Any chance the Patriots have of defeating the Titans this Sunday at Gillette Stadium starts with a need to match Tennessee's physical style of play. Whether it's offense, defense or special teams, from top to bottom the 3-1 Titans are one of the toughest teams in the NFL.
And while the Patriots continue to enter games with a banged up roster, including an injury list that numbered 13 players this week, those players that step on the field Sunday must be ready for an all out physical battle.
"We are just going to have to match the physical play that Tennessee brings and that is a strong level," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "That is what we are going to have to do in the game because they run the ball, they have a big offensive line. Their defensive line tries to control the line of scrimmage. We will have to meet force with force against this team. That is the way they try to play."
Offensively the Titans essentially go where quarterback Steve McNair takes them. Through four games the former first-round pick has completed an impressive 69-percent (77-of-111) for 820 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception.
"I think Steve is off to a good start," Belichick said. "He is throwing the ball well. He is spreading it around and using all of his receivers and tight ends. He has shown the ability to throw the ball deep. They put up a lot of deep balls but it is not all deep passes. He has done a good job on third down and converting on the short to intermediate stuff using their tight ends. They have got a good play-action game. That of course is helped out by a strong running game where they run the ball a lot and that helps their play-action passes. They have had a couple of games where they have been solidly in control of the game and they have been able to play from ahead so that has been to their advantage too."
By far, McNair's favorite target is wideout Derrick Mason. Mason has 25 receptions for 248 yards and one score.
As much as the McNair and the offense will challenge the Patriots defenders, Tennessee's defensive line may be the best the patchwork New England offensive line will face this season. From Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter to Carlos Hall and Robaire Smith, the unit is a formidable one.
"They do a pretty solid job defensively," Belichick said. "They have got a nice package that mixes in the pressure. They are very active up front. I think this front four is probably as good as we have seen in a while. It is as good as I have seen in a while."
And if the Patriots need any more motivation heading into Sunday's battle, they can hearken back to Tennessee's dominating victory last December. In that Titans 24-7 win, Tennessee pounded away at the Patriots and dominated time of possession.
"They are sound. They are tough. It will be a good challenge for us this week. We didn't really have much control in the game that we played down there even though the score was competitive and it was close, they had a big edge in time of possession and things like that."
Game numbers and notes
Both Ty Law and Kevin Faulk joined their teammates on the practice field Friday after missing the Wednesday and Thursday practices. Adrian Klemm, Fred McCrary, Mike Vrabel, Daniel Graham and Willie McGinest remained out of action. … The Patriots allowed the Redskins just 21 yards in the final 19:45 of last week's tough 20-17 loss in Washington. … McNair leads the NFL with a 110.9 passer rating. … The Titans come into the game ranked 25th in total offense, while the Patriots rank 17th. On the other side of the ball Tennessee ranks 5th in total defense, while New England comes in ranked 8th. … The Patriots lead the all-time series with the Houston/Tennessee franchise with an 18-16-1 record, although New England holds a 13-6-1 advantage in Foxborough. … The Titans won the last meeting between the two teams with an impressive 24-7 victory last December in Tennessee. … This week's game marks the first time the Tennessee franchise has played in New England under the nickname "Titans". … Kevin Faulk continues to pace the Patriots with 176 yards rushing on 44 carries, while Troy Brown leads in receptions with 16 and Deion Branch leads the team with 160 receiving yards. … Tedy Bruschi leads the defense with 26 tackles, while Willie McGinest paces the pass rush with 3 sacks. … Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson are the only AFC rookies who have intercepted a pass this season. … The Patriots have only given up 2 touchdown passes this season, tying them for second in the NFL in that category.