MURGI/StReAmS....#[9990tk]@!!..- MAGANA LIVE ON NFL 27 Dec 2020
The Packers were routed by San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game last year. To the surprise of many, Green Bay has raced to an 11-3 start this year, already clinched the NFC North title and currently holds the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff race.
Tennessee went 9-7 in the regular season last year, but heated up in the postseason and reached the conference championship game. This season, the Titans (10-4) have already usurped last year’s win total and are tied for the AFC South lead.
The teams meet Sunday at Lambeau Field at 7:20 p.m. Green Bay is a 2.5-point favorite.
Here’s a look at each positional group and which team has the edge.
Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill spent the first seven years of his career in Miami where things never worked out. The Dolphins reached the playoffs just once, Tannehill’s top passer rating was 93.5 and he was traded to the Titans before the 2019 season.
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After Tennessee started slowly a year ago, the Titans benched starter Marcus Mariota, turned to Tannehill and the offense erupted. Since Week 7, 2019, Tannehill has thrown 53 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 113.3.
Tannehill led Tennessee to the AFC Championship Game last season. And Tennessee is off to a 10-4 start this year and tied for the AFC South lead.
Tannehill, the eighth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, clearly needed a change of scenery to fulfill his vast potential.
“He’s comfortable in who he is,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said. “I think he tries to be Ryan and operate our system and not worry about what other guys are doing or how other quarterbacks play. I think he’s playing how we would like him to play and how he wants to play — take care of the football, be decisive and get us into the right plays.”
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw for a season-low 143 yards last week in a win over Carolina. He also averaged just 4.9 yards per pass attempt, his second-lowest mark of the year.
Rodgers has thrown 40 touchdowns, four interceptions and has a 118.0 passer rating this season, which has him in the thick of the MVP race. But he’ll have to be better than he was against the Panthers if the Packers are going to reach their first Super Bowl in a decade.
“I’m not a big believer in teams lightening up or losing focus,” Rodgers said of last week’s win. “It just comes down to execution and we didn’t execute starting the second half.”
Tennessee’s Derrick Henry is the best running back in football.
Period. End of sentence.
Henry won the NFL rushing title last year with 1,540 yards, ran for 16 touchdowns, and carried the Titans within one win of the Super Bowl.
Henry leads the league again this year with 1,679 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. And with a strong finish, he’ll become just the eighth running back in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards.
Henry (6-3, 247) is bigger than most linebackers, yet has the speed (4.50) to run away from many defensive backs.
“For how big he is, it’s deceiving,” Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said. “Like you see all these DBs that are flying to him or come up to get him and he outruns ‘em. So, you know, we’ve just got to swarm this guy, we’ve got to get everybody on him and we got to keep him in, contain him in and everybody’s got to be sound up front.”
Green Bay’s Aaron Jones had 139 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries against Carolina last week. Jones averaged 7.7 yards per rush and led a ground game that produced 190 rushing yards.
Dating back to last season, Jones has eclipsed 100 yards in five of his last seven December games.
“I’ll tell you, he’s special,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said of Jones. “It’s one of those things, you’re right when it comes to his size, you don’t think that he would have that power that he has, but it’s one of those things, his balance is unbelievable and his ability to have his foot in the ground and still be able to take impacts and bounce off people, it’s pretty incredible. He’s got this innate slashing ability to put his foot in the ground, get downhill and get positive yards.”
Tennessee’s Corey Davis, the fifth pick in the 2017 draft, is finally living up to lofty expectations. Davis leads the Titans in receptions (60) and yards (945), despite missing a pair of games.
A.J. Brown (6-1, 226) is big and strong and runs exceptionally well (4.49). Brown eclipsed 1,000 yards as a rookie last season and is on pace to do so again this year. Brown also has a team-high 10 receiving touchdowns.
Tight end Jonnu Smith (37 catches, seven touchdowns) is steady, but far from spectacular.
“When you watch ‘em on film, they’ve got big strong hands,” Packers cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said of Tennessee’s wideouts. “They look, you know, really, really muscular on film, so I’m pretty sure they’re big in person. And then when they catch the ball, they actually can run after the catch and they’re not trying to shy away. So, they look like more running back style wide receivers, but they’ve got athletic ability of a wide receiver. So they’re not going to shy away.”
Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan has 10 touchdown catches, one behind the franchise record for tight ends set by Paul Coffman (11) in 1983. Amazingly, Tonyan has also caught 49 of the 55 passes thrown his way this season.
Many Packers were frustrated when Tonyan missed the Pro Bowl earlier last week.
“One, he got snubbed big-time. Not taking anything away from any of those other guys that got in, but you score 10 touchdowns, I don’t care if they know it’s coming to you or they don’t know,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said of Tonyan. “It’s hard to score one touchdown in this league, man. I’ve done it. I lived it and went through a season with one score before, and that thing was hard to come by. I’ll tell you. Being in a position where he comes in not even knowing where or how much he’ll be used, and then to shock the world and go out and catch 10 touchdowns like that, it says a lot about who he is.”
Green Bay’s Elgton Jenkins became the first Packers’ offensive lineman to start a game at guard, center and tackle in the same season since the 1970 merger. He excelled wherever the Packers put him and was chosen as a Pro Bowl starter in just his second season.
“Elgton’s been awesome, ever since he first got in here,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said of Jenkins. “I think the big thing is he’s a very intelligent player, and it’s not too big for him. So he’s going out there and he’s feeling great with just the entire team, the offensive line room, with all of us.
“He’s just going out there and he’s balling. It’s great to see. You can see from him playing guard to tackle to center. He’s a guy that just steps up to the challenge, loves the game and he’s intelligent. It’s one of those things, he can do so much, and I think that’s just allowed him to play at a high level. It’s great to see the recognition that he’s gotten.”
The Packers also activated center Corey Linsley from the injured reserve list on Saturday. Linsley missed the last three games with a knee injury.
If Linsley is good to go, Jenkins — who played center with Linsley sidelined — will move back to left guard.
Tennessee lost Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in October. He was replaced by Ty Sambrailo, who was lost for the year in Week 11.
David Quessenberry, a second-year man who spent much of 2019 on the practice squad, has been thrust into duty. Quessenberry has held up OK, allowing three sacks in 309 snaps.
The rest of the line is experienced and talented and has helped Tennessee allow the seventh-fewest sacks in football (21).
Center Ben Jones is a terrific leader up front who hasn’t allowed a sack this season. Right tackle Dennis Kelly had to battle for his job this summer and has refused to give it up since.
Left guard Rodger Saffold is a force in the run game. Second-year right guard Nate Davis is a rising star who hasn’t allowed a sack himself.
“I think those guys get momentum moving guys off the ball, pushing forward, and I just have to go out there and get north and south and move the pile forward, fall forward and get yards so we can move down the field,” Tennessee running back Derrick Henry said.
Green Bay ranks 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (110.1), but just 20th in rushing yards per attempts (4.5). The Packers’ rushing defense has been a two-year problem, and they’ll get an enormous test against Tennessee’s Henry.
“I mean, it was a huge point of emphasis for obvious reasons in the offseason,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said of his run defense. “We spent a lot of time as a staff meeting virtually over it and then we spent a lot of time putting together film clips of what the technique is supposed to look like and then the different defenses, what they’re supposed to look like against certain runs, because the league kind of changes the style of runs sometimes change.
“Schematically you get some new things which has certainly popped up this year. I just think we made a commitment as a staff and obviously we feel better about it, than at times last year.”
Tennessee ranks dead last in the NFL with just 14 sacks this season, but 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (114.50).
End Jeffery Simmons, a first-round pick in 201