The Green Bay Packers are facing multiple challenges on a short week before Thursday Night Football, but finding a way to slow down Derrick Henry might be the biggest challenge of them all.
Despite the win in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers gave up another 159 rushing yards in Week 10, allowing 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. They are now 26th in the league in rushing defense with 140.6 yards allowed per game on the ground. Football Outsiders is even lower on Green Bay’s run-stopping ability. They have the Packers as the 30th-ranked run defense in the league by DVOA, ahead of only the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns.
With a disappointing defensive line outside of Kenny Clark and a depleted EDGE unit that is without Rashan Gary, the Packers have few options to handle the run. That’s not what fans want to hear the morning before the team has to take on Derrick Henry and the Titans.
Henry is on pace for another superhuman season. He leads the NFL with 202 rushing attempts, is second in the league with 923 rushing yards, and is tied for second with nine rushing touchdowns. His ability to wear defenses down has been showcased multiple times this season, including a 219-yard performance just a few weeks ago against the Texans.
Green Bay’s linebackers will have to step up on Thursday night, but with De’Vondre Campbell ruled out, it will be rookie first-round pick Quay Walker, 229-pound ILB Krys Barnes, and 227-pound Isaiah McDuffie trying to fill holes and meet Henry at the line of scrimmage.
The Packers will get a slight boost in this matchup with veteran center Ben Jones ruled out for the Titans. That could help Green Bay’s defensive line, but so far Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry have done little to show that they’re capable of being consistent run-stoppers up front.
First-round pick Devonte Wyatt has the potential to do that, but fans haven’t had the opportunity to see him prove it on a regular basis. He has a career-high in snaps last week against the Cowboys, but that was only 14 reps and he’s only played double-digit snaps in five games. It’s unclear if there are on-field or off-field reasons for this, but in his limited action he has shown some flashes that he could be a full-time player.
While there are a lot of negatives about Green Bay’s run defense right now, defensive coordinator Joe Barry might have found a bright spot last week in safety Rudy Ford. With Eric Stokes injured, Savage was moved into the slot, allowing Ford to see the field in a full-time role.
Ford’s tape against Dallas was impressive, both for his click-close ability in coverage and his ability to play the alley in the run game. Just watch how aggressively he attacks downfield here while still taking a good pursuit angle for a tackle when the running back is able to bounce to the outside.
This is how you run fit the alley.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 14, 2022
Flies downhill, takes a great pursuit angle and makes a strong tackle.
What a play by Rudy Ford. pic.twitter.com/tw8sdgjdwk
Henry will be a tough player to bring down for anyone on Green Bay’s defense, but Ford’s aggressiveness and play strength could allow him to make a stop or two if the Titans running back breaks free.
There’s a lot that needs to go right to slow down Henry, but if the Packers can get out to an early lead and force the Titans into a negative game script, then that should take some of the stress off of Joe Barry and company.