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Green Bay Packers Week 10 Preview: Tennessee Titans

Titans - NFL Jesse Egan via Flickr


Titans, Packers Face Off In Must-Win Game

In September when the NFL season began, the Packers (4-4) most likely saw Sunday’s match-up in Nashville versus the Titans (4-5) as a tune-up game for their inevitable yearly playoff run. However, as they currently sit third in their own division behind the Vikings and Lions, beating Tennessee has now become a must.

Without Matthews, the Packers Defense Must Contain Mariota

The Titans boast an offense capable of big games, led by 2nd year quarterback Marcus Mariota, they have scored over 25 points in each of their last five outings. During the stretch they recorded wins over the Jaguars, Browns, and Dolphins. So not the greatest of competition, but the talent is there.

The Green Bay defense will come in reeling from two straight losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons in which they surrendered 30 points and 350 yards of offense, also giving up game-clinching drives in the 4th quarter of both.

Not coincidentally, the Packers have been without their main defensive pass rusher Clay Matthews in each of these games. Sunday they will again be missing Matthews as he sits out for a third straight game with a hamstring injury.

His absence will increase the pressure on outside linebacker’s Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, and Julius Peppers to make plays, which they have failed to do as of late.

Through five-and-a-half games to begin the year the Packers defense recorded 16 sacks, one of the highest marks in the league. Since Matthew’s injury in the second half of week six’s game against Chicago, they have only recorded 5.

Without him on the field, teams have been able to easily control the Green Bay pass rush. Matthews requires so much help when he blitzes, it consistently opens up the opposite side to one-on-one match-ups.

His presence would have been especially helpful this week against the mobile ability of Mariota at quarterback. Mariota faced some adversity last season by the way of injury, but has come back this year looking to be worthy of the “Franchise Quarterback” tag placed on him.

In 2016, he has completed 184 of 291 passes (63.2%) for 2,187 yards and 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Mariota also ranks second among all quarterbacks in rushing yards with 235, behind only Tyrod Taylor of the Bills (362).

It will be critical for the Packers to control Mariota inside the pocket. Like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, he is far more dangerous on the outside. Despite that fact, he has shown a pattern of not protecting the ball as well as he should.

In the Titans’ nine games he has fumbled seven times and lost four. In their previous shootout 43-35 loss to San Diego, two of his turnovers went the other way for touchdowns.

The Chargers didn’t always get a hit on him, but made him uncomfortable when they needed to. Mariota is at the point in his career where he is still very green in navigating professional defenses, and Dom Capers switching up blitzes and coverages may be a huge factor in the games final score.

Green Bay Rush Defense Will Have Hands Full With Murray

Mariota’s sophomore year progression in the passing game can be somewhat credited to the acquisition of running back DeMarco Murray, and his ability to take some of the load of Mariota’s shoulders.

Murray broke into the elite tier of running backs in 2013 with the Dallas Cowboys rushing for his first 1,000 yard season, and following it up in 2014 with a league leading 1,845 yards and a top-3 MVP finish.

He faced the Packers in both seasons, a regular season match-up in 2013 and the infamous playoff game at Lambeau in 2014, the only games he’s played against Green Bay in his career. 

In both situations he rushed for over 120 yards and at least one touchdown, but was on the losing side.

Murray experienced a rough season in Philadelphia last year behind a horrible line, and was even benched at one point. It seems the previous year has motivated him with Tennessee and given him a reason to show he wasn’t just a one-year wonder.

Mostly due to a toe injury, Murray only rushed the ball 14 times for a season low 51 yards against San Diego last week, but still remains second in the league with 807 rushing yards in 2016. He has also scored a touchdown in six of nine games and at least one in the last four.

There was talk his injury would potentially rule him out Sunday, but no such luck for the Packers defense. This game should provide yet another clue into the realistic ability of the highly touted unit up front.

