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Titans' ex-Pats: Beating mystique first priority vs. Tom Brady

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The case for benching Tom Brady (2:22)

Mike Clay looks at the numbers to show why Tom Brady is ranked outside his top 10 against the Titans. (2:22)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have faced New England just twice since 2012, but the Patriots will be a familiar opponent to the Titans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

Starting with general manager Jon Robinson and extending to coach Mike Vrabel and several players such as cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, there are multiple former Patriots who have relocated to Nashville. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees also spent time in New England.

The Titans (4-4) are coming off a win in Dallas on Monday Night Football and want to keep their momentum for a second-half playoff push. But they know -- many of them firsthand -- how big a challenge the Patriots present.

Few teams possess the mystique Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady bring to the sidelines. Having spent the first four seasons of his career in New England, Ryan understands how important it is to have the right mindset against the Patriots (7-2).

"We can't be mentally defeated walking out there," Ryan said. "You gotta go out there and believe in yourself. Do your job to help the team. We gotta bring it, man."

Brady completed 35 of 53 attempts with three touchdown passes in his last meeting against the Titans, a 35-14 playoff win in January. The 41-year-old hasn't shown any signs of slowing down with 17 touchdown passes in nine games.

New England's passing game relies on timing and keeping Brady in rhythm. Disrupting the timing with press coverage is one way to stop them, but that is easier said than done. Julian Edelman is a shifty slot receiver who works to quickly get into Brady's sight lines, and Edelman's elite quickness makes it difficult to jam him at the line of scrimmage.

Sometimes Brady instructs his pass-catchers to add a wrinkle to their route. It's something Titans running back Dion Lewis, who spent the past three seasons in New England, used to benefit from when he was catching passes from Brady.

"He's been in the offense for 15 years and knows every single thing about that offense," Lewis said. "The comfort level is on a different level. His experience is what makes him a different type of guy. His overall preparation and focus, he's always locked in and in tune with what's going on. He's always a step ahead of the defense. Sometimes he will just tell you to do something that isn't a part of the play because he knows it will work. He's not trying to override the coach or anything -- it's just the freedom he has to make those changes."

Perhaps the most unstoppable force on the Patriots is tight end Rob Gronkowski, but he has been slowed by ankle and back injuries this season. Matching up with the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end is especially tough in the red zone. Having allowed a league-low 31.8 percent of red zone trips to result in touchdowns, the Titans will need to maintain their stingy approach on Sunday.

Vrabel, a former linebacker who has the rare distinction of sacking Brady and also catching a touchdown pass from the future Hall of Famer, didn't mention if Brady ever changed any of his pass routes.

But it's clear he still holds a soft spot for New England.

"I can't deny the fact that I played there for eight years and we had a lot of success," Vrabel said. "I think spending time there, there are some similarities that I believe in and you grow up as a player believing in."

Vrabel, who learned under Belichick, has brought an aggressive approach to the Titans. A win Sunday would be another big step forward for a team searching for consistency.