Keys to the Game: Green Bay Packers vs. Tennessee Titans
I’m going to depart a bit from the usual Key Matchups format because the Tennessee Titans are an unfamiliar opponent of the Green Bay Packers and also due to the injuries on both sides.
We will return to our regularly scheduled “Key Matchups” next week when the Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings to round out the 2012 regular season. For this week, it’s more of a “What to Watch For”.
Titans Running Back Chris Johnson
Johnson gets hidden, sometimes even forgotten, in Tennessee because they are one of the smaller markets. And let’s be honest, the Titans have been very forgettable the past four seasons. But 1,200 yards and five touchdowns is nothing to overlook this week for the Packers.
Johnson had a 94 yard touchdown run in Tennessee’s Monday night’s dismantling of the New York Jets. With that run, Johnson set a new NFL record with six career touchdown runs over 80 yards.
He’s still a very good running back and clearly has the ability to break a long run at any time. Green Bay struggled to contain another great running back three weeks ago when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had a long scoring run and ran wild all day.
It’s asking a lot of any defense to contain a top back, but Green Bay has had recent success defending the run and can again this week. It comes down to the one-one-one matchups at the line, specifically with Ryan Pickett and BJ Raji. Each played very well last week against Chicago and Matt Forte.
Tennessee’s offensive line grades out better than does the Bears’ but with top wide receiver Kendall Wright out this week, the Titans won’t have as many options in the passing game. Green Bay may be able to focus more on loading up the box, as they say.
If all else fails, just tackle. The Packers have had more than their fair share of tackling issues over the past two seasons and it cost them in the Vikings game. Fortunately it didn’t cost them the game, but in a close contest, a missed tackle can be the one play that prevents them from getting the “W”.
The Frozen Tundra: Home Field Advantage?
Some of today’s players never adjust to playing in the December and January elements and it can make a good player very ordinary. Packers receiver Randall Cobb was quoted as saying that he doesn’t like the cold nor playing in it. That doesn’t sound too encouraging coming from one of the team’s top playmakers and news flash: it’s not warming up in northern Wisconsin until about May.
True it’s tough to concentrate when dealing with the chill, but many generations of Packers have done it. This year’s team will too, having clinched at least one home playoff game. I always liken the personality of a team to its head coach. Mike McCarthy has seen his share of cold and snowy games inGreen Bay. Here is a recap of some of those that stand out and keep in mind that there is no specific criteria for what constituted “cold weather”, these are just off the top of my head.
2007 – Playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks. Team kept their composure after an early 14-0 deficit. NFC Championship game loss to New York Giants. Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer
2008 – Win vs. Detroit in week 17 to keep them unbeaten all season long
2009 – Late season thumping of the Seahawks in week 16
2010 – Week 16 win over the Giants at Lambeau. Week 17 win over the Bears at Lambeau to clinch a wild card playoff spot
2011 – Week 17 win vs. the Lions behind six touchdown passes by Matt Flynn. Divisional round playoff loss to the Giants at Lambeau
2012 – Week 14, Sunday night win vs. Detroit, overcoming a 14-0 deficit
Sure, there may be others but the greater point is that Green Bay needs to get their mojo working at home and build some confidence that they can, once again, win in January. The Titans certainly don’t resemble a playoff team, but just to know they can execute when the temperature drops below 40 degrees is a plus.
Packers Offensive Line
Jeff Saturday (neck/shoulder), Josh Sitton (hip) and TJ Lang (concussion) have either been limited in practice or have yet to practice this week. All three are expected to play this week with Lang’s status being the most iffy of the three. Statistics aside, any NFL pass rush will look great against a beat up or struggling offensive line.
As is the case every week, the Packers need to find a way to keep the heat off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With field position always a key in cold weather games, they will also need to reduce the number of false start and holding penalties that can set the offense back.
The line also needs to continue to try and give the running game a boost. Green Bay will go with the three-headed attack of Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant with some John Kuhn mixed in. Green’s role may be reduced as he is also recovering from concussion-like symptoms. The key is to run north/south and take the yards, few as they may be, that the defense gives.
Clock control is a friend this week and Green Bay has done a solid job in controlling that aspect over the past few games.
Health vs. Resting
There were nine players who either missed or were limited in practice this week. Among those is safety Charles Woodson, who has openly stated that he wants to return to action as soon as possible and definitely before the postseason. Woodson has yet to be cleared to resume contact and given the conservative approach McCarthy’s Packers have always taken, he won’t be out there until fully ready.
Also on the list is receiver Jordy Nelson, who is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. As has been stated several times before, these injuries heal mostly with time. There isn’t much before the Packers really need Nelson back for the playoffs, but this week is one that they can probably afford to give him another week to get better.
Last season, McCarthy rested several of the starters in week 17 because Green Bay had already locked up the division and first seed. We all know what happened after that. I’m not blaming that playoff loss squarely on the extended rest but it’s hard to ignore how well the Packers played the season prior when they not only had no extended time off, but were traveling each week.
If guys are healthy, they should be active this week. They need to get their legs back and re-engage with the speed of the game, which is one of the biggest things lost when away for any amount of time. To have guys back but not sharp really does the team no good in January. On the other hand, McCarthy needs to continue to “be smart”, as he says and when it comes to whether to put someone out there on Sunday.
Mason Crosby, God Help Us
Think about every fall when we are seemingly watching on the news as people in the path of a hurricane board up their windows in preparation. The common thread is this: they know that it’s coming. As much as they can try to prepare, it’s hard to know exactly how bad it will be until it gets there.
In this case, the constant discussion and anticipation of a potential Crosby miss are the proverbial boards we are trying to put up over the windows. That sums up the place kicking situation in Green Bay. There is no way that late-season football doesn’t come down to a kick here or there to decide a game. Crosby is barely over 50% on the season and his misses look worse every week.
The Packers have already squashed any hope (or should I say, idea?) that they will look at other options in the kicking game for the remainder of this season. If this week’s game (or even worse, a playoff game) comes down to a tying or winning kick, it’s going to be Crosby who trots out for the try.
Need I say more? God. . help.. . us!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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