In The Air Over There

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It is only Oct. 11, but for all practical purposes, the loser of this game faces a mountain too big to climb to make the playoffs. Both the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans are 1-3 and the loser falls to 1-4, and that means they would have to go 9-2 or 10-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs.

I ask, do you think the Packers or the Titans can finish that strong when Green Bay couldn't beat the Bears at home and Tennessee gave up 38 points in a loss to the Chargers? I don't believe the loser will make the playoffs, and that makes this a very important must-win game.

These two teams have so much in common it is worth pointing out before we dive into the matchup. The two starting quarterbacks, Steve McNair of the Titans and Brett Favre of the Packers, are both from Mississippi, both have started over 100 games each since 1997, both are playing at less than 100 percent healthy, and both teams give up more yards than they generate while both also score less than 20 points per game.

The Pack chase the 3-1 Vikings and the Titans follow the 4-1 Colts. Both teams won their opener and proceeded to lose the next three. Both teams are giving up 131.3 yards per game rushing.

THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THESE TEAMS

If you like the Packers to win the game, here are a few points to support your opinion.

  1. Green Bay has converted 52 percent of its third-down situations, while Tennessee has been successful 36 percent of the time.
  1. Favre still has the throwing magic. He had a 360-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Colts this year.
  1. The Titans are rotating four rookies in their defensive line and are giving up 131 yards rushing a game.
  1. Green Bay is 7-1 on Monday nights in the past four years.
  1. Favre has completed 68 percent of his third-down throws and hit paydirt three times with no interceptions.

If you like the Titans to win the game, here are a few points to support your opinion.

  1. Chris Brown has 408 yards rushing, good for 5.1 yards per carry.
  1. The Packers are only 6-6 at home in their last 12 games and have lost the home-field advantage.
  1. The Titans have beaten NFC teams five straight times.
  1. Tennessee is ahead of the Packers in the turnover battle by a margin of plus-3.
  1. Tennessee has won the time-of-possession battle over the Packers by two minutes per game.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

The Packers will rely heavily on running back Ahman Green to control the clock and take advantage of a Titans defense that struggles against the run because of the loss of players like Robaire Smith and Jevon Kearse in the offseason.

The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 147 yards last week against Tennessee and I expect Green to get close to that number. The Pack lost their starting center, Mike Flanagan, to injury so journeyman Grey Ruegamer replaces him. Keep a close eye on the volume of inside pressure the Titans send at the inside of the Packers line.

For a number of years, Green Bay has used the screen pass to help keep pressure off the passing game, and if Jeff Fisher's team is in zone coverages, I expect Green to catch a few screens with hopes of turning them into big gains. When Favre wants to throw the ball down the field, Javon Walker has emerged as his favorite target with 23 receptions and four touchdowns. Walker also is Favre's favorite target on third downs, so I expect the Titans to roll some third-down coverages to Walker.

When Green Bay enters the red zone, turn your focus to tight end Bubba Franks. In the three seasons prior to 2004, Franks had 20 touchdowns, but this season only has 10 receptions and no scores. He's due for a breakout game, and Lambeau Field is the right spot.

WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL

The Titans made the right move when they let Eddie George go in the offseason and turned the running-game duties over to Chris Brown. Brown led the AFC after four weeks with 408 yards and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. There is no doubt the Titans will establish an inside running game against a Packers front that is missing Grady Jackson and James Lee due to injuries. The unusual thing about the running game is a few weeks ago, I would have reported Green Bay would run blitz this part of the Titans offense often like they did to the Panthers in the season opener. The Pack had great success doing that to Carolina, but the team has definitely slowed down the blitz calls in the past two games. The key matchup in the running game is Packers safety Darren Sharper coming up to meet Brown. Packers defensive coordinator Bob Slowick will drop his All-Pro down into the box in most run-down situations.

When it's time to put the ball up in the air in what is commonly known as the "Air McNair" show, it is time for two wide receivers to shine. Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett are underrated players, but they do have 52 receptions between them, which correlates into 13 catches a game. The unusual fact is they only have one touchdown reception between the two. Nonetheless, I expect to see McNair throwing at cornerback Michael Hawthorne often during this game.

CONCLUSION

Even though the Packers average 18 points a game and Tennessee averages just 15.8 points, I believe both teams will have well over 20 points each with the number of questions being about the defenses and the atmosphere of Monday Night Football. Neither legendary quarterback is going to hold back a thing with a 1-4 record staring the loser in the face. Like Green Bay, the Titans will look for their tight ends in the red zone, but in the end, I stand by the legend of Favre at home on Monday nights. Mike Sherman's team will fight back and take the lead a few times and eventually win this thing by a field goal, but it will be far from easy. McNair seems to always play a great game coming off an injury and Favre, who has 193 straight starts, returns to Green Bay from another family tragedy, which has spurred him on in the past.

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