NASHVILLE — When the Tennessee Titans (10-4) take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (11-3), their suspect defense will be under heavy fire.
Mike Vrabel’s secondary, one way or another, will likely be the story of the game.
Tennessee’s defense allows opponents to convert an NFL-worst 52.58% on third downs in 2020. A pass rush that was the focus of GM Jon Robinson’s offseason has produced a league-low 14 sacks. The Titans need every tool in their arsenal if they are to best Rodgers on his home turf. One key match-up in the passing game will be a focal point of Sunday’s contest.
Red-Hot Rodgers and the Titans Defense
Aaron Rodgers looks like an MVP in 2020.
Green Bay’s quarterback became the first in NFL history to throw 40-plus touchdown passes in three different seasons (45 in 2011, 40 in 2016 and 40 in 2020). Rodgers hit the 50,000-yard passing mark this year even though the Packers offense has not been quite as dominant in the last few weeks.
There is no question he will be ready for the Titans on Sunday Night Football under the Lambeau lights.
“Going against probably the best team we’ve faced all year, a team that doesn’t lose in December up at Lambeau,” Vrabel said Monday. “The quarterback has thrown 40 touchdowns and four interceptions. They rarely turn it over, so huge challenge.”
Rodgers became the fastest at his position to reach 400 passing touchdowns, doing so in his 193rd career game. What is even more remarkable about the future Hall-of-Famer eclipsing that scoring marks is that he did while setting the mark for the fewest interceptions at the time (400-88).
Tom Brady previously held that record with 400 touchdowns to 143 picks.
Tennessee’s turnover differential is tied for tops in the league (+12) with the Indianapolis Colts (10-4). 13 interceptions and an offense that hangs on the ball are a massive part of how the Titans have won double digit games for the first time since 2008. It is essential for Vrabel’s defense to find a way to do what Packers’ opponents have done six total times this year: get Rodgers to cough up the football.
Tight End Takeaway
Safety Kevin Byard’s 2020 campaign has not lived up to expectations, but the former All Pro is coming off one of his better games of the year in Week 15.
Pro Football Focus’ measurements should not be taken as gospel but they do paint a decent image of how Byard faired against the Detroit Lions (5-9). Per John Glennon of Broadway Sports, the safety allowed no catches on three targets and graded out at a 92.3. Byard’s previous PFF high was a 75.6 in the opener.
Picking off back-up quarterback Chase Daniel also got him in the box score for his first interception of the year.
Green Bay and Rodgers present their own challenges but few greater than the connection the Packers quarterback has with tight end Robert Tonyan. A former Lions undrafted free agent and college wide receiver, Tonyan’s six receiving scores in primetime games are the most by any player this season. After hauling in five touchdowns in Green Bay’s first four games, Tonyan went scoreless for the next five and comes into Sunday Night Football against the Titans registering a touchdown reception in five straight contests.
He now accounts for one quarter of Rodgers’ passing strikes in 2020.
“I think you see a lot of guys come out of college that are used to playing in spread offenses,” Byard said on Wednesday. “I think even (Robert) Tonyan came in as a receiver and converted to tight end. So, you see a lot of receiver-like bodies. I mean, these guys not only can block but they can go out there and catch the ball. Especially when you see those guys in the red zone, most teams that we’ve played, their tight ends are top targets in the red zone because they use their bodies to box guys out.”
Tennessee has given up seven touchdowns to tight ends this season. Turnovers and taking away Tonyan will be crucial if the Titans are to take down the Packers.
Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.