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Packers’ Matchup With Titans a Christmas Gift for Skeptics

We’re starting to hear the same sorts of narratives forming about the 2020 Packers team that we heard throughout the 2019 season.

“They’re a paper tiger.”

“Overrated.”

“Worst 11-3 team ever.”

“Fraudulent.”

“Can’t beat good teams.”

“Never blow out bad teams.”

Now most, if not all, of these narratives are flat-out wrong. But this weekend, the big bad Tennessee Titans come into town, sitting at 10-4 with the freight train that is Derrick Henry paving the way for one of the league’s most efficient offenses. And Packer fans online are scared.

All season long, people have been pointing to this game as a disaster in the making for the Packers’ defense. It’s been a forgone conclusion that Henry will put up massive numbers against the Packers. And he very well could; this is an MVP caliber player in a career year racking up some incredible statistics. While the Packers are borderline top 10 in terms of total yards allowed, the per-carry average allowed is below average.

What we’re seeing this weekend is a Christmas gift for skeptics. 

Either they’ll be proven right, and Henry and the Titans will out-physical and stomp all over the Packers, or they’ll be proven wrong, the Packers will defeat a true contender in primetime and potentially lock up a #1 seed. 

All this being said, I’m not entirely sure it’s Henry the Packers’ defense needs to be most concerned about.

Don’t get me wrong; Henry is an absolute beast, and is far and away the Titans’ most potent offensive weapon. 

But there’s only so much you can do to stop a player who could end up having one of the all-time great rushing seasons when all’s said and done. And if you sell out too much on stopping the inevitable, you make matters much easier on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and this passing offense.

Yes, it’s still hard to believe that Ryan Tannehill has become one of the game’s most reliable and efficient quarterbacks. He doesn’t get the hype of other players due to his late-blooming status after a slow start to his career in Miami, but in Tennessee he’s finally blossomed and reached his full potential. 

The philosophy for many teams over the last year and a half has been to try to shut down Henry and make Tannehill beat you through the air. But the statistics show that’s probably not your best play.

The Titans know teams are going to sell out to stop Henry, and they take full advantage of opposing defenses’ would-be aggression in the running game. They run play action more than any other team in football, and according to PFF, Tannehill leads the league in passing yards and yards per attempt when throwing out of play action. 

This approach has helped Tannehill become a legitimate top-tier starter in his two years in Tennessee. Since taking his first snaps as a Titan, Tannehill has earned a 113.3 cumulative passer rating, a massive increase from his 87.0 rating in six years as a Dolphin. This year he has 31 touchdowns to five interceptions, with solid marks in completion percentage (66.5) and average yards per attempt (8.1).

Tannehill is helped out on the back end by having a budding star wideout in pro bowler AJ Brown, an impressive physical specimen in the mold of Calvin Johnson and D.K. Metcalf. 

Henry is going to get the headlines and command the most attention, because he is one of the league’s premier offensive players. But it would be a mistake for the Packers to try to fully sell out on the run, because that’s exactly what the Titans want you to do. Too many teams have underestimated Tannehill and this passing attack, and it continually haunts them.

Henry is good enough where you can stack the box and he can still get his yards. I would posit that rather than loading up the box, the Packers should focus on eliminating the passing game, and concede some game on the ground. 

The philosophy here is simple–Henry is going to get yards. But at least in staying disciplined in play action and taking away the passing game, the Packers avoid the potential for fast scores and force the Titans into a more one-dimensional style of game. 

Match up Jaire Alexander on AJ Brown and you can essentially erase him. Let the rest of the Packers’ secondary handle Corey Davis and the other contributors in the passing game, and you have to like what you’ve got going on defense there.

Meanwhile, make greater use of your thumping rookies Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes so that you at least have bodies capable of bringing down Henry on the field.

I’m no football professional, I’m just a guy on the internet with a column that a few people read. But if you ask me, teams get so concerned about shutting down Henry that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the Titans end up scoring a ton of points. The Packers need to be smart about choosing their battles and be patient. 

If they do, I think they win this football game.

If not, the negative contingent of the fanbase will have a late Christmas present.

Packers get well-deserved pro bowl honors

By now most of you will have seen all the (justified) complaints about Robert Tonyan getting shut out of the Pro Bowl for Evan Engram of all people. I won’t bore you with all the statistics again, but safe to say it’s an absolute joke that Tonyan was left out for a guy who has been a weak link on a mediocre offense and a generally bad team all season.

