Packers Prep For Titans' 1-2 Punch, Offensive Line


The Packers saw noticeable improvement in their run defense in back-to-back victories before the bye, but Sunday in Tennessee that will be put to the test against one of the top offensive lines in the league and an explosive Titans rushing attack.

Tennessee's statistics are impressive, as they enter Sunday's game with the No. 4 rushing offense in the NFL at 145.0 yards per game and lead the league with 14 rushing touchdowns. The Titans also lead the NFL with only two sacks allowed on the season, only one of quarterback Kerry Collins since he took the offensive reins in Week 2.

Rookie running back Chris Johnson is tops in the AFC with 626 rushing yards, and running back LenDale White has posted 327 yards and an NFL-best 10 rushing touchdowns.

"Excellent combination because they complement each other very well," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We had a first-hand look at them in the preseason and they are off to a great start.

"It's a big offensive line. Gap control will be at a premium and the speed and urgency of getting to the gap and holding it will be a key factor in the run game. They both present problems. They are both instinctive runners and they fit their scheme very well."

Even though the Titans had White on the roster, a powerful 235-pound back who posted 1,110 yards on the ground in 16 starts last season, they selected the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Johnson in the first round (24th overall) of this year's draft out of East Carolina.

"I think after seven weeks you can see why we made the decision," Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. "He can do some different things. He's very explosive. He's got great quickness and great speed and can catch the football.

"That's kind of what we thought we needed. We just felt like he was one of the last missing pieces to our offense."

That explosiveness from Johnson has been evidenced by his 5.1-yard average per carry, good for fourth in the NFL. He also ranks fourth in the NFL with 18 runs of 10-plus yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run at Kansas City and a 51-yard carry at Cincinnati.

"We know one of them is a home-run hitter," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "You give Johnson a crease and he can go as far as the field. We know that."

Tennessee rushed for a franchise-record 332 yards on 40 carries (8.3 avg.) two weeks ago in their 34-10 win at Kansas City, with 168 yards from Johnson and 149 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run, from White.

The two-back attack is one that the Packers are not unfamiliar with seeing this season.

"We faced the same thing with Atlanta (Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood)," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "We face the same thing in Minnesota at times with (Adrian) Peterson and 29 (Chester Taylor). You are really just aware of who is in the game, but they still don't do a lot of different things conceptually. It's just every guy has a different strength, but they're both very good running backs."

Crucial to Tennessee's rushing success has been the play of their offensive line, which is anchored by 15-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae. The Titans have stability in their front with Mawae and tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart, as all three have been starters since '06.

"They've been playing very physical," Pickett said. "Watching them on tape, they've been throwing guys around and stuff like that. First we have to beat them. We have to control the line of scrimmage, and then give our linebackers time and give them room to roam and make plays."

Tennessee's line hasn't allowed a sack since Collins was brought down in the second quarter at Cincinnati in Week 2, giving them a streak of 22 straight quarters without giving up a sack entering Sunday's game with the Packers.

"They have done an outstanding job, and with Kerry Collins, that ball gets out," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "He does a great job with that and they do a great job in protection.

"It's not that they have only given up two sacks, but they're not even close. If you were playing tag they wouldn't be giving up many sacks."

After struggling against the run early this season, Green Bay has made strides in that area the last two games. Green Bay gave up 161.4 yards per game on the ground in the first five contests compared to just 93.0 per game in wins over Seattle and Indianapolis.

The Packers defense allowed four backs (Minnesota's Peterson, Dallas' Marion Barber, Tampa Bay's Earnest Graham, and Atlanta's Turner) to rush for 100-plus yards in that five-game stretch, but haven't yielded a 100-yard rusher during their two recent wins. Green Bay didn't give up one run of 10-plus yards against Indianapolis on the Colts' 23 attempts.

{sportsad300}"I think we have cleaned the mental errors up in not giving up the big plays," Nunn said. "Explosive plays in the run game will break your back. We have done a good job of communicating with each other, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary. We had some mistakes in that, and everybody was guilty.

"We've certainly got to be on our toes because this group is as good as anybody in the league running the football."

This Sunday could very well be the deepest the defensive line has been all season with the likely returns of defensive ends Michael Montgomery and Jason Hunter, who have missed the last two games and three games respectively with injuries.

"I can't remember the last time we had that many guys on the defensive line out there practicing (Wednesday)," Kampman said. "Going through our individual drills, I actually caught my breath because we had so many guys to go through. It's a good thing for us."

At the tackle spots, the Packers have been using a three-man rotation of Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole due to the injuries. With the possible activation of second-year defensive tackle Justin Harrell for Sunday, who has spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list following offseason back surgeries, the line would get an additional boost as they face a Titans team that ranks fourth in the league in rushing attempts.

"This is what you play for, to get into this kind of situation," Nunn said. "Our guys are excited, coaches are excited, and we've just got to dot all of our I's and cross all of our T's and let's go line it up and see what happens."

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