In previous seasons, the NFL playoffs have seemed like a bit of a formality for the New England Patriots. No matter what happened prior to that point, Bill Belichick and his club always seemed to click into high gear and find a way to win the Super Bowl. This year, however, the club will face the unusual situation of playing on Wild Card Weekend, when Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans come to town.
Despite his team’s historic success, Bill Belichick won’t be taking anything for granted this weekend. In fact, he has already called Henry the “best back” that the Patriots have faced this season.
The New England Patriots’ disappointing 2019
While it’s hard to call a 12-4, division-winning season a disappointment, the 2019 campaign didn’t go how the New England Patriots planned.
The year started out brightly, however, as the Pats opened the season with eight straight wins. They suffered their first defeat against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9 but bounced back two consecutive wins after the bye. New England then lost back-to-back games against the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs; they rebounded with two wins but then choked away a first-round bye with a Week 17 stinker against the Miami Dolphins.
While the Patriots finished the regular season with the league’s stingiest overall defense, their offense never clicked. The team never truly replaced Rob Gronkowski, which tied Tom Brady’s hands; Julian Edelman faced constant double teams, Mohamed Sanu never found his footing in Foxboro, and Brady found himself working with to a group of replacement-level receivers.
Things won’t get any easier for the Patriots in the postseason. Their Week 17 lose cost them home-field advantage and forced them to play on Wild Card Weekend. The visiting Tennessee Titans won’t be a pushover, either.
Bill Belichick praises Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans
The New England Patriots have plenty of postseason success, but that won’t matter on Saturday. Bill Belichick is only concerned with the present; that present, featuring the Tennessee Titans, represents a significant challenge.
While he praised the visitor’s ability to “do everything well,” Bill Belichick will have one main concern on Saturday: stifling Derrick Henry. The running back took home the rushing title, finishing the season with 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
“He really does everything well as a runner,” Belichick explained. “He’s got good vision. For his size, he sees things well. He has good quickness. He can get into space quickly, and make the right cuts. He’s elusive in the open field but he’s also very strong and powerful. He can run through tackles, and he has the speed to make long runs. He’s got a good stiff arm, he’s got good lower body strength, he’s a very hard man to tackle. But he’s got excellent quickness, vision, and speed for his size.
“So he’s not just a one-dimensional runner at all,” the Patriots’ head coach concluded. “He’s the best back we’ve seen this year.”
Derrick Henry could be a match-up nightmare for Bill Belichick
This season, the Patriots’ defense has been their biggest asset. Derrick Henry, however, can put even the toughest defensive front to the test.
While the Patriots are good against the run, facing a potent runner like Henry can create a domino effect. If New England sells out and packs the box, Ryan Tannehill can take advantage of openings in the secondary; if Bill Belichick tries to play things straight up, Henry will have a field day. The running back’s presence will also mean that the Patriots can’t afford to fall behind. Their offense simply can’t score quickly, which they’ll have to do if Derrick Henry is moving the chains and chewing up the clock.
Based on their playoff history, it’s tough to bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs. Derrick Henry and his Tennessee Titans, however, will make the Patriots prove they belong in the Divisional Round.