Two years ago on a cold, snowy night, the Green Bay Packers racked up 40 points and 234 rushing yards against the Tennessee Titans, earning a massive victory at home that helped propel them to home-field advantage in the postseason. This year, the two teams meet once again at Lambeau Field, but Tennessee’s defense should make it much tougher for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to impose their will.
This season’s Titans defense is struggling against the pass, but they are an elite rushing defense. Tennessee far and away ranks as the number one run defense by DVOA and that poses a major challenge for a Packers team whose offense has followed the fortunes of its running game all season.
With a few major exceptions, the Packers win when their running game works. Their four wins have seen them rush for 203, 67, 199, and 207 yards; conversely, their losses saw them rush for 111, 94, 60, 38, 208, and 106 yards.
Admittedly there are a few outliers there. The 67-yard output in the win over the Buccaneers is an oddball, but that game saw the defense keep Tom Brady and company completely in check while they were missing their top three receivers. On the other hand, the 208-yard performance in a loss to the Bills came with Buffalo giving the Packers anything they wanted on the ground to limit the passing game.
But outside of those two contests, the trend is clear: a big game on the ground for Jones and Dillon equates to a good chance for a Packers win. Thursday will be one of the biggest tests of that approach all season long.
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That approach for the Titans’ defense might be just the Packers’ kryptonite, because they have had their biggest success by far when leaning heavily on Jones and the run. In this piece, Pete Dougherty looks at why the Packers can’t keep Jones’ workload light and save him for the playoffs — after all, they need him to get the ball consistently to give them a hope of getting there at all.
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