Jurrell Casey could be handful for Patriots up the middle


FOXBORO -- It's a tale as old as time: Pressure Tom Brady up the middle and you'll have a chance.

How much of a chance the Titans actually have against the Patriots in the Divisional Round is debatable. Vegas has them as 13.5-point underdogs. But if pressuring Brady from the interior is the key, Mike Mularkey's defense has one of the best in the game to help them accomplish that feat in Jurrell Casey.

The 6-foot-1, 305-pounder is the prototype for the modern-day interior rusher. One Patriots player compared him to Rams star Aaron Donald, who is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Like Donald, Casey isn't built like a mac truck but his combination of power and quickness make him a handful for opponents.

According to Pro Football Focus, Casey is the NFL's best 3-4 defensive end against the run and among the league's most efficient interior pass-rushers. He finished the season -- his third consecutive Pro Bowl year -- with six sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 32 hurries. 

"He’s a great player," Bill Belichick said this week. "He does a good job, very active, strong in the running game. He’s not a real long guy, but he plays with great leverage. He’s got very good quickness. He’s a disruptive player. He’s quick enough to get up field and get the edge. He’s explosive and powerful enough to knock guys back, so he can win with his quickness, win with his strength, win with his power.

"He’s a smart player, very instinctive, reads screens and misdirection plays, things like that, well. He’s a hard guy to fool. He diagnoses plays well . . . He plays hard, gets a lot of plays in pursuit, chases things down, but he hustles from the backside. He’s not really out of any play. You’ve got to block him all the way through the play."

Casey will find himself on the offensive left more often than not, meaning Joe Thuney and Nate Solder will have their work cut out for them. As the Titans like to run games and stunts with their fronts, it will be a critical for the Patriots offensive line to communicate as Tennessee varies its looks. If Dante Scarnecchia's unit can get those plays blocked, if it can allow Brady room to step up and into the pocket in order to extend plays, then the Patriots should be fine against Tennessee's middling pass defense.

If not? Things could get a little hairy.


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