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Ben Volin | On Football

Titans attacked Tom Brady up the middle and it worked superbly

The Titans’ Logan Ryan sacked Tom Brady on a Hail Mary attempt in the second quarter.matthew j. lee/globe staff

NASHVILLE — Logan Ryan spent four years with the Patriots, and played in 74 games with the organization before signing with the Titans in 2017. But Sunday’s game at Nissan Stadium was a first for Ryan.

“I played a lot of games, and I haven’t seen them look like that at the end of the game,” Ryan said after the Titans’ 34-10 beatdown of the Patriots.

It was the look of a defeated team that had no answers. Tom Brady sat on the bench over the final seven minutes of the game, letting Brian Hoyer run out the clock. Josh McDaniels couldn’t figure out how to move the ball consistently, the offensive line couldn’t pick up the Titans’ blitzes, and the Patriots’ receivers couldn’t create much separation.


If the sour looks on the Patriots’ faces didn’t tell the whole story, the statistics fill in the rest of the picture. The Patriots scored just 10 points, gained 284 yards, and went 3-of-15 on third down against the Titans, who entered the game with the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (17.6 points per game).

Related: Ben Volin: The Titans had a great game plan and wiped the floor with the Patriots

“There’s really not too much to say here this afternoon,” Bill Belichick said.

The game was touted as a showdown between old, familiar foes — Mike Vrabel, Malcolm Butler, Ryan, and Dion Lewis all facing their former team.

But a forgotten ex-Patriot was the star of Sunday’s game — Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, previously a Patriots’ linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2004-09.

Pees knows all of the Patriots’ little tricks — how they try to catch you out of position with their up-tempo offense; how Brady tries to catch the defense sleeping with a quick QB sneak up the middle; how the Patriots constantly mix and match personnel to get matchup advantages.


But Pees minded his P’s and Q’s on Sunday.

Related: Tara Sullivan: This game reminded us that Tom Brady is 41

“I can’t give enough credit to Dean, his staff, and most importantly the players,” Vrabel said. “Dean had them ready to go. They were prepared. They weren’t caught off guard. We were lined up, we didn’t hand them anything.”

Not only does Pees know how Belichick, McDaniels and Brady operate, but he knows how to game plan against them, too. Pees was a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Ravens from 2010-17, and gave the Patriots fits over the years. Pees and the Ravens won the 2013 AFC Championship game in Foxborough, and almost pulled off another playoff upset in 2015, a Patriots’ 35-31 comeback win.

“Dean Pees had a magical game, and he’s known for that,” Ryan said. “He’s done that for Baltimore against New England for years, and he’s as good as it gets. When you have guys believing in Dean Pees, and Dean Pees calling games like that, it shows you why we’re the No. 1 scoring defense.”

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Like a crafty pitcher, Pees kept Brady and the Patriots off-balance all day by mixing in plenty of curveballs with his fastballs. The Titans switched liberally between zone and man coverage, disguised the pass rush up front, and brought blitzers from all angles. Ryan got a sack on a Hail Mary play, which almost never happens for a cornerback in the NFL.


“He mixed up calls, coverages, people he was bringing, and the players ultimately executed,” Vrabel said of Pees. “You’ve got to make Tom blink, and if you make him blink and have to go to a second read, you have a chance. If you let him rip it to the first guy he looks at, it’s going to be a long day.”

Rarely did Brady find his first read on Sunday. The Titans sacked him three times and hit him an additional three times, but Brady seemingly had a hand in his face on every pass, and rarely executed a play on schedule. Brady completed just 21 of 41 passes for 254 yards and no touchdowns. His 51.2 completion percentage was his lowest of the season, and his 70.6 passer rating was his second lowest.

Related: Malcolm Butler said Titans’ win was “most definitely not” personal

“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” said running back Sony Michel, who had just 31 rushing yards on 11 carries. “They did a great job rushing the passer. They came to play today.”

The Titans didn’t just get pressure on Brady — they specifically got it up the middle. That was by design from Pees and Vrabel, who saw the Giants attack Brady up the middle in Super Bowl XLII.


“We feel like teams that assaulted the middle of the pocket had the most success against Tom Brady,” free safety Kevin Byard said. “We definitely wanted to get Tom Brady off his spot, try to assault the middle of the pocket. And I think once we were able to do that, we were able to cover those guys on the outside good enough.”

“Straight down the middle is a good way to go if you can get to him,” added linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits. “Our defense did a good job of opening up a lot of guys for our blitzes to get through.”

Related: Dion Lewis on beating the Patriots: “Hell yeah, it’s personal”

The Titans were beaming with confidence after shutting down the Patriots and posting the big win. The 24-point loss is the Patriots’ worst defeat since a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in 2014, and is tied for the fifth-worst loss in the Belichick era.

“I mean, we did everything we wanted to do, as far as stop the run and get after Brady,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We were really able to shut them down. It definitely is a big feat after you beat a team like that.”

Linebacker Rashaan Evans said he could sense defeat in Brady with all of the hits and sacks he was taking on Sunday.

“When he layed on that ground, I looked down and I felt like at that point, he was beaten,” Evans said. “When we saw that, we were like, ‘Man, we smell blood. Let’s go get ’em.’ ”


Related: What went wrong with Stephon Gilmore and the Pariots’ secondary?

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin