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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Preseason Week 2 - Patriots at Titans

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After a productive two days of joint practices with the Titans, the Patriots will suit up Saturday night for their second preseason game of 2019 in Tennessee. The starters are expected to see at least a quarter of action, giving us our first glimpse of where the latest edition of Bill Belichick’s dynasty is at.

Practices in Tennessee were not without their negatives, as both Maurice Harris and Phillip Dorsett sustained injuries the first day and did not return to action for the second session. That will have the Patriots reaching even further down their depth chart to surround Tom Brady with weaponry for his first-quarter-plus debut.

Meanwhile, the defense continues to have an exciting summer. The squad is stacked at all three levels with veterans and newcomers, and more starters should see time than they did in Week 1 against the Lions. There might be a lot of talent on defense, but there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered over the next couple weeks. That shouldn’t stop them from giving the Titans offense plenty of problems.

With a short turnaround to next Thursday night’s Week 3 matchup at home against the Panthers, we’re now in the primetime for contenders to seize their roster spots. With jobs still to be won, there is plenty on the line even if the result of the game doesn’t matter much.

Here are the Carmax Keys to the Starting Lineup!

What Do We Have on Offense?

The Patriots came into the summer with big questions on offense and while the young receivers have made the most of their chances, the team is still waiting for answers at tackle and tight end. We can’t forget they have 4/5ths of their offensive line back along with one of the most versatile backfields they’ve ever had. Sony Michel looks like a multi-purpose lead back who could bring balance to the offense and more unpredictability. By the time the winter playoff winds blow into Foxboro the Patriots’ offense will undoubtedly be far more potent, but right now they’re just trying to figure out how to get through the first month as the receiver group has more guys on the sidelines than on the practice field. The diminished squad will have to make do with what they’ve got and they’ll be going against an aggressive defense that will attack them far more than the Lions did. Expect the offense’s performance to dominate conversation after this one.

Multiple Defense

The flip side to the uncertainty on offense is the near-certainty that the Patriots defense is absolutely loaded this year. The last few years of average second-level athleticism and an edge rush that had to be schemed are gone. There are now multiple options that can be unleashed in a variety of ways. They showed just a brief glimpse of it against the Lions, now we should get a little more of the starters against the Titans. Most intriguing is the third-down-package flexibility where the team has an abundance of stand-up rushers to throw at the quarterback. With that comes additional athleticism that should take the teeth out of the Titans’ mobile quarterback offense.

Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots preseason Week 2 matchup against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, August 17, 2019.

Clean It Up

It’s a good bet Bill Belichick had something to say about the 12 accepted penalties for 135 yards against the Lions. That kind of sloppy football is what can lose you football games and for a team that prides itself on clean fundamentals it’s unacceptable. Crackback blocks, leg whips, and 12 men on the field are just some of the undisciplined penalties the team was called for. With two days of muggy joint practices the Patriots should show far better discipline in this one, a hallmark of any Belichick team.

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Bubble About to Burst

With the starters expected to play most of the Week 3 game against the Panthers, this is the last game opportunity for those players on the bubble to make a roster push. The current list includes Shilique Calhoun, Duke Dawson, Ryan Izzo and every receiver who plays, and all will want to make their case to make the 53-man roster. The punter competition figures to also take center stage as each special teams play will feature multiple players trying their best to make the team. That will make Week 2 more interesting than the opener against the Lions was. We’re approaching the nitty gritty time, when jobs are won or lost.

No Injuries

In the preseason this is always a key for the starting lineup. The Patriots lost N’Keal Harry and Matt Lacosse to injuries against the Lions, two pretty significant blows to an offense still finding its way. Those problems were compounded by injuries to Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris in practices against the Titans. There hasn’t been a critical blow yet, but you’re always holding your breath in the preseason, even for the opponent. Let’s hope the Patriots escape Nashville with better injury luck than they’ve had the last 10 days.

Prediction

Since the score doesn’t matter let’s go with a prediction of what the talking points will be after the game. The shorthanded offense, with a rotation at left tackle and a group of receivers led by undrafted rookies and new veteran castoffs could struggle to move the ball unless they can get the run game going. But will they risk putting their best backs Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead in? It will be hard to lean on Brandon Bolden and Nick Brosette again, as Damien Harris appears to still be dealing with some kind of minor injury that could hold him out of action once again. So the offense could be looking at an uphill climb in this one. Defensively, the Pats should make up for any shortcomings on offense. There are just no excuses now. They’re too experienced, too talented and too ferocious to expect anything less than a strong performance every time out. The good news is there’s still a long way to go for the offense and a lot of potential options who will return eventually. You can’t overreact to any result because it’s the preseason, it won’t be perfect. But hopefully it won’t be without a couple perfect moments from which to build off of.

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