Oh, Henry!Posted:Dec 24th, 2020 7:28 am
What an interesting matchup we have on tap Sunday night. A true barometer game against a playoff team whose strength is the Packers' biggest perceived weakness. On top of that, we'll find out about an hour before kickoff whether the Pack can secure the #1 seed with a win or whether the game has no playoff ramifications whatsoever.
Either way, Green Bay will approach this game as if it means everything, because they'll get a chance to match up with an offense even a bit more explosive than its own. There is not another offense they will face in the conference playoffs that will provide a tougher test.
It starts, of course with Derrick Henry, the best, most complete back in the league. He has a shot at 2,000 rushing yards and is physical, tough and built for December games at Lambeau. The Titans run more than 60% of the time and that will continue Sunday night, no matter what the score is. It would surprise most people to learn that the Pack's run defense is ranked 11th in the league in yards/game. The group is improving, but those stats can be skewed by the teams the Packers have played and game scripts (big Packer leads cause teams to throw more than they want to).
We'll find out if the Pack's ascending young inside linebackers, Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are ready for the physicality that Henry will bring on every play. Even his backup, rookie Darrynton Evans, showed last week that he can be a handful as well. Adrian Amos will need to follow up on maybe his best all around performance as a Packer, passing his first test as the dime linebacker (in place of Raven Greene) with flying colors. The trickle down effect means that, with Will Redmond out with a concussion, a rookie safety will have to help hold up the back end in dime--either Henry Black or Vernon Scott.
Which brings us to the Titans' passing game. Ryan Tannehill has a pair of big time receivers in AJ Brown and Corey Davis; the latter is finally living up to his college promise, just as he's set to hit free agency. Jaire Alexander can only cover one of them, so look for Tannehill to pick on Kevin King and fall back on tight end Jonnu Smith, who's getting healthier. Those three guys got 70% of Tannehill's targets in last week's three touchdown win over the Lions. The offense is humming and coordinator Arthur Smith will likely follow his predecessor Matt LaFleur and grab a head coaching job in the offseason.
Yes, the Titans will move the ball and score points. The question is, how much will they enjoy the wintry evening Green Bay has in store. Temperatures are likely to be in the mid-20s at kickoff and there's snow in the forecast.
The Packers' offense won't have issues with the weather, nor will they have issues with the Titans defense, which doesn't really get after the passer (just 14 sacks, led by Harold Landry), doesn't cover particularly well (28th against the pass) and can't get off the field on third downs (dead last in the NFL at 53%, the Pack's D ranks tenth).
The game will likely come down to which team is able to stop the other from scoring in the red zone. The two offenses are the best in the league inside the 20 (Pack #1, Titans #2), but while Green Bay's red zone defense is middle of the Pack (15th), Tennessee's ranks 30th and now it's facing the top red zone QB in the league this season.
I like the fact that the Packers' win over the Panthers left a bad taste in the mouths of Rodgers and all of the offensive players and coaches. I expect them to be razor sharp and productive all night. I just hope that if the Seahawks beat the Rams and take away the Pack's chances of claiming the #1 seed with a win, that they don't take their foot off the pedal knowing that a loss wouldn't damage their chances at all.
It's very simple: if the Rams beat the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, the Packers are the #1 seed with a win on Sunday night. If Seattle wins, the Pack can only be the #1 seed with a win over the Bears in Week 17. So, not that we need any reason to root against the Seahawks at any time, but this week we'd love to see LA take out their frustration and humiliation from last week's loss to the Jets on Pete Carroll and company. How fun would it be to take the field Sunday night knowing they're just one win away from the coveted top seed in the NFC.
Packers 31 Titans 27
For those of you who are "Packer Preview" listeners, a heads up that starting this week, the show returns to the 8am time slot on KFAN. We'll stay there as long as the Packers are still alive in the playoffs. As always, you can also listen whenever it's convenient, in its podcast form on iHeart radio.