New England D doesn't look great on paper, but we're looking at the wrong categories

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Patriots have the NFL’s 29th-ranked defense, 20th against the run and 30th against the pass.TitansFloor

But those are not the numbers that matter as the Titans get set to try to pull at upset in Foxborough, Mass. Saturday night.

New England owns the fifth-best scoring defense in the NFL, allowing just 18.5 points a game. Four times they’ve held their opponents to single digits.

Here is Terry Robiskie on how the Patriots defense works:

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Delanie Walker: 'It surprised me that Titans were so good this year'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans are just two seasons removed from owning the No. 1 pick in the draft.

That’s a reminder we need to offer often, because there was a tendency though much of the season to feel like the Titans had not gotten good enough, fast enough.WalkerKC 1

“It takes time, it really takes time,” Brian Orakpo said.

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Titans' culture change has featured better relationships between kids and veterans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The cultural shift the Titans have managed over the last few years has included shedding some bozos, adding some eager youth and building some strong generational bridges in the locker room.

Matt Cassel, the 35-year old father of four, and Adoree’ Jackson, the 22-year old precocious rookie probably don’t have a great deal in common. But the Titans have forged an atmosphere where working together for the greater good of the team has become something all kind of different guys now share in.

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Two veterans who’ve been to the Pro Bowl spoke this week about how a younger team has created a far better interpersonal dynamic at the office.

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When Marcus Mariota is calling the plays and when he's changing them

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the big things people want to know about the Mike Mularkey-Terry Robiskie offense run by Marcus Mariota is just how much the quarterback can change out of plays at the line, and when he gets to call the plays himself.

Robiskie has talked about how no-huddle is limiting for the Titans.MariotaShotgunKC 1

But it sure worked well during the playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium when the Titans went to it, probably 40 to 50 percent of the time.

And when they are in it, Mariota is calling the plays.

To learn more about when Mariota has that freedom and when he has the freedom to check out of plays, I went to a key team resource on such matters: the backup quarterback.

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In New England, Adoree' Jackson has to spark return games

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While Adoree' Jackson's steadily improved as a cornerback, his return-game work has not lived up to the hype.

apple icon 72x72 precomposedHis punt return average of 8.5 yards was 15th in the NFL during the regular season. We've talked about his tendency to let punts bounce. He fumbled one away in the win at Kansas City.

He did have a big 57-yard kickoff return against the Rams. That's the sort of play the Titans are going to need from him to win the special-teams phase in New England.

My video report:

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How the quiet QB Marcus Mariota is prompting noise from the Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s not like Marcus Mariota doesn’t have a pulse.

After the stiff-arm against Jacksonville, we saw him bounce around and glare at Barry Church. After the rebound reception in Kansas City, we saw full-on celebration.

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Still, his default setting is calm. Super calm. Cool. Collected. Unflappable.

So While Mariota has taken over two must-win games -- with runs, throws and even a big block to make room for Derrick Henry -- his team has fed off him more than ever.

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Five insiders share what has to happen in New England for the Titans to have a chance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – I texted with several personnel men/ pro scouts/analysts and asked them for one, non-obvious thing the Titans have to do in order to have a chance to upset the Patriots at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.MariotaHandKC 1

A couple expounded, a few kept it short and sweet.

I think you will find it all quite interesting.

Here is what they said:

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