A Nashville Blowout: Why Green Bay Packers lost to Tennessee Titans
After a pretty awful showing in their Week 9 contest at home versus the Indianapolis Colts, the Green Bay Packers were expected to come out woken up and ready to compete against the Tennessee Titans in Week 10.
That did not happen, however.
Green Bay was blown away by Tennessee from the jump in a resounding 47-25 defeat.
Yet again, I am forced to ask: What the hell happened?
Here’s what I came across which stuck with me most from this abysmal showing.
First quarter blowout
After the way the game against the Colts began — with Indianapolis getting a touchdown right on the initial kickoff — it seemed the Packers would come out with the kind of urgency which would prevent that sort of unenviable position from occurring for two straight weeks. Tennessee even gave them a prime opportunity with a failed onside kick attempt, handing Green Bay the ball beyond midfield for their first drive.
It didn’t matter.
Despite that incredible chance for Green Bay, by the time the first quarter concluded the Packers found themselves in a 21-0 deficit.
Both Green Bay and Tennessee had three drives during the quarter, but there were vastly different results. Tennessee took each of their opportunities all the way into the endzone for a touchdown; Green Bay meanwhile managed to just punt the ball away.
Looking past this quarter, this actually had the makings of a competitive game. In terms of scoring between the second through fourth quarters, Tennessee had a meager 26-25 advantage. Take out the abomination of a first quarter, the game situations are drastically changed; we may have seen more rushing attempts by Green Bay, or at the very least situations which didn’t force the Packers to have to try more risky plays due to being multiple scores behind.
Instead, with a three-score deficit being held over their head pretty much all afternoon, Green Bay was trapped way too far behind to be a credible threat in this game, and it all started with their horrid opening quarter.
Not finishing drives
Even when Green Bay had some semblance of a chance to make something happen in this contest, they continued to come up short of the touchdowns they needed to stay close and compete as their defense was bombarded by Tennessee’s “exotic smashmouth” offense.
That started from the first drive, where they ended up with a quick punt despite starting off inside Tennessee territory; from there, it rarely got any better.
Down 28-7, Green Bay had to settle for a field goal when their second decent drive of the game stalled out. Then down 41-22, yet again Green Bay had to settle for a field goal.
After one of the few stops by their defense — at a point where there still technically could have been an outside shot of making it back into a competitive contest — Green Bay turned the ball over on downs; then, down 44-25 and still not totally out of it, Aaron Rodgers tossed his second INT of the game.
With one last outside possibility to at least get the score to a more passable margin (much less win the game), Green Bay found themselves having to punt quickly despite being down 47-25.
The early hole caused by the incredibly bad first quarter of action undoubtedly hurt what the Packers wanted to do for the rest of the afternoon, but regardless there were still opportunities for the offense to keep the team in the game.
If this were any of the pre-2015 Green Bay offenses led by Rodgers, maybe they would have found a way to keep it competitive.
Unfortunately, this offense is nowhere in the vicinity of those previously dominant units. They just are not equipped for situations where they must score in bunches to win anymore, and this game was a perfect encapsulation of that.
Big plays aplenty
What Green Bay used to pull off with relative ease were big plays by their offense. With that lacking in the past couple seasons, it becomes even more of a necessity for the Green Bay defense to prevent those same type of plays to the opposition, lest the Packers find themselves behind and unable to mount a comeback.
Of course, the big plays were happening all afternoon for the Titans, and it was not pretty for anyone donning green and gold.
When talking big plays in the NFL, the usual parameters tend to be 10+ yards for running plays and 20+ yards for receiving plays.
Here’s a quick list of all of those Tennessee converted on the afternoon:
- DeMarco Murray 75-yard run [TD]
- DeMarco Murray 10-yard run
- Tajae Sharpe 21-yard catch
- Delanie Walker 41-yard catch
- Demarco Murray 35-yard catch
- Rishard Matthews 32-yard catch [TD]
- Tajae Sharpe 33-yard catch [TD]
- Rishard Matthews 22-yard catch
In total, we saw the Titans convert eight different plays for 20+ yards — including two which went for 40+ yards.
It is hard enough for Green Bay to consistently win games these days even without handing over big chunks of yardage to the opposition due to their offensive ineffectiveness.
Giving up almost double-digit big plays to the other team as well? That’s a certified death knell.
Delanie Walker goes off
While Green Bay had been struggling most of this season before this game, the defense had somehow managed to continue cutting down on what had been a defensive weakness for years: tight end production.
Since 2013, the defense has slowly gotten better at defending against tight ends; per Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistics, the Packers have risen from being #25 against them to #14 (2014), #4 (2015), and sticking at #6 this year.
The ranking for 2016 is despite starting a trio of young and/or limited linebackers — the usual guys who would get stuck covering tight ends in most formations — and facing a handful of decent-or-better threats at that position across the season. After giving up TDs in the first two weeks to Julius Thomas and Kyle Rudolph, Green Bay hasn’t given up much of anything to the tight ends since:
- Eric Ebron/Cole Wick: 6 catches, 82 yards combined
- Will Tye/Jerell Adams: 4 catches, 64 yards combined
- Jason Witten: 4 catches, 42 yards
- Zach Miller: 2 catches, 40 yards
- Austin Hooper/Jacob Tamme/Levine Toilolo: 7 catches, 60 yards combined
- Jack Doyle/Dwayne Allen/Erick Swoope: 7 catches, 83 yards combined
Combine those totals: across the past six games, that is 30 catches for 371 yards (per game average: 5 catches, 61.8 yards, zero TDs. Even add in the production from those first two games, and it is still a pretty strong showing: 41 catches, 514 yards, 2 TDs (per game average: 5.2 catches, 64.3 yards, 0.25 TDs).
