, vision and speed for his size. So, he’s not just a one-dimensional runner at all. He’s the best back we’ve seen this year. He’s having a great year and he’s a tough player to handle.”
Instead of resting up for the Divisional round, the Patriots are hard at work preparing for a Wild Card matchup against a strong Titans team. And as Belichick made it clear on Monday, it won’t be an easy one for New England.
Tune in to Saturday’s Patriots-Titans Wild Card showdown on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. and after the game stay tuned for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!