FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the most important matchups in this weekend’s New England Patriots-Tennessee Titans game is one that played out thousands of times on the Gillette Stadium practice fields.
Julian Edelman is the Patriots’ unquestioned No. 1 receiving threat. The man primarily responsible for covering him in Saturday’s wild-card round playoff game likely be Logan Ryan, the ex-New England slot cornerback who’s in the midst of a career year for Tennessee.
Edelman and Ryan spent four seasons together in Foxboro — a stretch that included two Super Bowl titles — and have squared off once since the latter signed with the Titans in 2017. Despite sitting out the Patriots’ joint practices with the Titans this past summer, Edelman knows exactly what to expect from his former teammate.
“(He’s a) really good football player,” Edelman said Thursday. “Savvy. I’ve seen him firsthand, how he works, the extra time he’s put in. I have nothing but respect for Log. He’s a really good football player having an excellent year. He’s got a lot of picks. He’s a savvy football player. Good ballplayer.”
When the Patriots and Titans met last season, Edelman led all receivers with nine catches on 12 targets for 108 yards, including three on four targets for 43 yards against Ryan. New England’s offense scuffled overall, though, managing just one touchdown in a 34-10 loss.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who’s coming off arguably his worst game of the season, knows he’ll need to be cautious when targeting Ryan in coverage.
“They’re both very, very talented players that make you pay when you make a mistake,” Brady said of Edelman and Ryan. “And they know each other really well. I have a lot of respect for Logan. Logan was a hell of a player here, and it was hard to see him go, but he got a great opportunity in Tennessee. We’ve played him a few times, and he’s just a competitor.
“He’s a football player. He’s mentally and physically tough. Good in the run game. Really good blitzer. Really good hands. If you make a mistake, he makes you pay, and I’ll be very conscious of where he’s at so I don’t make a mistake that causes us a big problem.”
Ryan has stuffed the stat sheet this season, tallying 113 tackles, four interceptions, 18 passes defended (third-most in the NFL), 4 1/2 sacks, eight quarterback hits and four forced fumbles while playing 99 percent of Tennessee’s defensive snaps.
“He?s a smart, instinctive player,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who drafted Ryan in the third round in 2013. “He?s had a really good year. Probably one of the better nickel backs we?ve seen all year.”
With the Patriots’ secondary pass-catchers struggling to provide consistent production, opponents frequently have double-covered Edelman in recent weeks. The 33-year-old ranked fifth in the NFL in receptions (100) and 18th in receiving yards (1,117) during the regular season but has 10 catches over his last three games.
Mounting injuries have hampered Edelman’s effectiveness of late, but he offered a promising update Thursday, telling WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show” he feels better than he has in weeks. The Patriots will need him against a Titans team that boasts one of the league’s most explosive offenses.