Logan Ryan returns to New England as leader of improved Titans DBs

Mariota: Brady 'probably one of the best ever' (0:47)

Titans QB Marcus Mariota shares what he admires about Tom Brady and gives some insight into what his offense needs to do to beat the Patriots. (0:47)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Over coffee this week, cornerback Logan Ryan shared with head coach Mike Mularkey his knowledge of what gives the Tennessee Titans their best chance to beat the New England Patriots.

Ryan's best tip, disclosed or undisclosed, may have nothing to do with scheme or personnel: "You can't be mentally defeated walking out. You got to walk in and believe in yourself. You gotta do your job."

That's some Bill Belichick coming out of the end, but the mental element of playing the Patriots in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game may be more important for the Titans this week than anything physical.

Ryan returns to New England, where he spent the first four seasons of his NFL career, as the leader of the Titans' improved defensive backs group. He is one of three key Titans who spent a lot of time with the Patriots (general manager Jon Robinson, guard Josh Kline).

The idea that Ryan has some secret formula to beat the Patriots is overblown, though.

"If I tell Coach [Dick] LeBeau what to expect, guy's got 80 years on me in football experience," Ryan said of the Titans' defensive coordinator. "Marcus [Mariota] watches more film than anybody in the building. So I don't really need to tell them anything they haven't seen."

Ryan often uses his New England experiences to teach the Titans' young defensive backs. Last week, Ryan spoke to his group about how playoff football can breed new stars. He referenced Malcolm Butler's game-changing play in Super Bowl XLIX that propelled him to national recognition in a way to motivate them.

It isn't often a newcomer becomes such an integral part of building a new culture in a positional group, but that's what happened with Ryan. He bought his teammates video game monitors/carriers for Christmas and wore their numbers on his cleats last week at Kansas City.

Cornerback Adoree' Jackson said Ryan's leadership has played a big role in his rookie development. It's worth noting that Jackson has played extremely well, settling in as a corner who can play inside and outside, even earn man-to-man assignments like covering Kansas City's Tyreek Hill and returning punts and kicks.

Lessons from Ryan and LeBeau along with his own talent are why the Titans believe Jackson and company will be ready for the moment.

"Logan is telling us to play our ball," said Jackson, who has played the second-most snaps in the NFL this season. "For me, he's helped me out. As soon as I got here from OTAs, trying to groom me, teach me and help me develop. He's one of the guys I remember texting, saying, 'I can't wait to work with you and learn from you.'"

The Titans' defensive back group is more confident, comfortable and effective playing man-to-man coverage. Safety Kevin Byard had an All-Pro season, leading the NFL in takeaways. Tye Smith has looked like a gem over the past month, filling in as the Titans' No. 3 cornerback after LeShaun Sims went down.

The Titans have allowed the third-fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more (37), a big improvement over the 56 they gave up in 2016. Tennessee has also allowed the fewest run plays of 20-plus yards this season, with three.

LeBeau called Ryan a "stabilizing" presence in their DB room.

"I've always had a lot of admiration with the way he plays, so it'd be hard for him to be more than I'd expect him to be," LeBeau said. "He certainly has delivered on his part of the deal."

The Titans got it right when they signed Ryan in free agency to be their No. 1 cornerback last March.

His former coach acknowledges as much. "He’s a solid player. He’s played well for them. I have a lot of respect for Logan," Belichick said. "He’s a very smart, instinctive, aware player."

As for the return trip to New England, Ryan has a lot of love for his former teammates, but his competitive juices have kicked in this week. Ryan said Patriots safety and close friend Devin McCourty got his family a parking pass this week, but the helpfulness hasn't gone far beyond that.

"He’s a brother to a lot of us in there, a real good friend of mine, but there’s nothing I want more than to see him lose Saturday night," McCourty said. "It will be fun to talk a little trash to each other."

ESPN NFL Nation reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this story.