This game was the litmus test for the Green Bay Packers’ defense. Had they really turned a corner recently, or was it the same old stuff where a physical team with a really good running game would come in and push them around? Sunday night we received some of the answers to those questions. The Packers dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides for much of the evening, and in doing so, showed that they have a defense capable of slowing down a powerful offense.
Derrick Henry had 98 yards rushing against the Packers, but it took 23 carries. His longest run of the night went for 10 yards. That’s it. The Packers came in with a clear game plan: Neutralize Henry and force Ryan Tannehill to beat them. Of course, this is the blueprint most opponents roll out against the Tennessee Titans — the Packers just went out and executed.
Mike Pettine called a masterpiece. On so many occasions this year, the Packers’ defense has been conservative. They’ve been willing to give up underneath passes that have turned in to big chunks. They’ve been gashed by good running offenses by not being aggressive and trying to set the tone. All of that went out the window last night. We saw blitzes from the safety spot with Darnell Savage, who is really starting to emerge in the last few weeks. We saw Kevin King bring it on a corner blitz. We saw the Packers play press coverage and dare the Titans to try and beat them over the top. It was a glaring difference from what the Packers defense has been accustomed to doing. And it’s that type of style that has success in January, when you try to be the bully and dictate the pace.
The worry, of course, is that Pettine reverts back and gets more conservative in the playoffs. Logic would say: Look at the successes of last night, how could they? But it’s a bad habit and like any bad habit, it can be hard to kick. The critical thing for this defense is to not only stay aggressive with their play moving forward, but with the play-calling. Keep dialing up the pressure, keep switching up where the extra rushers are coming from. If they get burnt once in a great while on a play, so be it. We’ll live with those results because it’s far better than a 3rd and 11 where the Packers secondary is lined up right at the sticks and gives up the first down, something that has fried fans’ corneas for years now.
But it wasn’t only the defense Sunday night.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a game where Aaron Rodgers goes 21-for-25 for 231 yards and four touchdowns and have him be the third most noted storyline for the offense. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday.
Finally, after being on the COVID-19 list for weeks, not knowing if he would play again this year, A.J. Dillon was released on a national spotlight, and my goodness, was it a sight to behold.
The rookie from Boston College ran for 124 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Now, this opportunity presented itself because of the injury Jamaal Williams has been dealing with, landing him on the inactive list last night. Dillon ran physically but also displayed some nice cuts on a couple of his outside runs. He’s listed at 247 pounds, and if we’re going to call it like it is, I think one of his quads weighs 247 pounds. He is not only the perfect cold weather back for the Packers, but he is a perfect complement and change of pace from what we see with Aaron Jones. It will be fascinating to track how Green Bay uses this three-headed monster at running back in the postseason. The difficulty of trying to get touches for all can not be understated, and it’s possible Dillon resorts back to the third option, as much as people don’t want to hear it after last night.
If Dillon was the top storyline and Rodgers was No. 3, the second storyline has to be Davante Adams. Find me another receiver who can run routes and make it look like he’s playing a game in September but is actually playing in a blizzard. I’ll wait.
Adams did it all. The quick toss to the near sideline where he pushed his way past Adoree’ Jackson before lunging in for his first of THREE touchdowns. Beating Jackson off the line on a fade route in the corner of the end zone while knowing he needed the quick toe-tap for another six later in the game. And on a zero blitz by the Titans in the fourth quarter, beating Malcolm Butler on a moon ball pass by Rodgers that he got under to make a spectacular catch. The dude does it all.
With one game left in the regular season, of course it comes down to a game against the Chicago Bears with multiple scenarios on the line. The Bears need a win to get into the playoffs, a simple road for them. Chicago beats the Packers at Soldier Field and the Bears are in the playoffs. The Packers need a win to clinch the No. 1 seed and the only bye in the NFC. And for them, it’s as simple as that. Beat the Bears and Green Bay gets the bye week. Sunday can’t come fast enough.