Joe Buried: Packers' latest defensive collapse could force major staff changes
Facing one of the worst downfield-passing attacks in the NFL, the Packers defense made Ryan Tannehill look like Dan Marino.
Just four days after the Green Bay Packers kept their season on life support with a surprising upset, they slipped back into their losing ways for a must-have game. This time, the team saw their pass defense set ablaze by one of the Tennessee Titans, owners of one of the NFL's least explosive aerial attacks.
Tasked with stopping the Herculean force of Derrick Henry in the backfield, the Packers sold out to stop the run. They leaned heavily on their "penny" sub package -- a five-man front with only one off-ball linebacker working behind it -- in most obvious running situations. That approach did slow down the All-Pro tailback, limiting him to just 87 yards on the ground at a clip of 3.1 per carry.
Based on the previous 10 weeks of the season, holding Henry to such meager production should have proved adequate to give Green Bay's defense the upper hand. Instead, the Packers crumbled against one of the league's truly putrid downfield-passing offenses.
Entering the game, the Titans had generated just six completions of 20 or more air yards, the second lowest such figure in the league. They would literally increase that total by 50% before the end of the night with rookies Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo each contributing one or more deep receptions. Burks put the game on ice with a 51-yarder late in the fourth quarter.
The performance shines a harsh spotlight on defensive coordinator Joe Barry. A season ago, Barry's unit battled inconsistencies, a not uncommon outcome when a team installs a new system and play-caller. Barry has fewer excuses in 2022 as the Packers bolstered his personnel with multiple first-round picks, added veteran help along the defensive line in free agency, and saw Jaire Alexander return to full health.
Given the circumstances, Thursday's performance probably ranks as the worst of the season for Barry's defense. Not only did the Titans' dormant downfield passing game come alive, but Ryan Tannehill delivered his most prolific and efficient outing of 2022, recording more than 300 yards through the air while completing over 80% of his throws. Tannehill's strong showing helped keep Tennessee's offense on the field and left Aaron Rodgers to chill on the sideline.
"I thought our defense battled hard but certainly couldn't get off the grass in the first half," head coach Matt LaFleur said in his postgame press conference. "I think offensively outside of the two-minute (drill), I think there were three possessions. Obviously, they scored right there at the end of the half and kicked the ball back. Was there like 28 seconds left when we got the ball back?
"It was just a bad night all in all."