GREEN BAY – Make no mistake, the bulk of the Packers' success containing NFL rushing king Derrick Henry came from solid, fundamental defensive football – beating blocks and making tackles.
But Green Bay threw some unconventional looks and fronts at the Titans, too, and a pair of positives emerged – the Packers made the wrinkles work, and they appeared to keep the Titans guessing a little bit.
Here's a sampling from the defensive film, and stick around to the end for some bonus plays welcoming C Corey Linsley back to the offense from his three-game absence.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 35, first quarter, 6:39 left
Result: 3-yard run by Henry
This is standard fare on the goal line, but you don't see this every day in the middle of the field, and on the Titans' first possession of the game no less. The Packers decide to counter a three-TE set with a six-man base front – four DL and two OLBs – essentially replacing one inside LB with an extra down lineman. The point of attack is pretty much a stalemate, and DL Tyler Lancaster(95) gets good knock-back on RG Nate Davis (64) to make the play.
Play No. 2: Second-and-7 from the Green Bay 32, first quarter, 6:05 left
Result: Incomplete pass
On the next snap, the Titans stay in the same personnel group but align it differently, splitting one of the three TEs into the slot and putting another at FB. The Packers stick with the same six-man front, adjusting only the back end from a coverage standpoint. QB Ryan Tannehill appears to decide presnap not to try running against this look again, but TE Jonnu Smith (81) can't get away from S Darnell Savage on a simple curl route off play-action.
Play No. 3: First-and-10 from the Tennessee 25, second quarter, 14:54 left
Result: 1-yard run by Henry
Here's another wrinkle to open Tennessee's second possession. The Packers are in base personnel against a two-TE set, but instead of planting the second ILB – in this case LB Kamal Martin (54) – in the middle of the field, he's flanked outside the edge rusher, creating another six-man front, and on the weak side no less (away from the two TEs). The Titans run it where that inside LB would traditionally be, and S Adrian Amos (31) fills the void, with DL Dean Lowry (94) doing his part as well.
Play No. 4: First-and-10 from the Tennessee 34, third quarter, 14:53 left
Result: 3-yard run by Henry
The Packers throw this look at the Titans again on the opening snap of the second half, only this time LB Christian Kirksey (58) has replaced Martin as an extra weak-side edge. The Packers' only reinforcements on the strong side, where the two TEs are lined up, are two DBs, CB Jaire Alexander (23) and Amos. Ideally for the Titans, they'd like to get Henry to the outside over there because that would get him open space against smaller defenders. Why can't they? Because LB Preston Smith (91) sets a solid edge to prevent any outside bounce, and Lowry turns Henry back inside, too. DL Kenny Clark avoids the attempted cut-block by LG Rodger Saffold (76) and crashes down to make the play.
Play No. 5: First-and-10 from the Tennessee 31, second quarter, 10:40 left
Result: 7-yard sack by Kirksey
How about an inside LB blitz in the A gap from a base five-man front? Another unusual call, sending a sixth rusher on first down, but that's how the Packers start Tennessee's third possession. Kirksey shows blitz, backs off, and then times his charge just right to beat Saffold. That gives FB Khari Blasingame (41) no choice but to pick up Kirksey, which leaves no one to block Za'Darius Smith (58) screaming off the edge right at Tannehill. Smith misses the sack, but Kirksey finishes it off.
Play No. 6: First-and-10 from the Tennessee 45, second quarter, 2:16 left
Result: 3-yard run by Henry
This isn't all that unusual, but it is another tweak employed against a back like Henry. The Titans have three WRs on the field, so the Packers want at least a nickel secondary (five DBs). Except instead of the fifth DB replacing a down lineman, as is more customary, he replaces an inside LB, so the defense can stay in a base five-man front (three DL, two OLBs). Once again, as in Play No. 4 above, it's Preston Smith setting the edge, and he also gets off the block to make the tackle.
Play No. 7: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 49, fourth quarter, 11:24 left
Result: 1-yard scramble by Tannehill
Another change-up with base personnel, this time taking one edge defender from the traditional front – in this case Preston Smith – and sliding him out across from the slot WR Corey Davis (84), with safety help behind. Once again, Tannehill doesn't appear to be thrilled with the original play call against this look, makes adjustments and resets. Tennessee keeps both TEs in to protect against what turns out to be just a four-man rush, so Tannehill has only two WRs and a check-down RB available against zone coverage. With no one leaking out in his direction, Alexander closes in on Tannehill as the QB starts to scramble, and LB Rashan Gary (52) cleans up just as he crosses the line of scrimmage.
Linsley missed three games due to a bum knee, and to add insult to injury, he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl while he was out. But it didn't take Linsley long to round back into his reliable and effective form.
Second-and-10 from the Tennessee 34, second quarter, 13:22 left
Result: 14-yard run by RB AJ Dillon
Sometimes just steering your man where he wants to go gets the job done, and here Linsley has perfect position on 322-pound DL DaQuan Jones (90) to spring Dillon up the middle on the shotgun handoff. The surprise is seeing new TE Dominique Dafney (49) attack from the slot to make a perfect block on LB Rashaan Evans (54), turning this into an explosive run.
First-and-10 from the Green Bay 45, second quarter, 9:01 left
Result: 23-yard completion to WR Davante Adams
Here's classic Linsley in pass protection. He takes a moment to identify the front and get everyone on the same page with Rodgers. Then he starts by providing a little help to LG Elgton Jenkins (74) on DT Teair Tart (93), but keeping his eyes to his right to patrol the middle. At the perfect moment, he releases from Tart to slide over toward RG Billy Turner (77) and lay an extra block on his man, DE Matt Dickerson (92), knocking the rusher to the ground.
Second-and-4 from the Green Bay 15, fourth quarter, 7:41 left
Result: 8-yard run by Dillon
Linsley's time off didn't diminish his power, which he can call upon when needed. Here he drives Jones well off the line of scrimmage and pancakes him as Dillon gets the initial first down on the final scoring drive of the night.