The Green Bay Packers’ young players are finally breaking out as playmakers, and Sunday night’s 40-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans found two of them leading the way on opposite sides of the football.
On offense, AJ Dillon delivered in his first extended action, leading all players in the game in rushing and even out-shining Tennessee’s Derrick Henry — a player to whom Dillon is often compared. His 124 yards on the ground helped offset the absence of Jamaal Williams and serve as a sign to opposing teams that when #30 returns, the team will have a true three-headed running back attack, just as head coach Matt LaFleur said he wanted when he spoke at the 2020 NFL Combine.
The other side of the ball saw safety Darnell Savage continue his exceptional stretch of play as the safety unit has become a true source of strength for this team. Savage’s nose for the football has been exceptional of late and he helped the team post double-digit pass breakups for the first time this season. Whether it is because he is being utilized differently — the team seemed to use more man coverage on Sunday night — or if he is just figuring things out on his own, Savage is becoming a star.
It’s fun to talk about a dominating win and not even get to Aaron Rodgers until four paragraphs in. The 37-year-old quarterback strengthened his case for the MVP award and this game effectively shut the door on Henry’s chances at making it a competition. If it wasn’t already the case before, this contest officially took the race down to just Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.
OFFENSE (66 total plays)
Aaron Rodgers 63, Tim Boyle 3
Boyle, the human victory cigar, came on for three kneel-downs to end the game with the Packers up by 24 points after the two-minute warning. Before that, Rodgers had another magnificent performance. It wasn’t a high-volume day for the quarterback, but he averaged over nine yards per attempt once again (his fourth such game this season) by going 21-for-25 for 231 yards.
Rodgers hooked up with his receivers for four touchdowns in this game, he was sacked just once, and even despite a surprising interception late (with the game well out of hand) he still posted a passer rating of 128.1.
AJ Dillon 38, Aaron Jones 25, Dexter Williams 3
What a performance by the running game. The Packers ripped off 234 total rushing yards, with both Dillon and Jones crushing the Titans’ defense in different ways. Jones left the game for a lengthy period in the first half after taking a helmet to the rear end on an incomplete pass thrown his way, paving the way for Dillon to get his first extended action of the season.
Dillon delivered marvelously, more than doubling his yardage total for the year coming in. He finished the game by averaging about six yards per carry, going for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Jones picked up 94 yards on ten carries, much of that coming on a 59-yard run on which he stepped on the sideline but was not ruled out.
Davante Adams 47, Allen Lazard 41, Marquez Valdes-Scantling 41, Equanimeous St. Brown 18, Tavon Austin 17, Malik Taylor 4
The Packers spread around a few targets in this game, but outside of Adams, most of the receivers’ work was blocking for the run game. Adams was targeted 12 times on Rodgers’ 25 attempts, but he was tremendously efficient, catching 11 of them for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers pushed him over 100 receptions and 1,300 yards for the season (in just 13 games, as he missed two with an injury) and he now sits tied with Don Hutson for second place in team history with 17 touchdown receptions on the season.
The other big play from the wideout group came from St. Brown, who caught Rodgers’ other touchdown pass. That was a beautiful 21-yard post pattern that saw him get open immediately and haul in an easy catch for the score. MVS did not have a target in this game while Lazard and Austin each caught their two targets.
Robert Tonyan 39, Marcedes Lewis 31, Dominique Dafney 26
As with the wideout group, the tight ends were largely used as blockers. Dafney in particular was a surprise, as he got the start with Lewis as the the Packers lined up a 12 package with him at fullback. Dafney also caught his first career pass in the first quarter, a 13-yard gain off play-action. Tonyan caught one of two targets for 17 yards.
Elgton Jenkins 66, Billy Turner 66, David Bakhtiari 63, Corey Linsley 63, Rick Wagner 41, Lucas Patrick 25, Yosh Nijman 3, Jon Runyan 3
With Linsley back from injured reserve, he anchored the line once again as the Packers controlled the line of scrimmage all game long. Patrick was the odd man out in the starting lineup, as the Packers moved Jenkins back to left guard and left Turner and Wagner on the right side.
Unfortunately, Wagner left the game on a cart in the second half, forcing Turner to return to right tackle and slotting Patrick back in at right guard. It would be great if Wagner could return, as the starting five were tremendous, but if not, look for the Packers to roll with Turner at right tackle once again moving forward.
DEFENSE (52 total plays)
Kenny Clark 43, Dean Lowry 35, Kingsley Keke 25, Tyler Lancaster 20, Billy Price 9
The Packers’ excellent job against Derrick Henry and the Titans’ run game started up front with the line, an in particular with Kenny Clark. Clark had three tackles, including one for a loss, and added a hit on quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he helped to hold the point of attack for much of the game and allowed the linebackers to swarm to the football around him.
Preston Smith 45, Za’Darius Smith 35, Rashan Gary 30, Randy Ramsey 6
It was a tremendous day for the Packers’ trio of pass-rushers. Za’Darius had a sack to bring his season total to 12.5. That sack also went down as a forced fumble, his fourth of the season. Preston had a few excellent rushes as well, and he hit Tannehill to force an interception in the second half.
Gary, meanwhile, had a tremendous day with five tackles, but he also hurried Tannehill consistently. He is the poster child for outside linebackers coach Mike Smith’s philosophy about measuring pass-rush value; he has not recorded many sacks or hits for much of the season, but he is almost always affecting the quarterback and had no fewer than five pressures on Sunday night.
Krys Barnes 52, Kamal Martin 13, Christian Kirksey 12, Oren Burks 3, Ty Summers 3
Barnes is the Packers’ starter at Mike linebacker. There is no more question about that, as he lined up there on every snap while Martin and Kirksey rotated through. Barnes led the team with seven tackles, while Kirksey and Martin had one apiece. Kirksey came up with the splashy plays in the box score though, recording a sack and an interception — the latter coming after Preston Smith hit Tannehill as he released the football.
Adrian Amos 52, Darnell Savage 52, Vernon Scott 26, Henry Black 3
While the Packers used plenty of base defense early on, they moved on to more of their traditional nickel and dime alignments when opening up their lead in the second half. Amos ended up as the dime linebacker on several occasions, with Scott playing deep safety in those instances. Amos had five tackles and a pass breakup, while Scott had two tackles.
Savage was also moving around all over the field and could have had two or three pick-sixes if not for the weather conditions or some pinpoint throws by Tannehill. As it was, he did pick off one pass in the first half and had three total pass breakups as he continues his emergence toward stardom.
Jaire Alexander 52, Kevin King 52, Chandon Sullivan 31, Ka’Dar Hollman 3, Josh Jackson 3
Throw at Alexander at your own peril. He tied Savage with three pass breakups, helping lead the way as the team posted a whopping ten pass defenses as a whole. His physical tackling ability was on display against bigger wide receivers like A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, who combined for just four receptions and 43 yards (all by Brown) on ten targets.
SPECIAL TEAMS LEADERS
Black 15, Burks 15, Ramsey 15, Summers 15, Jackson 13, Scott 13