Packers' defense rises to challenge against Derrick Henry

Davante Adams is on the doorstep of even more history

201227-game-notes-2560
Packers LB Preston Smith closes in on Titans RB Derrick Henry in Green Bay's 40-14 victory over Tennessee.

GREEN BAY – All week, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine preached the same message to his players.

Don't let "2-2" become the spark.

No. 22 was reigning NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry, the kingpin of the Tennessee Titans' offense who has made run defenses look foolish for more than two years.

Trying to stop Henry is virtually impossible. He entered Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field with more than 1,600 rushing yards in 14 games and having amassed 100 or more rushing yards in nine consecutive road games dating back to last season.

The key is containing the 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back, whose ground production serves as the match igniting both the Titans' play-action game and what had been the NFL's top scoring offense heading in Week 16.

And that's how the Packers prevailed.

To be sure, Henry still got his yards – 98 on 23 carries – but the All-Pro running back didn't break a single carry for longer than 10 as Green Bay's defense put together perhaps its finest performance of the year in a 40-14 win over Tennessee.

"First off, I think Mike Pettine put us in the best position to succeed today. I thought his play calling was excellent," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "It was all about attitude and guys flying around to the ball and being in the right spot."

The Packers' plan for limiting Henry came down to three things – consistent rotations to keep defenders fresh, a heavy dose of base defense and gang-tackling.

The Packers rotated Kirksey and rookie Kamal Martin with "Mike" linebacker Krys Barnes in base. When Green Bay went to its dime defense with six defensive backs, veteran Adrian Amos played inside the box alongside Barnes.

Defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry continued their recent surge up the middle, while Pettine largely leaned on outside linebackers Preston Smith and Rashan Gary holding the edge. Unable to wear down Green Bay with Henry like they did against Detroit and Jacksonville, the Titans' play-action game was neutralized.

"If we could try to make this game one-dimensional and get them to try to throw the ball, we've got great edge rushers and interior guys that can get to the quarterback," Kirksey said. "We let guys just turn it loose and the ball came out and, you know, it fell into our hands, and guys got sacks here and there."

The second quarter was where the defense made its biggest stand. With Pettine dialing up a corner blitz, Gary provided just enough pressure to force Tannehill into throwing an interception to Packers safety Darnell Savage, his team-high fourth INT.

On the next series, Kirksey sacked Tannehill for a loss of seven on first down, Preston Smith batted a pass down on second and Za'Darius Smith sacked him for a 10-yard loss on third down to force a Tennessee punt.

Kirksey would go on to grab another INT in the fourth quarter after an initial pressure from Preston Smith. Tannehill finished with his lowest passer rating of the season (40.5), completing just 11-of-24 passes for 121 yards, a TD and the two INTs.

The Packers had 10 passes defensed as a whole, with Jaire Alexander and Savage each registering three. Aside from one Tannehill 45-yard TD run off a read-option in the third quarter, the Packers didn't allow a play of more than 20 yards.

And they did it by not allowing Henry to break tackles and wear down the defensive front.

"It's crazy because … I feel like we still haven't played our best game yet defensively," Savage said. "We're just continuing to keep trying to get better each and every week. Keep watching the film, try to improve stuff. But we still feel like there's a lot more out there for us to get."

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 16 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020.

On the cusp of history: Davante Adams continues to reach new heights during what has been an historic 2020 season for the four-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Adams caught 11 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns against the Titans, moving him within three catches of Sterling Sharpe's single-season record (112) and one TD catch away from Sharpe's franchise record of 18.

Among the multitude of Adams' accomplishments this season, he and Rodgers have completed more passes together (491) than any other duo in team history.

"I just told Aaron this the other day, but I feel like being around him the past seven years has definitely allowed me to really know what being a true competitor is," Adams said. "Just being around him has made it so much better for me and made the game so much more fun. Obviously the success has come due to having a strong guy like him be able to throw me the ball as well."

Snow day: The Titans' top-ranked scoring offense wasn't the only test the Packers passed on Sunday. They also responded well to their first snow game of the 2020 season, including their footing.

Roughly three inches of snow fell in the Green Bay area with flurries starting in the early afternoon, but the Lambeau Field turf held up and players seemed to have no problem staying on their feet.

Well, almost everyone.

"The only issue I had was sliding during the celebration," said Kirksey, referring to his interception in the fourth quarter. "My slide was kind of off today. So I gotta work on that."

Late shift: While center Corey Linsley was back from a knee injury that sidelined him for three weeks, the Packers opted to keep the right side of their offensive line intact with Billy Turner staying at right guard and veteran Rick Wagner at right tackle.

Lucas Patrick, who had started the first 14 games between left and right guard, still wound up playing most of the second half after Wagner was carted to the locker room with a knee injury and didn't return.

In Wagner's absence, Turner shifted over to right tackle and Patrick came off the bench to play right guard.