3 Must watch matchups in Green Bay Packers vs. Titans

Dec 27, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) carries the ball in the second quarter during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) carries the ball in the second quarter during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s a quick turnaround for the Green Bay Packers, who are coming off their first win in over a month and will look to keep their playoff hopes alive against another very good Tennessee Titans defense.

As always, there will be a lot worth keeping your eyes on, but below are the three matchups that will determine the outcome of this game.

Derrick Henry vs. Packers run defense

If you want to slow the Tennessee Titans offense, then find some way to slow Derrick Henry–which, of course, is easier said than done. This is a very run-heavy Tennessee offense that ranks 30th in pass attempts per game, their leading receiver is Robert Woods with just 266 yards, and Ryan Tannehill has been pressured on 40% of his dropbacks behind some questionable pass protection.

Despite facing the most eight-man boxes in the NFL, Henry is still uber-productive and hard to bring down. He has the second-most rushing yards this season with 923 and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry with the second-most rushes of 10 or more yards. Henry ranks sixth, according to PFF ($$), in average yards after contact and fifth in missed tackles forced.

As I wrote recently, this is a Green Bay defense under Joe Barry that wants to take away the big passing play first. This is, in part, what the Packers struggle against the run–it simply isn’t priority No. 1. However, that will have to change this week. Barry will have to play with more defenders in the box, trusting his cornerbacks on the outside and utilizing more stunts up front to muddy up running lanes.

Tackling, specifically getting all 11 defenders to the football, will be a must, and the Packers’ offense can provide the defense some much-needed assistance as well by controlling the clock to give the Green Bay defenders some rest and to keep Henry on the sidelines.

Henry is ultimately going to put up yards; he’s just that good to contain for an entire game. But if the Packers can keep him from dominating this matchup, as they did in 2020, the Titans are going to have a hard time putting up points.

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Tennessee front seven

Following the Green Bay Packer’s win over Dallas, Aaron Rodgers mentioned that the Packers may have found their formula for success, referencing their run-heavy approach.

Once again, the Packers will be tasked with facing a fierce pass rush that ranks fifth in both pressure rate and sacks. So relying too heavily on the pass, or worse, becoming one-dimensional against this Titans front, will likely lead to disaster.

This is where the run game comes in and allows the offensive line to dictate things, along with hopefully opening up the passing game, as we saw against the Cowboys. While that sounds good in theory, this week, the Packers will be up against a much more stout run defense unit. Entering Week 11, the Titans are allowing only 3.9 yards per rush, which ranks as the third-fewest, and by ESPN’s run-stop win rate metric, they are the best.

Green Bay had its best performance of the season through the air this past Sunday, with the run game being the catalyst behind it. The Packers ran the ball 62% of the time, and that success led to heavy play-action usage, which played a role in two of Christian Watson’s touchdown receptions, along with some other big plays.

On the flip side, and as already alluded to, if the Packers abandon the run game, consistently moving the ball through the air against this defensive front will be a nearly impossible task–not to mention that Tennessee will condense the field as both Detroit and Dallas tried to do.

If the Green Bay Packers are going to move the ball, the passing game will have to play a role in doing so, but that can’t happen without an established run game.

Christian Watson and Allen Lazard vs. Tennessee cornerbacks

As good as the Titans front seven has been against both the run and pressuring the quarterback this season, if there is a weak point in this defense, it is the secondary that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in pass breakups, yards per attempt allowed, and last in downfield defense by DVOA. However, this group hasn’t been exposed all that much because of the aforementioned pass rush.

As already discussed, the Packers becoming pass heavy will likely lead to the offensive line and Aaron Rodgers being eaten alive. Moving the ball begins with success on the ground, and that can lead to play-action along with more cover-one looks and help open up LaFleur’s playbook–all of which will benefit the passing game.

I would anticipate some quick passes from Rodgers to avoid the pass rush, but in order to consistently move the ball, chunk plays through the air are a requirement.

As of Wednesday, both Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari are listed as questionable, and having both available will be a must for the Packers. If Rodgers can have enough time, he, Allen Lazard, and Christian Watson should be able to generate some big plays against this Titans secondary.