Patriots vs. Titans: 5 keys to the game

Via By Jeff Howe

Protect The Franchise

The dominant storyline of the preseason will stay in focus until the offensive line proves it can keep Tom Brady [stats] upright on a consistent basis. The returns of Logan Mankins [stats] and Sebastian Vollmer should stabilize things, and take a little pressure off Nate Solder. All in all, Brady has to be comfortable as he analyzes the defense and picks his spot, because if he doesn’t trust his blockers, he’ll rush his throws.

Beware the speed trap

Amazingly, in Titans running back Chris Johnson’s worst season, he was still one of just four players to rush for at least 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes. It was clear that Johnson wasn’t the same guy in 2011, but he was still a huge catalyst for the offense. The Patriots [team stats] must be disciplined in their containment, as one blown gap or mental lapse on the edge could allow Johnson to spring free for a long touchdown.

Lock down Locker

Titans quarterback Jake Locker is making his first career start. The other three quarterbacks to debut against Bill Belichick’s Patriots left the field defeated. In the last two instances, Belichick forced Matt Flynn and Tyler Palko to chip away down the field. The assumption is they’d make a mistake at some point, and both did. The Patriots could attack Locker with a healthy defense intact, but look for them to make him work for it.

Improve offensive efficiency

Part of it had to do with the offensive line, but Brady couldn’t get into much of a consistent rhythm with Brandon Lloyd (right), Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez during the preseason. The belief is that should change now that it counts, but the reality is the Pats have to go out and do it. The offense has been better in practice, so it’s not like the efficiency is nonexistent. But now, the win/loss column is on the line.

Play 60

Regular-season openers can be weird. Since none of the players have played a full 60 minutes yet, the conditioning level can become an issue, especially today in Nashville, where the gametime temperature is expected to be near 80 degrees. Plus, the execution is never as smooth as teams would like for the opener, and that could lead to some slow starts. The important thing is keeping it together for the duration of four quarters because some fluky things happen in Week 1. Losses are tough, but they’re even more difficult to deal with after a late mental lapse.

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