But with that out of the way, the Packers’ seven selections were all extremely deserving, and it was great to see them get the recognition, especially after a couple high-profile snubs last year.

It’s never a surprise to see guys like Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari or Davante Adams get pro bowl nods.

But two guys who were major snubs last year, Aaron Jones and Za’Darius Smith, were rightfully honored this year, and it was great to see them get the recognition they should have had last year as well.

It was also awesome to see Jaire Alexander get some recognition as a pro bowl starter. Alexander is a true lockdown corner, meaning he doesn’t get some of the gaudy interception stats of other players, which can harm his ability to get recognized like he should. But it appears as though people truly recognize the player he’s become–perhaps the finest at his position right now.

But my favorite was Elgton Jenkins, who was highly deserving but who I felt certain would be overlooked. The man has already become an absolute stud at basically every position on the offensive line, and will be for years to come. For offensive linemen, this recognition often comes a couple years after it should have first happened, so to see Jenkins get it right away was really great.

Wisconsin Beer of the Week

I’ve mentioned Eagle Park Brewing Company several times in this column but have only featured one of their beers so far. Around Christmas time I tend to bust out the imperial stouts as they’re perfect sipping beers when you’ve got a fire crackling in the fireplace, and so it was the other night when I poured one of these brand new Wrong Way imperial stouts, just released at Eagle Park’s tap rooms in Milwaukee and Muskego.

This one comes out thick like motor oil, which is exactly what you love out of a good wintertime stout (or what I love, anyway). It’s inspired by peanut butter cups, and thus features flavors of peanut butter, cocoa and vanilla, with some added sweetness and thickness from the milk sugar it uses.

It’s worth noting, though, that while this one might sound like a sugar bomb, it’s not as sweet as other so-called pastry stouts. There’s still a good boozy finish that gives it a slight edge, and the peanut butter flavor isn’t overpowering (something that tends to happen with peanut butter stouts and porters, which is why I frequently avoid them). I find it very well-balanced, and if you like milk stouts or stouts that have a bit of cocoa flavor in addition to their standard roastiness, I think this one would go over quite well with you. 

Of course, as an imperial stout it’s higher in alcohol, so the 11 percent ABV should come as no surprise. But it’s already earned a fantastic 4.25 rating on Untappd, and for good reason. This is the kind of beer you purchase for the holidays intending to share with others, but end up hiding away to keep for yourself because it’s so damn good.

Clinching scenarios for Week 16

Just in case you haven’t already had it drilled into your skull…

There is a possibility for the Packers to clinch the #1 seed in the NFC this week. 

If the Packers beat the Titans and the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Seattle Seahawks, the #1 seed officially belongs to the Packers, and then they get to decide what they’ll do about their week 17 contest in Chicago.

It’s also worth noting that the Titans game is, in essence, irrelevant. If the Packers lose to Tennessee but beat Chicago next week, nothing else that happens this week or next matters and the Packers clinch homefield anyway.

So pay attention to what’s happening in the Rams/Seahawks game, and maybe Sunday Night will have a little extra heat to it!

Around the NFC North

Once again it’s time for us to take a look around the NFC North.

The CHICAGO BEARS took down the Vikings, essentially ending their playoff hopes, and I loved it. In fact, I hope the Bears win again this week, too–it sets up an opportunity for the Packers to be the ones to officially eliminate them in week 17. Meanwhile, Mitch Trubisky keeps playing well enough that it could trick the Bears into keeping both him and Matt Nagy. Honestly, I was starting to get concerned that the Bears were being a little too obvious about how much they suck, so this is a great turn of events for Packer fans who would love to see the Bears’ continued suckage ensured for years to come.

The DETROIT LIONS were victims of a massive beatdown by the Titans on Sunday. It was cool to see Matthew Stafford take the field despite the concerns over his ribs; the man is an absolute warrior. But really, it was just one more sign that the team needs to basically start from scratch, except for a few key pieces. They’ve already interviewed current MNF commentator and former scout Louis Riddick for their GM position, and it’s only a matter of time before we start getting rumors about who they’re going to target for their head coaching opening. One thing’s for sure–they’ve learned their lesson about hiring former Patriots employees.

