NFL Preview - Tennessee (0-5) at New England (3-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The schedule-makers have done the Tennessee Titans no favors in helping them pull out of their surprisingly winless start to the 2009 season.
The injury gods have not been smiling upon Jeff Fisher's club either.
One week after being carved up by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, the Tennessee Titans and their injury-ravaged secondary now must head to Gillette Stadium to face the AFC East co-leading Patriots and the likes of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker.
Two veteran members of the Titans secondary - cornerback Nick Harper and safety Vincent Fuller - are expected to be absent with the same injury, a broken forearm.
The club's best remaining corner, Cortland Finnegan, is a question mark after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury.
One of Tennessee's veteran pass rushers, Jevon Kearse, also might not play after surprisingly being made a healthy inactive last Sunday.
Not exactly a prescription for avoiding the franchise's first 0-6 start since 1984, when the then-Houston Oilers lost their first 10 games.
The Patriots, who come off a dispiriting 20-17 overtime loss at Denver, will be more than willing to extend the Titans' misery.
New England blew a 17-7 halftime lead against former Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels and the Broncos, with some notable mis-throws by quarterback Tom Brady helping to contribute to the defeat.
Brady was a respectable 19-of-33 for 215 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. but was outplayed by Denver's Kyle Orton (35-of-48, 330 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and missed on a would-be touchdown to Randy Moss in the end-zone during the first half, as well as an underthrown mis-connection with Wes Welker late in the fourth quarter.
While Brady seeks to bounce back, the New England defense will welcome back an old, familiar face, with an emphasis on the "old".
Junior Seau, the 12-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro who began his NFL career in 1990, was signed on Wednesday to add depth to the linebacking corps.
The 40-year-old Seau has played in 31 games with 16 starts for New England over the past three seasons (2006-08), including playing in all 16 games during the Pats' undefeated regular season of 2007.
The Patriots own a 20-15-1 advantage in their all-time regular season series with the Titans, including a 40-23 win in the last such matchup, at LP Field, in Week 17 of the 2006 season. That loss dropped Tennessee, which was bidding to become the first team to make the playoffs after starting a season 0-5, out of the postseason picture. New England also won the last regular season meeting between the clubs at Gillette Stadium, in 2003. Tennessee's last win in the series was a 24-7 triumph in Nashville in 2002.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met twice in the postseason. New England was a 17-14 home winner in a 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff that preceded its second of three Super Bowl titles, and also dropped a 31-14 home decision to the Oilers in a 1978 AFC Divisional Playoff.
Including playoffs, the Titans are 0-3 at New England since moving to Nashville in 1997, with the franchise's last road win coming as the Houston Oilers in 1993.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is 7-7 all-time against the Titans/Oilers, including 3-1 since coming to New England in 2000. The Titans' Fisher is 1-4 all-time against the Patriots, and is 2-5 head-to-head against Belichick.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
The offense has not been the most problematic side of the ball for Tennessee, but neither has the attack been anything close to perfect. Veteran signal- caller Kerry Collins (1078 passing yards, 5 TD), who was so efficient during the team's 13-3 season of 2008, seems to have regressed, committing eight turnovers (seven INT, one fumble) and lagging down the list of NFL signal- callers in passer rating (67.3) and completion percentage (57.3). Collins (19- of-32, 264 yards, 1 INT against the Colts) was benched late in Tennessee's 31-9 blowout at the hands of Indianapolis in favor of Vince Young, and with the season apparently going nowhere, the Titans may have an interest in determining whether the former first-round pick Young can give them a spark. Young was 0- of-3 passing and had a six-yard run for a first-down against the Colts. The Titans have not had any consistent pass-catchers, though Nate Washington (17 receptions, 3 TD) and Kenny Britt (19 receptions) have been the best from a statistical standpoint and tight ends Alge Crumpler (16 receptions) and Bo Scaife (12 receptions) have added value as well. The strength of the Titans offense remains the running game led by Chris Johnson (468 rushing yards, 16 receptions, 3 TD) and LenDale White (133 rushing yards, 1 TD). Johnson is averaging a healthy 6.0 yards per carry but his role has been minimized as the Titans have tried to pass their way out of deficits over the first five weeks.
