X-and-O Show: Packers vs. Titans

Doug Farrar, our very own Prince of the Playbook, goes to the film room once again and breaks down one offensive snap and one defensive snap for the Green Bay Packers from Sunday's 19-16 overtime defeat to the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 at LP Field.

Packers on Offense: Nelson's Spin Move
In 2007, the Packers led the NFL in yards after catch, and the toughness and versatility of their receivers greatly helped the team transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. The current plan in Green Bay, the occasional bomb aside, is to run interesting formations – everything from five wide to the inverted wishbone – and get the ball to receivers who can get downfield in a hurry. Greg Jennings is the superstar of the group, but rookie Jordy Nelson from Kansas State will become more and more of a presence. Against the Titans, Nelson made a play that impressed a lot of people.

The Packers were down 6-3 with 7:05 left in the second quarter and the ball on the Titans' 42-yard line. On the play, Nelson lined up wide right, with tight end Tory Humphrey staying in to block outside right tackle Mark Tauscher. At the snap, left end Jevon Kearse started to get outside Humphrey for the pass rush, stopping when he saw Rodgers' quick pass and just missing a deflection as he jumped in the air. Nelson was lined up at the Tennessee 45, with cornerback Nick Harper playing about seven yards off. Harper came up to make the tackle on Nelson after the receiver brought the ball in at the Titans' 38-yard line, but Nelson had other plans.


WR Jordy Nelson
Greg Trott/Getty

As he got possession of the ball, Nelson spun outside Harper toward the right sideline with the precision of a point guard, leaving the cornerback grasping at air, and rumbled downfield. Free safety Michael Griffin first came into contact with Nelson at the Titans' 24, but it took him another six yards to bring his target down. As Griffin angled toward Nelson, Nelson cut back inside, which forced Griffin to spend a few more yards getting his bearings enough to make the tackle. The gain went for a total of 24 yards but the last 18 belonged to Nelson, which is exactly as it should be for a Green Bay receiver.

Both Harper and Griffin are good open-field tacklers – you can't really be a member of the Tennessee defense if you can't do that – but Nelson showed every bit of the potential that had Green Bay taking him in the second round of the 2008 draft and making him a key factor in the deepest receiver corps in the NFL.

Packers on Defense: White's Long Run
Green Bay's front four, ravaged by injury as it has been, has averaged 146.4 rushing yards allowed per game – sixth worst in the NFL. The Titans, with a terrific offensive line and a thunder-and-lightning backfield combo with LenDale White and Chris Johnson, average 149.1 rushing yards per game – fourth best in the league. It was a case of irresistible force meeting moveable object, and never more so than with 4:13 left in the first half when the Pack gave up a 54-yard scamper to White, the 6-1, 235-pound bowling ball of a back.

While it's tempting to make a joke and say that the last time the rotund Mr. White ran this fast, there was a Big Mac at the end of the line – but we won't go there. The fact is that the former USC star does have good straight-line speed despite his carbohydrate preferences. He blew up the Chiefs for an 80-yard touchdown run two weeks ago, and he'll surprise you if he gets into the open field.


FootballOutsiders.com illustration

The Titans began the drive that followed Green Bay's first touchdown of the day on their own 26. That's where they faced 2nd and 10 after Kerry Collins threw a ball that was deflected at the line by defensive end Aaron Kampman. The Titans came out in a max protect formation with Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler lined up one per side as the extra blockers. The Packers lined up in a base 4-3.

At the snap, Scaife and left tackle Michael Roos put a combo block on right end Jeremy Thompson, while left guard Eugene Amano and center Kevin Mawae did the same to right defensive tackle Johnny Jolly. These zone techniques allowed the Titans the flexibility to shade the blocking to wherever they found the next defender. Collins handed the ball to White, and White headed toward the left B gap. Weak-side linebacker A.J. Hawk went to close the gap, and Scaife pulled off to engage him. White cut back inside, and Mawae disengaged from Jolly to wall off middle linebacker Nick Barnett as Barnett tried to make the play inside. Meanwhile, right tackle David Stewart pushed linebacker Brady Poppinga away from the play. White had a lane three times as wide as he was because his linemen and tight ends know how to execute their blocks in tandem and as individuals.

The surprise was that White could outrun safety Atari Bigby for a good 30 yards until Bigby pushed him out of bounds, but there certainly is more to the Titans running game than White and Johnson. It's just as much about the guys who blow open holes for one of the NFL's best ground attacks, and the Packers were simply the latest victims.

Doug Farrar is a Staff Writer for FootballOutsiders.com. He is also a Panelist for The Washington Post and a Contributor to The Seattle Times.


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