The MINNESOTA VIKINGS are essentially out of it now, which means Packer fans don’t have to feel too conflicted about cheering for them to take down the New Orleans Saints tomorrow evening to give the Packers a bit more breathing room for a #1 seed. This team drastically underachieved this year even despite its deficiencies on the defense and on the offensive line. With the team still tied to Kirk Cousins for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to know what to project out of them for 2021 without some significant improvement from the current young players they have on their roster or a big influx of veteran talent, which would be hard to swing in a lower cap year.

“This Week in the Packer Blogosphere!”

Pardon me for ripping off That Venerable Series, but I’ve gotta give some love to some hilarity that’s been happening on the ol’ Tweeter over the last week or so.

Some of you may be familiar with Underage Packers, the podcast featuring Big B (who has been battling cancer) and Joey the Jaguar, both of whom are teenage superfans. Joey’s been putting out some hilarious content recently that deserves some extra attention. 

The first was a video that was referenced in actual press conferences by both Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur:

 

The next came out yesterday, and was a riff on some prominent Packer podcasters, including a pair of certain CHTV founders.

 

 

Love this stuff. It’s the kind of thing only a kid can pull off, because if it were an adult they’d almost certainly launch some flame wars. 

The Wes Hodkiewicz impression in the second video is especially choice.

Props to my man Joey.

What are your Christmas traditions?

First and foremost, a very merry Christmas to all of those reading who celebrate the holiday. 

As a kid, I always loved Christmas, because what kid doesn’t. As an adult in my 20s, I sort of began to get “over” it, especially once my wife and I first started dating and we were going to multiple gatherings each year and not really getting any time to ourselves. It sort of became more of a hassle than a holiday I looked forward to.

However, now that I’m in my 30s, have a few kids and have had my own home for several years, I’m starting to warm up to Christmas again, largely because we’ve been able to start setting our own traditions without feeling like we have to abide by everyone else’s. 

Our Christmas celebrations have grown more intimate over the last several years, and will be especially so this year due to the pandemic. But we’ll still be able to enjoy some of the traditions we’ve built up in recent years, including:

  • Chinese food for dinner on Christmas Eve

  • Opening a few presents (from my parents and siblings to my kids)

  • Put the kids to bed then have some drinks and watch A Christmas Story

  • Sleeping in on Christmas day (as much as the babies will allow this year, anyway) 

  • Make some mimosas, get a fire going in the fireplace and open up stockings/remaining presents

  • Make Christmas Day brunch, which for us is polish sausage and monkey bread

  • Do whatever the hell we want for the rest of the day

It’s the low-key sort of Christmas I missed having throughout the latter half of my 20s, and I’m genuinely looking forward to enjoying it.

What sort of Christmas traditions do you have? 

Week 16 quick forecast

I already covered a lot of what you can expect from the Titans/Packers game in the opening segment of the column, but now’s the time where I need to stick my neck out and make a prediction.

Derrick Henry is going to get his yards, and there’s not really any way around that. The key to the game is simple: the Packers need to take advantage of a weak defense and pass rush and score frequently. They cannot let a possession go by without some kind of score, and cannot settle for field goals more than once or twice.

If it’s an “on” day for the offense, as it has been for the majority of the year, the Packers will win the ball game. If they come out looking listless and have to deal with a struggling defense, this one could get ugly.

I have faith in the Packers’ offense turning it around after a disastrous second half against Carolina, and the defense doing just enough to give the Packers room for victory. We’ll see what happens with Seattle and Los Angeles, but I’ve got the Packers edging out a hard-fought victory and potentially clinching the #1 seed. 

Packers 38, Titans 30

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Thank You!

With it being Christmas Eve, I just wanted to add one extra section to the tail end of this column to wish you all a very happy holiday, and to thank you for reading this piece every week. 

I’ve received a lot of wonderful comments about the column over the course of the season, and I’m so appreciative. I started this for the season to try something new, jamming in all the Packers-related thoughts I tend to have while also spreading my enthusiasm for all things Wisconsin. The positive feedback has made me look forward to writing this every week, even when it turns out to be 2500-3000 words or more on days when I have a particularly large amount of stuff to say.

I’m grateful to Jersey Al for giving me the green light on this weekly venture, and to Aaron and Corey for allowing me to be a part of the CHTV team. I expect the column to continue into the offseason (in a slightly altered/abbreviated form).

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to share my gratitude to you, dear reader, and to CheeseheadTV for giving me the gift of being a part of this team. Even that one dude who called me a “bozo” and an “ambulance chaser” in the comments that one time in 2019.

Merry Christmas to all, and Hello Wisconsin!