Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/EditorTitansOnline.com
Patriots coach Bill Belichick discussed Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Derrick Henry, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and more in a conference call Monday. The Titans face the Patriots in the AFC divisional playoff round on Saturday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The last time Patriots coach Bill Belichick faced the Titans, quarterback Marcus Mariota was a rookie, starting just his 12th NFL game.
On Saturday night, Mariota will return to Gillette Stadium when the Titans play the Patriots in the AFC divisional round.
It’s a whole new ball game now, Belichick said.
“I don’t really think the game from two years ago is that relevant,” Belichick said on Monday when asked about Mariota’s game compared to then. “All players improve a lot over that period of time, especially young ones at that point in their career, certainly at that positon.“Mariota’s had a good year. They really have been in the playoffs here the last couple of weeks. They had to win their last regular season game. He brought them from behind 21-3 against Kansas City in Kansas City for a playoff win. I think his performance speaks for itself. I don’t think what happened two years ago really has any bearing at all, whatsoever, on this game. I couldn’t find any relevance to it.”
Belichick made his comments on a conference call on Monday morning with Boston-area reporters. He’s scheduled to be on a conference call with Nashville media on Tuesday, leading up to the Titans-Patriots divisional playoff game.
In 2015, Mariota went just 3-of-6 for 32 yards against the Patriots before leaving the game with a knee injury. It was his last start of the season. The Patriots won that game, 33-16.
On Saturday night in Kansas City, Mariota threw two touchdown passes – including one to himself – as the Titans rallied to keep their season alive with a 22-21 win.
“It says they’re a good football team,” Belichick said of the Titans. “They’re balanced in all three areas. They do a great job in the kicking game. They’ve got a great punter, kicker, returner. They can run the ball. They can score points. They play good defense, turn the ball over, stop the run, play good situational football. They’re very well coached. They have a lot of talented players. They compete well. They play hard. They’re tough, mentally tough. I mean, that’s what it says about them – they’re a good football team – which they are.”The Titans converted 7-of-8 third downs against the Chiefs, when Mariota got into a groove. Mariota went 19-of-31 for 205 yards against the Chiefs.
During the conference call, Belichick complimented Mariota for his play in the red zone, where he’s thrown 40 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his career.
“He’s a smart player,” Belichick said of Mariota. “They give him quite a bit of responsibility. He can, obviously, handle it well. He did a very good job running the no-huddle offense and making plays and adjustments at the line of scrimmage against Kansas City. If he sees a situation in the passing game that he doesn’t like he’s very strong and athletic enough to extend plays, whether that’s buy time for the receivers to get open, throw on the run or in some cases advance the ball himself. He can do all of those things and he does a good job with the decision making process as those situations occur. That goes in the red area, third down and out in the field. He’s a smart player that has good judgment, makes good decisions.”
Mariota had help on Saturday, of course.
Running back Derrick Henryran for 156 yards and a touchdowns against the Chiefs, and he led the Titans in rushing this season.Titans coach Mike Mularkey said on Sunday he expects Henry to start against the Patriots, although he didn’t rule out DeMarco Murray, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury.
The Titans ran for 202 yards against the Chiefs, as Mariota picked up 46 yards himself on eight carries.
“The Titans – they’ve done a great job all year with their running game and their run defense, and last year, too, for that matter,” Belichick said. “They’ve been very consistent. Defensively, they’re at the top of the league and offensively they’re very good, as well. Two great backs, a quarterback, so definitely a problem as a runner. They have a good, sound scheme with good players. They do a very good job running the ball. Their backs break a lot of tackles. They design plays well. They’re well coached. They’re a good fundamental team and they do a real good job of running the ball and they do a real good job of stopping the run.”
Defensively, Belichick said the Titans have been impressive.
Against the Chiefs, the Titans didn’t allow a point in the second half. The Chiefs managed just three first downs and 61 yards of offense in the second half, when Kansas City converted only 1-of-5 third down chances.
Belichick then extended a large amount of praise for Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, discussing his impact as a player and a coach.
“Dick’s a great defensive coach,” Belichick said. “He’s a great coach, was a great player. He’s been a tremendous asset and has made so many contributions to the game of professional football in the National Football League. There are few coaches that I think you could put above him in terms of the amount of what he’s accomplished and how much respect I have for him, how much respect all of us in the league have for him and what he’s done. He’s had a tremendous career. He’s made this game a better game and he’s done a lot for the coaching profession. He certainly revolutionized the game with his zone-blitz philosophy. That’s certainly stood the test of time, but Dick’s defense is Dick’s defense. It’s not anybody else’s defense.“He can utilize his personnel and find ways to create matchups and take advantage of, whether it’s by scheme or by player, by individual matchup, to put problems and put pressure on the offense. He does an excellent job of that. His play calling is outstanding. He does a great job of keeping teams off-balance and making it difficult to execute offensively against his group. They play very good situational football. They’re well coached. They’re good fundamentally. They don’t give up many big plays. They don’t give up any easy plays. You’ve got to work for everything, but they’re very sound. It’s hard to gain many yards against them. You have to run a lot of plays together and they’re good at preventing that because they just don’t allow you to get into a good rhythm or get into consistency. And again, it’s hard to move the ball with big plays. They just don’t allow many of them. He does a tremendous job. I’ve learned a lot from watching what he does and talking to Dick. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time with him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person, as a coach, for everything that he’s done, everything that he stands for. He’s a great contributor to the National Football League.”