Green Bay still holds steady as the league’s best rush defense at only 75.8 yards per game, but haven’t faced top tier running backs very often. They have only played two rushing attacks inside the top-20 in terms of yards per game, the Falcons (10th, 114.2) and the Cowboys (1st, 165.3), and gave up a total of 281 yards combined in those games, both losses.

Much like those games, the defense could be in for a tough day against the Titans, who currently rank 3rd at 144.2 yards a game and are one of seven teams with double digit touchdowns on the ground.

Packers Set to Face Yet Another Low-Level Defense

This week will again provide some good news for the Packers offense, as for the third straight week they will be facing a defense in the bottom half of the league.

Defensive legend Dick LeBeau leads the Titans defense at the age of 79, and uses a incredibly unpredictable 3-4 defense with a variety of blitz packages. According to Sportradar, his blitz rate of 35.5% actual ranks fourth most in the league.

As a defense, Tennessee ranks 16th in yards given up per game (356.9), 22nd in points (25.1), and tied for 28th in takeaways (seven). They have also been unable to cash in any of their turnovers, and have a dismal -6 turnover differential.

The evidence seems to point to Sunday being a game where the first to 30 points will win. For once, this should be a positive for the Packers.

Green Bay will welcome back both Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb to full-time participation in the offense, and possibly get back tight end Jared Cook for at least a few series this week.

Montgomery showed signs of explosiveness last week when given the chance, and against a poor Titan defense that just gave up nearly 200 yards to Melvin Gordon, I could see him eclipsing 100 yards rushing if given ample opportunity.

Aaron Rodgers should also be able to carve up the Tennessee secondary, who have been shown to be vulnerable. Perrish Cox, Jason McCourty, and Brice McCain have been exposed on multiple occasions throughout 2016.

Cox has made a career out of gambling on passes, while McCourty has proven to be slow to act over the middle. Rodgers will need to isolate either Jordy Nelson or Cobb on one of the two and exploit their weakness. McCain will probably provide a spy on Montgomery and follow him wherever he goes, and if given that one-on-one match-up, I’ll take Montgomery every time.

Much like the Colts last week, most of the Titans defensive play-making comes from their front 7. They are led by the trio of interior lineman Jurrell Casey and linebacker’s Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo.

Casey is a veteran tackle that has earned respect across the entire NFL. He makes plays in both the pass and run game despite his large stature. His leverage and instincts are among the best you’ll see from a 300-pounder, and will for sure be making some plays in the backfield Sunday.

Morgan and Orakpo set the edge for Tennessee and have no problem hitting opposing teams quarterbacks. Morgan is the bigger of the two and can be taken advantage of in coverage, but his 5.5 sacks show he can still make plays. Orakpo on the other hand has a dangerous speed rush, great athletic ability, and currently ranks 6th among all players with seven sacks.

Overall, the Titans rank 5th in the league in sacks at 23 and with LaBeau calling the shots, don’t expect to see a conservative defensive game-plan.

Final Thoughts

Aaron Rodgers has taken a lot of blame the last month for the Packers underwhelming performances, and as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, rightly so. A team with Rodgers under center shouldn’t be a .500 team midway through the year.

However, the last few games have proven even when he is capable of putting up numbers the team still falls short.

The past three weeks Rodgers has completed 93 of 137 passes for 869 yards and 10 touchdowns to only one interception, numbers that shouldn’t result in losses. This means there are many more pressing issues with this team then quarterback play.

For instance, as Rodgers pointed out after the Packers loss to the Colts last week, the team seemed almost uninterested. As someone that was sitting very near the bench during the game, I can confirm. It seemed the team was lacking energy and passion. This is an issue that stems from a lack of leadership and coaching.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy may be coaching for his job, and the time is now for Green Bay to take a stand. They are about to start down an important road the next month and a half facing all three division opponents one more time, two of three at Lambeau, and need someone to step up vocally. 

Whether it be Rodgers, Mike Daniels, or anyone else, it’s time for someone to act up and show something other then apathy, because we need a little more “Rah Rah” and a little less “Whatever Brah”. It all starts Sunday in Nashville.