Titans need some Dick LeBeau magic to stun Bill Belichick and Pats

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Dick LeBeau, Titans defensive coordinator, has faced New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick many times over his career. Saturday's playoff match up will be the latest with the Titans as the underdogs. Autumn Allison|USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau watches players during practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.(Photo: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean)

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If you’re past 80 years old already, disregard this. If not, answer this: Would you sign up right now to live to that age and be a self-sufficient person, if someone could make you that offer?

I would. I’d put pen to paper without one second of hesitation because that’s a heck of a deal, a guaranteed opportunity for a full life. There’s always a chance of 10 or 20 years beyond that, and there’s a chance of much less. And this question comes to mind whenever I talk to , because he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a great-grandfather with a landscape-changing football innovation to his credit.

He’s complete. But he is driven. The Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator might call it a career after the next loss – most of the world in Saturday night’s playoff game at mighty New England – and he might be chasing more Super Bowl rings five years from now. Considering what he has done with this moderately talented Titans defense, it’s natural to imagine him continuing, aspire to live like him and believe he can sneak one past .

“They’re always going to be a formidable opponent, but they’re not unbeaten,” LeBeau said of the 13-3, AFC No. 1 seed Patriots, who are after their sixth Super Bowl title since 2001 with Belichick as head coach and Tom Brady at quarterback. “So somebody got in there and scored a few more points than they did. That’s the goal.”

And Hall of Famer LeBeau against future Hall of Famer Belichick is the game of chalkboard one-on-one we want to see, even if it doesn’t quite work that way. They’ve earned the praise and volleyed some back and forth this week – Belichick calling LeBeau “one of the great coaches to ever walk the sidelines in this league” – but there’s still a helplessness to their jobs. It’s preparing and scheming all week, then making educated guesses and hoping players execute all night.

“Once we walk on that field, we won’t know who the hell’s on the other side of the field, to be honest with you,” said LeBeau, who is in his 59th consecutive season as an NFL player or coach while Belichick, 65, is embarking on his NFL-record 37th playoff game. “We’ll just be reacting to what’s out in front of us.”

And Belichick has two players no defensive coach wants to see – Brady and . LeBeau won his two Super Bowl rings as Steelers defensive coordinator from 2004-14, but in that time the Steelers went 2-6 against Belichick and Brady, including an upset loss in the 2005 AFC championship game.

LeBeau has a talent disadvantage in this one. The Pats are potent. The Titans aren’t shutting anyone out or down here.

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If they’re going to follow up their first playoff win in 14 years by making it to the AFC championship game for the third time since moving to Tennessee, they are going to need a huge night and the offense. They will need to start fast. They can’t be in awe of the stage or opponent.

“You put the Patriots on a pedestal,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said, “and you’re already defeated.”

And they’ll need a few stops. A batted ball at the line. A sack of Brady. A turnover. Some LeBeau magic, the kind they used in shutting out the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half last week to erase a 21-3 deficit and win 22-21.

This defense has been overmatched at times this season, but it keeps playing, even-keel like LeBeau. He was known as a tough player, a hard-hitting defensive back, but his coaching style is almost gentle.

“No matter what the situation, he’s always laid-back,” Titans rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said of LeBeau. “He’s smooth. Like he just knows. He’s seen it all and he’s played it all.”

And he’s changed the game, which is something few can claim. The which typically consists of sending a linebacker or defensive back at the quarterback while dropping a lineman into coverage, has been a football staple for a quarter century now. And LeBeau made it that way.

He’s quick to point out that he got the idea in the 1980s from the late Bill Arnsparger, then LSU’s head coach. But LeBeau developed it into the trustiest counter to quick-passing offenses. He knew it had caught on when he went to a high school game in Cincinnati, where he was a longtime assistant and head coach from 2000-02 with the Bengals.

“Both teams were running zone blitzes, you know?” LeBeau said. “And I said, ‘Whew, that’s pretty cool.’”

The Steelers let LeBeau go in 2014, and that no doubt fueled his drive. He said his three seasons with the Titans, the last two helping head coach Mike Mularkey turn around a moribund franchise, “ranks right up there” among his career highlights. Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, who coached against LeBeau for decades, said of joining forces with him on this staff: “It’s like two old guys falling in love.”

Imagine the bouquets if they can pull this one off. LeBeau has earned another main-stage moment Saturday. His legacy is secure and his career is complete, but he is not done.

Joe Rexrode at jrexrode and follow him on Twitter .

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