While the most anticipated matchup on Sunday night between the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans may center around Mike Pettine’s defense against All-Pro rebounder Derrick Henry, weave another crucial chess game in the shadows, and it’s one where the Packers should enjoy a big advantage.
Two important situations when the Packers are on the offensive can play as big a role in determining Sunday’s winner as Henry against Green Bay’s driving defense.
The importance of matchup is shaking because of Packer’s potential for supremacy.
The Titans offense has been big both on the third down and in the red zone and ranked in the top 10 in each category, but that’s a very different story for Mike Vrabel’s defense. In fact, there may not be a worse situational defense in football this season.
The Titans defense ranks dead last in third-down conversion percentage (52.6) and 30th in red zone touchdown percentage (70.9), a potentially disastrous combination of situational incompetence when faced with Aaron Rodgers and Packers .
Matt LaFleur’s team may have the best situation in football. The Packers rank third in the NFL on third downs (49.1) and first in the red zone (78.4).
Despite some games ending the game last Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers, the Packers have been dominant and consistent on the third down.
Rodgers leads the NFL in passing on the third down, and he is second in passing touchdowns and yards per. Trial and third in fit rating. Recipient Davante Adams is first in receiving yards and second in first catch on third down. Recipients Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and tight end Robert Tonyan have turned 31 catches on third down to 29 first downs. Rodgers has even scrambled for eight first downs on the third down.
The Titans have allowed three times as many touchdown passes on the third down (nine) as they have sacks on the third down (three). Five different quarterbacks have sent a passer rating of 100.0 on the third down against the Titans, and they have been terrible at defending third and short. Of the 92 finishes against the Titans at the third downfall, 74 have had their first setbacks. And running the ball on the third down has been converted 28 times in 42 attempts.
The red zone – or the gold zone as the Packers call it – has been a magical place for the green and gold. The Packers are approaching an 80 percent touchdown rate when they come within the 20-yard line, largely because of Rodgers. He leads the NFL with 29 touchdown passes in the red zone, and he encrypts in three other goals. Overall, the MVP has twice accounted for 32 of the Packers ’40 red zone touchdowns.
The Titans have allowed 39 red zone touchdowns on defense, highlighting the group’s bend but also breaking style.
It’s probably not a stretch to say third down and the red zone will decide the game on Sunday night. Or at least go a long way in determining a winner. Both offenses are dominant in situation-free football, but only one defense runs for the worst in the NFL on the third down and in the red zone.
Henry may be productive for the Titans, but the Packers could do far more harm if Rodgers and the offense take advantage of the showdown’s biggest mismatch.