Following the Green Bay Packers’ win over Dallas, Matt LaFleur told reporters that all week the team knew their path to victory was going to be through the run game.
Dallas boasts one of the best pass rush units in the NFL, and becoming too reliant on the passing game would put the Green Bay offensive line in some difficult situations and, in all likelihood, result in a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers.
The Cowboys have, however, been susceptible against the run, allowing 4.7 yards per rush prior to Sunday’s contest. As good as they are at getting after the quarterback, that aggressiveness can lead to a break down in run defense through rushing lanes being created from a lack of gap integrity and poor edges being set on the outside.
Behind a healthy offensive line, the Packers were able to take advantage of this, rushing for over 200 yards at over five yards per carry. This success also resulted in Green Bay using a heavy dose of play-action and generating some elusive big plays. To put it simply, the offense looked the best it has all season, and it wasn’t particularly close.
That same formula is going to be important against Tennessee, who also has a dominant defensive front. Overall, the Titans rank fifth in pressure rate and fifth in total sacks. Individually, Jeffrey Simmons ranks second among all interior defensive linemen in pressures, according to PFF, and Denico Autry ranks ninth among edge rushers. Rashad Weaver and Mario Edwards also each have over 20 pressures this season.
So again, becoming one-dimensional, where this group of defenders can pin their ears back, is not going to be a recipe for success for the Packers’ offense. The run game has to be prevalent, but unlike last week where run defense was a weaker point for Dallas, the Titans have been one of the best defenses against the run.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us this week,” said Adam Stenavich on Monday. “Up front, they’re very stout; they’re big across the board, and they all move well too. They can really play the zone schemes, and they’re stout versus the gap schemes as well. So it’s going to be a big challenge. Their linebackers are very aggressive, fill hard, and are very instinctual. Their safeties play in the box really hard as well. They do a good job at stopping the run, and you can tell that’s a big priority for them.”
Overall, the Titans are allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, the third-fewest in the NFL, and they rank first in ESPN’s run-stop win rate metric.
While it will likely be tough sledding at times, the Packers have to establish and stick to the run game – striking at least some sort of balance between the run and pass. Green Bay showed against Dallas that they can still find success on the ground, even against a packed box.
Of course, averaging 5.0 yards per rush is ideal, but the residual effects of the run game can still be felt, even if not as effective. Consistency will be key. Even without gaudy rushing stats, if the opponent believes that the Packers could run the ball in any given situation, it can still alter how a defense defends the play, thus potentially helping to open up the passing game.
The Titans’ pass defense has been susceptible this season, ranking last in big play defense by DVOA as well as in the bottom half of the league by yards per attempt allowed. The issue is that most teams haven’t been able to fully exploit this because of the pass rush, which is why the run game will again be so important for the Packers’ offense. That way, they can then hopefully generate a few of these big play opportunities – especially with the emergence of Christian Watson.
The run game may be the catalyst to offensive success, but the rushing and passing offenses play off each other. The run game opens up the passing game, and the downfield passing game will create better spacing across the field, thus creating more explosive running opportunities, and the cycle continues.
On paper, the Packers’ path to success this week seems somewhat similar to just a few days ago. Lean on the run game, let that open up opportunities in the passing game, and really utilize some of the core Matt LaFleur concepts such as play-action, being under center, and bunch sets. This, however, is much easier said than done against this Tennessee front seven. If things go sideways on the ground, will the Packers stick with it? If not, things could get ugly for the offense quite quickly with that pass rush.