The Green Bay Packers find themselves in unfamiliar territory by this season’s standards, going into their Week 11 matchup with the Tennessee Titans coming off a win. The win was the breath of air the Packers may have needed to keep their playoff hopes alive, clawing back from a 14 point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys seemingly forgot they had a two score lead and refused to run the ball while the Packers flipped the typical “down 14” game script and proceeded to run the ball heavily in nearly a 50/50 playcall split (nine run – eight pass). The Cowboys, surprisingly, had a similar split (six run – seven pass) although holding the two score lead.
A few simple takeaways for Packers fans would be that the defense showed up when needed most (true) and that the offense finally found its groove with Christian Watson posting a 4/107/3 breakout game (also true). But I think the biggest thing to note here is that the Packers relied on the proven commodities in their arsenal, rather than trying to force the offense into a form of itself it simply couldn’t maintain (see Week 9, Week 7, Week 6, Week 5, Week 1). They found success on the ground and stuck with it, forcing the defense to respect the possibilities at hand on every play, most notably on third down. If the Packers are to continue to make their playoff push by striving for (near) perfection down the home stretch, it will have to start on Thursday against a very well coached Titans team. Below, the three most important aspects will be highlighted that will help ensure we don’t see Jordan Love starting come Week 15.
1. Commit (and) to Stopping the Run
It’s no secret that the Packers rush defense has been the biggest hole for a unit that many projected to take the next step and potentially become an elite defense in 2022. Allowing over 140 yards per game on the ground, good for 26th overall in the league, defensive coordinator Joe Barry has essentially said that the defense will live and die by not allowing explosive plays to be had on any given drive and rather die a slow death while watching the clock run out.
Derrick Henry is currently 2nd in the league in rushing (8 yards behind Saquon Barkley) and has seven rushes of over 20 yards. Pair that with nine touchdowns and a newfound ability to be an effective pass catcher and you have a game breaking back. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who’s watched the Titans or even the league in the last 5 years. With the Titans ranking second to last in the NFL in passing totals after trading AJ Brown this offseason, it’s fair to assume that the Packers should be able to relax their dime packages and stack an extra linebacker in the box to help mitigate Henry’s damage. If Joe Barry continues to be unwilling to shape his defense to counter his opponent (minus last week), we may see the Packers die another slow death via the rush.
2. Establish the Run and Utilize Play Action (Christian Watson)
The Packers, like the Titans, have struggled to throw the ball effectively this year and have, again like the Titans, had a lot of success in the ground game. Averaging just under 130 yards a game and almost 175 in the last two weeks, it appears that the Packers have found the problem with their offensive woes. Aaron Jones has been electric and it also seems the coaching staff has (finally) realized that AJ Dillon is more effective as a back to change the pace of the offense, rather than feature regardless of situation. The Packers will be up against a stout Tennessee rush defense which ranks second in the league but will need to commit to the ground game in order to unlock the deep levels in the secondary where the Titans are vulnerable, ranking second to last in the league.
The main driver of this is the emergence (or possible one week wonder) of Christian Watson. His 4/107/3 statline was mentioned above but the thought that his performance was derived simply out of skill and being the best receiver the Packers have on the field is simply a casual take. While Watson did showcase his skill and overall potential in this league, the Packers set him up for success by rushing for over 200 yards on the day and forcing the defense to stack the box in situations where they may normally only hold six or seven guys in the box. If the Packers are able to establish the run and open up the field for Christian Watson and Allen Lazard for some big chunk plays, I think they’ll find themselves in a good position.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
Short and sweet. If the offense can take care of the ball and the defense can repeat the performance they had in Dallas, they’ll find themselves in a great spot come the end of the game. The lone turnover against Dallas came on special teams when Amari Rodgers (best of luck) muffed a punt and gave the Cowboys the ball in the red zone. Rudy Ford was able to spell the fumble with an interception and then provided a spark for the offense with yet another later in the quarter. Winning the turnover battle was a crucial aspect of the game that the Packers had failed to do along their losing streak.
The Titans defense is stout and carries a +3 turnover differential, good for eighth in the league. The Packers? -5, good for fourth from last. Fans can hope for another game where the Packers try to get that total closer to even and tonight would be the perfect time to do so.