Though the Titans were coming in with by far the best individual tight end of any team Green Bay had faced so far, their overall play to this point pointed to them managing to hold down the Titans’ efforts in this category.
Much like how both Dallas and Tennessee blasted through the veneer of Green Bay’s usually stellar run defense however, Delanie Walker obliterated this staple of their defensive efforts from the outset.
Walker caught more passes (9) and put up more yardage (124) on his own than any full tight end group had managed on Green Bay throughout 2016. He was everywhere for them, accounting for five different catches which gained at least 10 yards.
On the second drive for Tennessee, he followed a 41 yard catch-and-run with a 10 yard reception on a Demarco Murray pass to garner his TD and put Tennessee up 14-0. the very next Titans drive, he made two 14 yard catches and a 19 yard reception as Tennessee finished off their 21-0 first quarter barrage.
Walker was integral to not only the early lead the Titans built up, but giving Marcus Mariota — someone who has had struggles with consistency and turnovers during his young career — a highly reliable option who could not only make tough catches but bust open plays through the coverage.
On Sunday, Green Bay could do nothing to stop him.
The biggest thing which stuck with me after this game was all the miscues committed by the Packers.
Early on during Mike McCarthy’s tenure as coach, penalties used to be a huge problem for the team, but those have mostly been cleaned up since Rodgers has been the starting quarterback for Green Bay. Take a look at their yearly accepted penalties from 2009-2015 (ranking based on lowest # for that season): #31, #17, #3, #22, #8, #11, and #17, respectively. Those are mostly decent outcomes, especially following the Packers winning the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, and one of the two worst came during the fallout on offense in the second half of last season.
This year they are #7 in terms of lowest number of accepted penalties even after this game, but the penalties were huge in not only helping allow the huge deficit to be formed in the first place but keeping Green Bay from making a legitimate effort at a comeback.
There were double-digit accepted penalties on the Packers on the afternoon (as well as a few others which were not). Those accepted ones gave the Titans over a full football field’s worth of free yardage (107), and not only did they happen on basically every drive but there also were so many boneheaded plays that did not need to happen.
See for yourself:
- Encroachment (Mike Daniels) [TEN Drive 1]
- Holding (Lane Taylor) [GB Drive 2] *declined*
- Unnecessary Roughness (Letroy Guion) [TEN Drive 2]
- Holding (David Bakhtiari) [GB Drive 5]
- Holding (Taylor) [GB Drive 5]
- Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Kyler Fackrell) [TEN Drive 5]
- Defensive Delay of Game (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) [TEN Drive 7]
- Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Davante Adams) [GB Drive 8]
- Kickoff Out of Bounds (Mason Crosby) [TEN Drive 9]
- Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Daniels) [TEN Drive 9]
- Delay of Game (Aaron Rodgers) [GB Drive 9]
- Unnecessary Roughness (Clinton-Dix) [TEN Drive 11]
- Holding (Jason Spriggs) [GB Drive 11] *declined*
- Roughing the Kicker (Joe Thomas) [TEN Drive 13] *offset*
Follow along with those penalties, and you get a very strong idea of how the game went.
Daniels’ early encroachment penalty happened right before Murray’s 75 yard TD to open the scoring onslaught. Guion’s roughness penalty ended up not making a difference due to Taylor Lewan getting ejected on the same play (giving yardage back in the process), but was emblematic of a defense which came unhinged as they were being dominated — including two other instances late by Daniels and Clinton-Dix. Holds by Bakhtiari and Taylor shut down one of Green Bay’s few early chances to cut into the quick deficit.
Fackrell compounded an awful muffed punt with another glob of free yardage. Clinton-Dix and Rodgers each cost their team by not being prepared for snaps. Even when they did score, emotions ran too high and cost the team vital yardage in a game where they needed every little advantage to have a chance.
The penalties were bad enough on their own to cost the team any opportunity to be competitive, but the errors did not end there somehow.
To go with those, we saw three different turnovers by a team which has routinely been among the best in the NFL at not giving away possessions. I mentioned the muffed punt by Davis before (which gave the ball right back to the Titans while the Packers were already down 28-10), but there were two INTs tossed by Rodgers as well; the first was on a Hail Mary before halftime (defendable, based on the situation), but the second was in the midst of the final ditch efforts of the Packers to mount some sort of comeback.
It will go on Rodgers’ record, but while he may have been able to do something different it probably shouldn’t; he ended up with two receivers who essentially ran the same route, each ending up at the same area of the field a full 10+ yards short of where Rodgers placed it.
Add in the five sacks which occurred — picked up through a combination of Rodgers holding the ball too long, his offensive line suffering injuries and overall not playing up to their standards, and the Titans’ pass rush and coverage being on point — and this was a monstrously unsightly performance from a team which is immeasurably removed from the Rodgers-McCarthy era dominance we used to take for granted.
Injuries do play some part in this equation, but that is no excuse for the abysmal outfit we saw out there on Sunday — and really, have seen all season.
With two more road games still coming (against Washington and Philadelphia) before the team even gets to return to Lambeau, it feels like a near certainty Green Bay has a 4-7 record entering their final stretch of the season.
If it weren’t for the putrid state of the NFC North and the relative malaise falling over the league in general, this team would be worth writing off completely for the playoffs; even with that taken into account, there isn’t (and really shouldn’t be) much hope for a turnaround based on what we’ve seen.
Let’s face it though: a shot at the playoffs is the last thing this overrated mess of a team deserves.
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