In the effort of being fully transparent, we’re going to start this article off with a little truth telling session. I, the author, have no idea what is going to happen this week between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, and in my defense, there is quite literally zero way in which I could know.
You see... the Titans are about to become the most injured team in NFL history. To this point, they’ve deployed 82 different players in games this season. That is just two off of the NFL record of 84. What does Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel think about their chances of breaking that record?
Well, Vrabel is about to be proven exactly right, as the Titans made 13 roster moves on Tuesday and saw 16 players — 10 of which were non participants — pop up on their Wednesday injury report.
So, we’re going to scale things down a bit. Three matchups, all involving different aspects of the game and all serving as deeper cuts than we are used to seeing.
Ted Karras vs. Jeffery Simmons
There is a very strong argument to be made for Jeffery Simmons being the best player on the field this Sunday. Tennessee’s 2019 first-round draft pick has come on very strong in year number three with 7.5 sacks and a top-15 win rate as both a pass rusher and run defender, all from the interior.
Ted Karras of course has found himself becoming a permanent member of New England’s top offensive line unit after starting the year as a reserve player. Injuries to Trent Brown eventually led to some shuffling along the offensive line with Karras winding up as the starting left guard. With Brown back, Karras has not relinquished his job, and become a leader in the middle of New England’s offense.
Since his insertion into the starting lineup at left guard, Karras and the Patriots offensive line have faced the likes of Quinnen Williams, Jerry Tillery, Derrick Brown, and Grady Jarrett. All quality interior defenders who had their impact limited in Patriots wins. Having Karras continue the trend of limiting some of the leagues best interior defenders while moving the ball effectively on the ground, should help the Patriots continue their winning streak.
Mike Pellegrino vs. Rob Moore
That’s right baby, we’ve got a matchup between position coaches! I told you these would be deep cuts.
Rob Moore started this season with the easiest job in America. As the Titans’ wide receivers coach, he had the pleasure of working with superstars like A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, as well as solid role players like Josh Reynolds and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. Now he’s working with a very injured Brown, Dez Fitzpatrick, Chester Rogers, 33-year-old Golden Tate, and the aforementioned Westbrook-Ikhine who has admittedly been very good.
Patriots cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino has seen some changes of his own. As we all remember, New England traded former defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore prior to him every getting a chance to return to the lineup, while seeing his all world slot cornerback Jonathan Jones be lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade have gone on to fill in at different points.
Now I know you’re wondering, why the heck should I care about any of this? Well, because without Derrick Henry, Tennessee has no choice but to throw the ball. With that reality, the Patriots secondary will have to stay on their p’s and q’s against a less talented group than you’d usually see around the NFL. Mike Pellegrino will have a busy day keeping up with substitutions and playing through individual matchups against an unknown group.
Kyle Van Noy vs. Dontrell Hilliard
Oh, is this not the Tennessee running back that you expected we’d talk about earlier this season?
Derrick Henry is likely lost for the season with a foot injury. Jeremy McNichols —his backup to start the season— is dealing with a concussion and has not produced when he’s seen the field. Adrian Peterson was brought in to provide a spark, that only lasted three weeks and he’s now gone. So that leaves D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, the latter of which has become a real weapon in Tennessee’s passing offense.
Who has stepped up at linebacker for New England in recent weeks and can compete with running backs in the passing game? That’s right, it’s the man that everyone declared #bad, Kyle Van Noy. The 30-year-old Van Noy has come on strong in recent weeks, stepping up in the absence of Jamie Collins and Josh Uche. As we mentioned earlier, the Titans have no choice but to try and throw it around a little bit. That is where the uber-versatile Van Noy comes in and should match up with Hilliard. Shut down Ryan Tannehill’s top option from one week ago and you have a recipe for success.