The Green Bay Packers are coming off a 21-13 road win against the Chicago Bears that improved their record to 10-4 on the season and clinched the NFC North title. Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to James Jones to stake the Packers to a 21-7 third quarter lead, and the Bears weren't able to find the end zone again. That final score is deceptively close-kicker Mason Crosby, who's struggled this year some this year, missed two makeable field goals, and the Packers attempted an unnecessary throwback on a punt return in the fourth quarter that gave the Bears excellent field position they turned into three points.
After the jump, what I saw from the Packers last week against the Bears, and the other of their games I've seen.
1. Aaron Rodgers hasn't been as incredibly dominant as he was last season, but he's still a very, very good NFL quarterback. He gets sacked a lot, partly because the Packers don't have a great offensive line and partly for the same reason Ben Roethsliberger got sacked a lot, because he spends a lot of time trying to extend plays and find receivers downfield. Sometimes, this results in big plays. Sometimes, it results in him eating the ball. He will not miss open receivers downfield the same way Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow did last week. He can also burn the Titans by scrambling for good yardage-I'm not sure he's as fast as Locker, but his functional mobility is much better.
2. Aaron Nagler noted this in our Q&A
, but the Packers do not have a real run game. They've run the ball successfully at times, as they did against the Lions on Sunday Night Football a couple weeks ago, but it's really teams trying to defend the pass offense that creates opportunities on the ground. Alex Green got the most carries last week. I liked him coming out of college and last year, but I haven't been impressed by his play most of this year. Ryan Grant does a good job of getting exactly what is blocked, rarely less and almost never more. Aaron noted teams have just lined up in a two-deep look and dared the Packers to run. I expect the Titans to follow this pattern.
3. This isn't a deep or surprising thought, since he had three touchdown passes last week, but James Jones is having the best season of his career. He's a big, solid physical receiver-not Brandon Marshall, but he has the kind of size nobody on the Titans outside of Kenny Britt (and now Michael Preston) has. This year, he can actually catch the ball. Rodgers will throw slants all day if the defense lets him, and Jones and Greg Jennings, an excellent veteran receiver who's been banged up this year, could kill the Titans all day with them.
4. I asked a specific question about Randall Cobb in the Q&A for a reason-he scares me. A lot. I mentioned in my all-22 review of the Jets game that I thought Coty Sensabaugh made some rookie mistakes at times. If he leaves a Cobb on a crossing route open like he did last week, or slips on a seam route, those could easily be big, game-changing plays. I don't mean to pick on Sensabaugh or just highlight Cobb, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that result in a long touchdown.
5. The Packers are practically the Texans of the North when it comes to their affection for tight ends, dressing four against the Bears. It'll be curious to see how the Titans match up with Jermichael Finley, who has the speed to stretch the seams and the reach to catch (or drop) any pass thrown his direction. I have a hard time distinguishing the other tight ends.
6. The offensive line, as noted, is somewhere between eh and not very good. Evan Dietrich-Smith will be making the start at center for Jeff Saturday, beacuse Saturday's play this year has earned him maybe a lot of time off in the future. Marshall Newhouse is not a great left tackle, but even when I've said mean things about the opposing left tackle Kamerion Wimbley hasn't done that much. Rookie undrafted free agent right tackle Don Barclay could be a guy for Derrick Morgan to take advantage of.
7. It's not clear just how much trust the Packers have in Mason Crosby, but last week Mike McCarthy was pretty aggressive in his fourth-down playcalling on some situations where many coaches might have kicked the field goal. Precipitation isn't supposed to be an issue Sunday, but if wind is, don't be surprised if the Packers go for it on fourth down when they're on the Titans side of the field.
8. The Packers are nominally a 3-4 team, but line up plenty in their 2-4-5 Psycho package. B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett are big guys who could be a handle for the Titans' backup interior offensive line (you know, the guys who will be starting this week), while rookie second-round pick Jerel Worthy, the guy the Packers traded in front of the Titans to take, is a one-gap penetrator. I have no confidence in the Titans' offensive line against basically anybody right now, so I see the Titans struggling here.
9. The best linebacker is Clay Matthews III. CM3 is the best defensive player on the team. Nominally, he's a major pass rush threat and can come from basically anywhere. I haven't really studied the Packers this year, so the other linebackers don't stand out much to me. Former high pick A.J. Hawk, who plays on the inside, may be the best of the bunch with D.J. Smith out for the year, but he's never lived up to his draft talent. The other inside linebacker, Brad Jones, is the guy who played every snap against the Bears.
10. Charles Woodson will be out again this week, but even if he was active, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields would be the starting corners. With Kenny Britt in his first post-ACL season, I have no confidence in the Titans' receivers' ability to beat them. Look elsewhere for exploitable matchups, particularly at safety M.D. Jennings (the guy starting in Woodson's place).
Anyway, the Packers are a lot better than the Titans. Unless the receivers have a bizarre and terrible case of dropping the football, they should put up a lot of points on the Titans. Meanwhile, the Titans have struggled to score against most anybody. The Packers are something like 13.5 point favorites. That's at least vaguely right. The excellent and well-connected Packers beat writer Bob McGinn did a preview of the Titans
for the game and spoke to a couple personnel people around the league, who predicted 28-7, 31-13, and no chance of springing an upset. Gun to my head, I'm thinking like 31-10, and an excellent performance by the Titans combined with a poor performance by the Packers and a lot of luck would be required for the upset.