Will The Packers Continue To Establish The Run?

The Packers had success on the ground against the Cowboys. Will the team stick to the same script against the Titans? 

One of the team beat reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kassidy Hill was in the elevator with general manager Brian Gutekunst after the Packers’ victory against the Cowboys on Sunday. According to Hill, Gutekunst “leaned his head against the back wall, closed his eyes and let out the biggest sigh of relief you’ll hear.” Gutekunst, one of us. 

Green Bay finally got off the schneid with the 31-28 overtime win at Lambeau Field but more importantly, the offensive groundwork was laid for how the team can ~possibly~ make a run at making the playoffs … by establishing the run. 

Aaron Rodgers’ 20 attempts were his lowest of the season, but his 146.7 passer rating was his best output of the season. (Ironically enough, he threw the ball 25 times against the Bears, the second lowest figure of the season, but his passer rating of 131.1 was his second highest.) Not to mention, he registered a 70% completion percentage, which could have been higher had Christian Watson not dropped two catchable balls. 

Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Rodgers combined for 207 yards and 1 touchdown on 39 carries, with Jones shouldering the load (24 carries for 138 yards) and Dillon chipping in 65 yards on 13 carries. The 39 rushing attempts were the most that the team had in a game all season. In the team’s four victories – vs. the Bears, Bucs, Patriots, and Cowboys – they have produced at least 25 rushing attempts in each of those games. In particular, the run game was the springboard for the entire offensive operation on Sunday. 

It would be one thing if the Cowboys were defensively aligned to stop the pass, but that was not the case. Instead, Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn frequently stacked the box on Sunday, as Green Bay was faced with an eight-man front 18 times, yet Jones & Dillon still averaged over five yards per carry against a defense that ranked 9th in rush defense DVOA coming into the game. The play of the offensive line definitely helped the cause as well. 

The Packers’ first and only appearance on Thursday Night Football presents another challenge for the team’s offense. 

The Tennessee Titans enter Week 11’s contest with the top-ranked rush defense DVOA (-27.9%), over eight percentage points better than the second-ranked Washington Commanders (-19.6%). To put into perspective how strong the Titans’ rush defense is according to the analytics, Washington and the tenth-ranked New York Jets (-9.8%) are separated by almost the same amount as the Titans and the Commanders are. 

Aside from the analytics, the Titans have allowed the second least amount of rushing yards per contest (85.1) and the third least yards per attempt (3.9). Since allowing 238 rushing yards on 32 carries in Week 1 against the New York Giants, the Titans have only allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards once, which happened the following week against the Buffalo Bills. And since Week 2, they have only allowed more than 75 yards in two games – Week 3 against the Raiders (96 yards) and Week 9 against the Chiefs (77 yards). 

“That's going to be a huge challenge for us this week,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Upfront, they're very stout, they're big across the board. They all move well, too. So, they can really play the zone schemes and they're stout versus the gap schemes as well. Their linebackers are very aggressive, Their safeties play in the box really hard as well. So, they do a good job stopping the run. And you can tell that's a big priority for them.”

The schedule has not been all that daunting, but the team’s run defense is, without a doubt, their calling card because their pass defense has been less than stellar. They have allowed an average of 272.2 yards per game through the air, good for 31st, and an average of 6.7 yards per attempt, which ranks 18th. Plus, cornerback Caleb Farley, the team’s 2021 first round pick, was recently placed on injured reserve due to a back injury, and the Titans will be without safety Amani Hooker (shoulder). Defensive back Elijah Molden (groin) is questionable.  

So, will head coach Matt LaFleur stick with the winning game plan that was on display against Dallas and will the players execute the same way? It seems obvious from a schematic standpoint, at least on its face – heavily lean on Jones and Dillon to set up the play-action pass. Easier said than done, but at least the Packers finally have a legitimate threat to take shots down the field with Watson, who obviously had a breakout game in Week 10 and showed why Gutekunst traded up for the speedster. 

“[Watson is] a different type of talent," an NFL scout told theScore’s Jordan Schultz. "Physically, he's just enormous and fast and so gifted. But what I liked in the Dallas game was seeing his top-end speed and how it didn't take long for him to get there. The smooth acceleration into high gear was special."

One reason why the Packers may not be able to have as much success as they did against the Cowboys, beyond the inherent challenges that Tennessee presents up front, is the uncertainty of the offensive line. As of this writing, left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and left guard Elgton Jenkins (knee) are both questionable. However, Titans star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (ankle) is also questionable. 

Altogether, if Bakhtiari and Jenkins are a full-go, then the Packers’ offense has much more than a puncher’s chance against the Titans' stout run defense, which is a crazy thing to write when you consider the state of the offense merely two weeks ago. (One final slightly unrelated note: The Packers' run defense versus Derrick Henry might be torture for Packers fans to watch, maybe even worse.) 

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

3 points

Comments (7)

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T7Steve's picture

November 17, 2022 at 11:15 am

Good one Rex.

Fingers crossed that the O-line is intact and stays healthy along with everyone else (on both teams). Win one!

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splitpea1's picture

November 17, 2022 at 11:31 am

Just some miscellaneous notes:

The throwback Titans are vaguely similar to the Jets (although more one-dimensional) with their physical play and infrequent blitzes, so the Packers need to be prepared for this type of game.

Our offense needs to be in manageable third-down situations! The Titans lead the league by a significant margin in third-down defense. On the flip side, the Titans are very good in red zone offense, so "bend but don't break" may work out okay for us.

The Broncos used 3 ILBs at times to keep Henry under control. I don't know if Barry will be comfortable doing something like that, but we'll need all hands on deck with the DL.

We can't afford many missed tackles. Are you listening, secondary?

I don't know what possessed the Titans to select Farley in the first round with that injury history.

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beautiful_mystery's picture

November 17, 2022 at 11:51 am

"Will The Packers Continue To Establish The Run?"

IDK, I hope so. And, to prove I'm a team player, I will substitute copious amounts of prune juice sans the Leinies....

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Packerlifer's picture

November 17, 2022 at 11:55 am

Has any one considered that a reason the Titans rank so high on run defense is because they suck with their pass defense? Teams don't have to run because their success rate is so high through the air. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/oti/2022.htm.

So yes, the Packers should run on them and work their offense the way it's worked best this season and was supposed to be designed. Sticking with the Showtyme and Quadzilla attack will lead to passing success.

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Coldworld's picture

November 17, 2022 at 11:58 am

Yes. That’s a possibility, but they do have some good players up front too. They’ve invested in fixing what was a poor running D a couple of years ago.

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Guam's picture

November 17, 2022 at 12:15 pm

The elephant in the room is Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers played extremely well against Dallas, but that came after a half dozen subpar performances including one of his worst ever performances in Detroit. Which Aaron Rodgers is going to show up versus the Titans? Let's hope for another Dallas like performance. However if he reverts to early season form (heaven forbid a repeat of Detroit), another discussion will need to happen.

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fangirl's picture

November 17, 2022 at 03:53 pm

I think Rodgers gets it. However, because the Titans defend the run well, don't be surprised if there is 15-20% more passing.

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