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Patriots vs. Titans: Three to Watch on Defense Against Tennessee

As the New England Patriots prepare to take on the Tennessee Titans in Week Twelve of the 2021 season, Patriot Maven highlights three defensive players on whom Pats fans might want to keep watch.

The New England Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. While Tennessee is primarily known for its aggressive defense, they also possess an offense that is capable of beating teams in various ways, despite some key absences due to injury.. If the Patriots are to be victorious on Sunday, they will need to exploit the Titans’ weaknesses.

Though many Patriots players are expected to garner some attention during Sunday’s matchup, here are three players on defense that might raise an eyebrow when the Pats take the field against the Titans.

Interior Defensive Line

With rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore listed as ‘questionable’ for Sunday’s matchup, the Patriots defensive line may enter Sunday’s matchup with some questions. Though Barmore returned to the practice fields on Friday (having missed Thursday’s practice) he is likely to be hampered by a knee injury that has bothered him for the past couple of days. If Barmore is unable to play, the Pats will need to compensate for one of their key components in defending the run and pushing the pocket. Even with their talented rookie at less than 100 percent, the remainder of the Pats defensive line will need to step up. Defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux will be called upon to take on more of a central role, while reserve defensive tackle Carl Davis could get the start. Davis continues to prove his value within the system as a two-gapping interior defensive lineman. His ability to hold up inside against a double team allows for the Pats’ defensive ends and edge rushers to flow freely to the ball. As a result, he may play an important role in helping to slow down the Titans’ run game and push the pocket into quarterback Ryan Tannehill. All in all, the Pats defensive line is certainly better with Barmore in the lineup, but is still well positioned to be effective, even in the event of his absence.

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Kyle Dugger

Over the past few weeks, Dugger’s versatility has earned him a spot as a mainstay in the Patriots defensive backfield. In eleven games played this season, the 25-year-old has compiled 56 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, four passes-defensed and three interceptions. The Pats have heavily used both big nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) defensive packages in 2021. Dugger has seen action alongside safeties Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty when three safeties are deployed in the secondary. Thus far, he has been most effective when used against tight ends and receiving backs out of the backfield. With Tennessee’s running game weakened by the loss of star back Derrick Henry, as well as the receiving corps depleted by the loss of both Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, they are likely to employ multiple tight end sets featuring Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt and Geoff Swaim. Dugger could be poised to have a notable impact on the game, if he is able to shut down the Titans trio of tight ends. 

Matt Judon

Week after week, Judon has routinely proven that he has both the versatility and adaptability to earn the spot as the team’s number one player on the edge. Through eleven games, the linebacker has amassed 24 solo tackles, 22 quarterback hits and 10.5 sacks. Most importantly, Judon’s presence allows the Pats front seven to play in position, facilitating their ability to set the edge, and stop the run. He has been quite adept at keeping runs from reaching the corner on early downs, as well as providing speed and strength when rushing the quarterback. Against the Titans this week, look for him to assist his teammates in creating favorable matchups from off-the-ball snaps. This will allow him to put pressure on Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while maintaining the flexibility to defend the Titans’ rushing attack on designated runs. The Pats defense may be vulnerable against play action. A solid performance by Judon would free up linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley to seal the middle.