Seau will be asked to contribute to a defense that appears to be growing stronger via both his re-introduction to the team and the improving health of inside linebacker Jerod Mayo (7 tackles). Mayo, who injured his knee in Week 1 against Buffalo, returned to the lineup last week and logged six tackles and a forced fumble in the effort. Defensive linemen Ty Warren (17 tackles, 1 sack) and Vince Wilfork (15 tackles) have also been stout for a team that ranks 11th in the league against the run (96.8 yards per game) and has surrendered just one touchdown on the ground all year. The Patriots will have something to prove in pass defense this week after allowing Orton and the Broncos to have a huge day through the air last Sunday. Cornerbacks Leigh Bodden (24 tackles, 1 INT) and Shawn Springs (26 tackles) should have an easier time against a weaker group of receivers on Tennessee, although the potential absence of safety James Sanders (15 tackles) to a shoulder injury would hamper the unit overall. The Patriots have 10 sacks on the year, including one each for Tully Banta-Cain (10 tackles, 3 sacks) and Rob Ninkovich (6 tackles, 1 sack) last week, though Adalius Thomas (15 tackles, 1 sack) is among the high-profile New England players who have been conspicuously absent from that realm.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Though New England has been notoriously vague when it comes to disclosing injuries during Belichick's reign, it would appear that the team does have a legitimate concern with trusty left tackle Matt Light's knee. Light, who has started 116 games as a Patriot since his arrival in 2001, was injured in last week's loss to the Broncos. In his absence, the main protector of Brady will likely be Nick Kaczur, who would slide over from right tackle, with rookie Sebastian Vollmer (Houston) taking over on the right side. Brady (1344 passing yards, 6 TD, 2 INT) enters Week 6 with an 85.9 passer rating, and will try to improve that mark by making more big plays down the field to the likes of Moss (30 receptions, 1 TD) and Welker (26 receptions, 1 TD). Moss had just one catch against the Broncos last week, while Welker hauled in eight grabs for 86 yards and a touchdown in the setback. Tight end Benjamin Watson (14 receptions, 3 TD), who also scored last Sunday, is questionable with a head injury and could yield his snaps to Chris Baker (4 receptions, 1 TD). The New England running game generated 96 yards on 27 carries against the Broncos, in its first effort since Fred Taylor was potentially lost for the season due to injury. Sammy Morris (109 rushing yards, 1 TD, 11 receptions) was the lead back with 17 carries for 68 yards in the loss.
Given the state of the New England o-line and the lingering health questions surrounding Brady, the Titans will want to put pressure on the Patriots quarterback. Easier said than done, as Tennessee has notched just nine sacks through the first five weeks, led by tackle Tony Brown's two, and the likes of ends Kearse (3 tackles, 1 sack) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (13 tackles) have been nowhere to be found. That's a problem for a team with injury problems on the back end, and Sunday should find players like rookie cornerback Jason McCourty (15 tackles) and a recovering Finnegan (17 tackles, 1 INT) playing a key role against a strong group of New England receivers. The Titans will need a good showing from safeties Michael Griffin (25 tackles) and Chris Hope (33 tackles, 1 INT), given the circumstances. Lost amid the team's defensive problems has been the run-stopping work of a front seven that is allowing an NFL-low 2.8 yards per rush as Week 6 begins. Tackles Brown (8 tackles), Jovan Haye (12 tackles), and Jason Jones (7 tackles, 1 sack) have been space-eaters at the point of attack, and linebackers Stephen Tulloch (45 tackles, 1 sack) and Keith Bulluck (41 tackles, 1 INT) have been capable tacklers behind them.
The Titans did not have a team of fantasy studs even during their 13-3 campaign of 2008, and obviously Tennessee's shaky campaign has only limited the options in that regard. Johnson remains a must-start, but backfield mate White has been a major fantasy (and real-life) disappointment. Among the targets, Britt is two weeks removed from a 100-yard game, but doesn't have a touchdown and remains a risky play given the team's quarterback situation. Tight ends Crumpler and Scaife are worth considering only if you're desperate.
New England hasn't hit its 2007 stride in terms of fantasy production, but it would seem like a matter of time before the likes of Brady, Moss, and Welker are putting up consistently high totals. Morris had 17 carries out of the backfield last week, and his sturdiness near the goal line means he'll probably find the end zone sooner rather than later. Watson has three touchdowns, but two of those came in Week 1, and his injury situation makes him a less-than- stellar play. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski remains one of the league's best fantasy producers at his position.
No one who has seen the Titans in action this year believes they are an 0-5 team the way the Rams, Chiefs, or Buccaneers are 0-5 teams, but as the adage goes, you are what your record says you are. Tennessee's biggest problems have come defensively, where injuries and general inconsistency have limited their effectiveness against the pass, and that's not a situation that figures to get much better in New England. Tennessee will continue to play hard, but simply won't be able to match up with Brady and his litany of receivers, nor will Collins and the offense be able to match the Pats score-for-score.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 23, Titans 13
10/15 17:53:49 ET