All hands on deck for Packers to stop Derrick Henry and Titans run game

Nov 13, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) hands the ball to running back Derrick Henry (22) in the first quarter at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) hands the ball to running back Derrick Henry (22) in the first quarter at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports /

Priority No. 1 of this Green Bay Packers defense under Joe Barry is to stop the pass first, specifically, not give up the big play. This is, in part, why Green Bay does struggle to defend the run. They play a lot of two-high, which is susceptible to the run game, and with a lot of light boxes, making it easier to run on.

That defensive philosophy needs to take a back seat this week, however, with Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans coming to Lambeau Field. The Packers are going to need all hands on deck to try to slow Henry down.

This is a very run-heavy Titans offense, with Henry leading the NFL in rushing attempts with 202 this season and Tennessee ranking 30th in pass attempts per game with 23.6. The Titans average just 148.2 passing yards per game, and Robert Woods is their leading receiver with 266 yards. Out of the top-five players on the team in targets, only two are wide receivers. On top of all of that, this is an offensive line that has not been good in pass protection, allowing Ryan Tannehill to be pressured on 40% of his dropbacks.

To put it simply, the Tennessee passing game hasn’t been nearly enough of a threat for the Packers to take their usual approach to make sure they are limiting the big passing play. Relatively speaking, the Titans don’t pass the ball all that much, they give up pressures, and there haven’t been any consistent threats as pass-catchers. Barry needs to trust that Rasul Douglas and Jaire Alexander can hold their own.

Henry, meanwhile, is a force, as we all know. His 923 rushing yards are the second most in football, as he averages 4.6 yards per carry. What makes those numbers all the more impressive is that, as highlighted above, opponents know that Tennessee is going to run the ball, which is why Henry faces eight-plus defenders in the box at the highest rate (38.6%) in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats, yet he is still able to put up those numbers. Henry is also extremely difficult to bring down, averaging the sixth most yards after contact (3.79) and the fifth most missed tackles (40) per PFF ($$).

"“He’s a freak of nature,” said Matt LaFleur about Henry via “You just don’t find guys that are that big and that fast, and if he gets goings, it’s going to be a long day.  So you’ve got to do a great job to contain him, bottle him up, try to get him going laterally because once he gets going downhill, it’s just like a freight train rolling through there. They do a great job with their run game and how they come off the ball. Keith Carter does a great job there in getting those guys up front to really fly off the rock. But yeah, Derrick is one of a kind. He is a guy that can wear you down, and a lot of times, he gets stronger as the game goes on.”"

Against Dallas this past week, we did see the Packers’ defense playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and Barry did even sprinkle in some cover-one at times, almost daring the Cowboys to throw the ball. However, Tony Pollard was still very effective, totaling over 100 rushing yards at over five yards per rush.

Ultimatley, for this approach to work, it’s going to take consistency from Barry and a ‘stop the run first’ approach. Barry also relies on his defensive front to win their one-on-one matchups but mixing in some stunts to disrupt running lanes as Denver did last week against the Titans is another change worth making.

On the field, the Green Bay defenders must be sound with their tackling and all 11 players rallying to the football. The edge rushers also have to set strong edges, and the interior defenders have to maintain their gap integrity. All three things have been issues for the Packers this season and played into their struggles against the run–it’s not only on Barry and the defensive scheme he utilizes.

The Packers’ offense can also give the defense a big boost this week by stringing together some long drives and controlling the time of possession. This will limit Henry’s opportunities and hopefully prevent the defense from wearing down because this is going to be a very physical game for them.

On paper, this is a huge mismatch–Henry and the run-heavy Titans vs. a porous Packers run defense. If Green Bay is going to slow him, it’s going to take complimentary football, some flexibility from Barry, with the run game taking priority and a high level of execution from the players.