The last time the Packers' faced a talented combo of running backs, it didn't go so well.
In a Week 3 showdown against Dallas at Lambeau Field, powerful Marion Barber rushed 28 times for 142 yards and a touchdown while lightning-fast rookie Felix Jones added 76 yards and a 60-yard touchdown on six carries. Combined, that's 34 carries, 218 yards (6.4-yard average) and two touchdowns.
Unlike the Cowboys, where the veteran Barber was the main ball-carrier and the rookie Jones the change of pace, Johnson and White split the carries by a 60-40 ratio. Johnson, with his breathtaking 4.28-second speed in the 40-yard dash making him a primary target of the Packers in April's draft, has 626 rushing yards (fifth in the NFL), a 5.1-yard average and four touchdowns, while White has 327 yards, a chains-moving 3.6-yard average and 10 touchdowns.
While 35-year-old Kerry Collins threw 37 passes in Monday's victory over Indianapolis, that's an aberration. The Packers — with the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense — are certain to see a lot of the Titans' fourth-ranked rushing offense.
"For the most part, we know what this team is all about," safety Atari Bigby said. "No tricks or nothing like that. It's a team that's going to come at you and do what you do."
The Packers' defensive line will face its biggest challenge of the season against the Titans' blocking crew. Anchored by six-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, the Titans' line is clearing paths for Johnson and White while yielding just two sacks.
"He's a crafty guy," defensive tackle Colin Cole said of Mawae, a 15-year veteran. "They all know how to do certain things to take advantage of your weaknesses. They know how to use your momentum against you. They know how to do what they want to do. They know how to get what they want out of their running game, and they know to set up their passing game off it. They're not (7-0) for no reason."
Their work is all the more impressive when you consider opposing defenses have little reason to fear Collins and his pedestrian receivers, so they can stack the line and put a safety into the box to stop the run. But, as the Titans' running prowess shows, it's one thing to know what's coming. It's quite another to do something about it.
"We like a game when we know exactly what we're going to get on every play," Cole said. "But, they don't have any clear-cut tendencies. They're a team that's equally as tough to the right as they are to the left. We've just got to stick to our keys, stay in our gaps and do what we do our best. There's not going to be any easy way of beating them."
While Collins produced against the Colts, the Packers likely will take a page from the Indy's defensive playbook. The Colts strayed from their usual 4-3 defensive front at times, removing a safety in favor of another linebacker. The Packers could go that route, especially with Brandon Chillar's strong contributions, or move the healthy, hard-hitting Bigby to the line of scrimmage.
The Colts held the Titans to 88 yards on 31 rushes, forcing Tennessee to put a bigger burden on Collins. Collins responded, going 24-of-37 for 193 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, but he hasn't topped 200 passing yards or one touchdown in any of his six starts. Clearly, the Packers — with their dominant secondary — will take their chances if Collins has to chuck it 37 times again.
"They're a team that right now is running the ball over 70 percent of the time, and it's working for them," Kampman said before Monday's game. "If it's not broke, don't fix it. That's obviously their mentality. Obviously, the key for us — like it is every week — is to try and get the sticks in our favor and put ourselves in some third-and-long positions so we're able to rush. They've been doing a great job of not allowing that to happen. Hopefully, we'll be able to keep them to minimal gains or negative-yards gains, get to third down, then rush well."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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