Defense Treats Titans Like Misfit Toys

Starting with the first snap of the game, Green Bay attacked a Tennessee offense that lacked the manpower to find any answers. The result was two turnovers, seven sacks and shutout football for 58-plus minutes.

Quarterback Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans will be having a blue Christmas this year thanks to the Green Bay Packers' defense.

Make that black and blue.

Green Bay sacked Locker seven times on Sunday, intercepted two of his passes, knocked running back Chris Johnson (28 yards on the day) out of the game temporarily and held the Titans' offense to just 180 yards on their way to a 55-7 pummeling.

"We just hit on all cylinders today," said defensive end Mike Neal, who had a third-quarter sack of Locker. "The offense was rolling, the defense was rolling, big plays on special teams, and it's just the type of momentum you want going into the playoffs and going into this game next week. That was just really a big boost for us."

The defense set the tone from the first play of the game, when nose tackle B.J. Raji batted Locker's initial pass attempt. Johnson was dropped for a one-yard loss by linebacker A.J. Hawk on the next play and Clay Matthews took down Locker for no gain for a third-down sack. By the end of the first quarter, Green Bay's defense had forced three three-and-outs, notched two sacks and got interceptions from linebacker Erik Walden and cornerback Sam Shields. The Titans should've left for the airport after that. Locker's halftime quarterback rating was 0.0. He finished the game at 41, a mark boosted by a meaningless touchdown with 1:12 to play.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers dialed up an aggressive, blitz-heavy game plan that seemed to hit home every time. That Tennessee had the "Island of Misfit Toys" on its offensive line certainly didn't help. Left tackle Michael Roos is the only preferred starter remaining on their line. The rest of the Week 1 starters are on injured reserve. Kyle DeVan, who's been cut nine times by six teams since entering the league in 2008, is the fourth man to line up at center for the Titans. Up next on the depth chart was a train with square wheels and a squirt gun that shoots grape jelly.

The Packers took advantage of that weakness. Six players combined for the seven sacks as the defense just missed its first shutout since a 9-0 win over the Jets on Halloween 2010.

"It's about turning it on at the right time and today was a step in the right direction," said Matthews, whose NFL Hall of Fame uncle, Bruce, is the Titans' offensive line coach.

"We haven't played a game like this, since, I believe, the Houston Texans game. We've let teams hang around on the ropes for a while. We haven't put anyone out. So, it was nice to get that accomplished. Even though the score was still 20-0 at the half, we felt like it could've been greater and we came out in the third quarter and put some points on the board. It was great to see everybody involved in this game and making plays in all facets.

"It's one of those games where things were clicking. Obviously, Tennessee is having some struggles with their offensive line and a few backups in here and there. Ultimately, we showed up today and made some plays."

It looked like the same play more times than not as Green Bay blitzed a cornerback and linebacker from the strong side of the formation numerous times. It wasn't exactly the same, said Hawk and Hayward, but with the Packers consistently winning their one-on-one matchups, it generated similar results.

"We ran a couple variations of those kinds of blitzes from the strong side a lot today," said Hawk, who had his first two-sack game in four years. "It definitely works. Seven (sacks)? Yeah, it was good. I think we were just causing them some problems trying to find ways to pick it up. When you can do that and get some pressure, you're going to have a good day.

"We have so many young guys stepping up every week making plays. Our depth is amazing and, when you've had all the injuries we've had, you need that kind of depth and our guys have done a really good job with that. It's fun. I think Coach Capers can sit up there and know that he can call anyone's number at any time and we're excited about that."

When Shields took Locker down for an 8-yard loss in the fourth quarter, he became the 15th Packers defender to post a full sack, tying the 1987 team record.

That, as much as any other defensive statistic, is a testament to how far the defense has come from last year, when Matthews was their only legitimate pass threat, they finished at the bottom of the league in pass defense and no amount of scheming could help.

It won't look this easy a week from now against Minnesota, with running back Adrian Peterson chasing history and the Vikings trying to get into the playoffs. But Green Bay will look to keep the momentum going, with an eye toward a much bigger present.

"What a great challenge coming down to the last game," Hawk said. "They probably need to win to get in. We're looking to get better position in the playoffs. That's a lot riding on the 16th game in a season. That's exciting. It will be fun to be a part of that one."

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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at

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