Thursday Morning Ramblings: Don’t Fear King Henry

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Derrick “King” Henry may be beheading NFL defenses left and right this year, but from the way fans of the Green Bay Packers have been talking on Twitter so far this week, you’d feel like it’s a forgone conclusion the man is going to set the single-game rushing record and singlehandedly guide the Titans to a 40-point victory.

It’s understandable to be nervous about the prospect of the Packers’ run defense trying to bring the powerful back down, but despite the Titans’ best efforts to make it so, they are not a one-man team. And there are plenty of deficiencies to balance out Henry’s ability to bring the pain.

The Titans have had an extremely efficient passing offense the last two years, largely due to their ability to control the flow of the game with Henry on the ground. But rarely do offenses face cornerbacks the caliber of Jaire Alexander, who is capable of locking down a team’s top receiver all by himself. 

If the Packers put Alexander on AJ Brown, the burden will suddenly shift to Corey Davis to carry the Titans’ passing game. And while certainly Kevin King is capable any given week of having a disastrous performance, he’s also equally capable of showing up and shutting down players himself.

Any talk you hear of “stopping Derrick Henry” is fool’s gold. It’s a distraction from what the Packers’ real focus has to be this week. Ultimately, you can’t really stop Derrick Henry. Sure, play your heavy defense, let Alexander match up with Brown and take your shots when you see them to keep Tannehill off rhythm. 

But this week, the onus is on the Packers’ offense, not defense, to perform.

It was a terrible second half for the Packers against Carolina, but they were able to overcome it because they were facing an anemic offense on the other side of the ball. This week, the Green Bay Packers need to score, and score a lot. 

The Titans now have the league’s top scoring offense, but they also allow points left and right. The Packers will need to take advantage of every possession they have and run up the score as much as they can, because you know opportunities will be limited when they’re going to work on eating the clock with Henry. 

If the Packers are able to take advantage of limited possessions and score touchdowns while avoiding turnovers and special teams blunders, they’ll win the game regardless of what happens on the other side of the ball. Henry can run for 250 yards for all I care; if the Packers keep scoring, there’s no chance for Tennessee to run away with this one like so many seem to think is going to happen.

Expect a high-scoring, stressful outing, but if you want to be nervous about something, worry about the offense’s performance rather than the inevitability of Henry having a big day. 

Winning is hard. Enjoy it when it happens.

The response to the Panthers game online this week was… well, predictable, if you’ve spent any time on Packers twitter in the past. Lots of people were REAL mad the Packers didn’t look better in victory or win by more than eight points, despite the fact that the Packers were far from the first good team to be taken to the wire by Carolina this year, and despite the fact that myself and anyone else who’s been paying attention at all had been saying all week that this game had the potential to be a frustrating one.

Hopefully, the rest of the weekend’s action put things into perspective for Packer fans who were mad that their team didn’t win pretty enough. The Steelers lost to the Bengals, one of the league’s worst teams who are also on their third-string QB. The Rams (the same Rams who were supposed to be the Packers’ kryptonite come January) lost to the Jets, one of the worst teams in NFL history. Lots of other contending teams struggled throughout the weekend.

Winning is hard. The other guys get paid too. If anything, be glad the Packers’ defense and special teams stepped up to carry the offense in a down week.

One guy to watch this week

It was a horrendous day of football for Lucas Patrick on Saturday against the Panthers. Patrick gave up three sacks and was shoved all over the field by defensive linemen. It was one of the worst pass protection days I’ve seen by a Packers offensive lineman in quite some time.

Until we hear otherwise, Patrick will get the start at left guard again this weekend, but I have to wonder how short of a leash he’ll be on. If he starts to allow pressure again, will we see some extended Jon Runyan time? Runyan has played well in relief this year, and you get the sense that he is the starter of the future at the position. 

The good news for Patrick is that this is a good week for a get-right game for him. The Titans are certainly not known for their pass-rush, so perhaps all it will take is a bit of a confidence booster.

Then again, the Panthers aren’t exactly a strong pass-rushing team either, and we saw what happened on Saturday.

Either way, I’ll be watching what happens with Patrick and the rest of the Packers’ pass blockers to see if they rebound after a disastrous outing.

Friday Night Prediction

The final Thursday Night Football matchup of the year is actually happening on Friday night this week, billed as an NFL Christmas Special. It’s a matchup of two teams with plenty of bad blood in their recent history: the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.

I’m sure the NFL was probably hoping for the VIkings to be… well… good… when they planned this matchup, but it should still be an entertaining evening of football. The Saints are in desperate need of a win after a couple ‘L’s in a row if they are to have any hope of the top seed The Vikings need to win out and get a whole lot of help if they’re to get into the postseason.

These two teams have played a lot of entertaining games of late, but give me the Saints to avenge their loss to the Vikings in the wild card round a season ago.

Two Minutes’ Hate: Tennessee Titans

I’ll tell you what. It’s hard not to admire some things about the Titans. Derrick Henry’s bruising running style. The resurgence of Ryan Tannehill. Mike Vrabel’s steadfast admission that he’d gladly chop his dick off to win a Super Bowl.

And of course, let’s not forget these are the folks who stomped the Brady/Belichick era into the Massachusetts turf this past January. So like, they can’t be all that bad.

But this is Two Minutes’ Hate, and HATE WE MUST.

As the Belichick reign of terror fades away from the NFL, a new protege is rising up to take his place in the pantheon of pettiness: Mike Vrabel.

Vrabel has taken a page out of his old master’s dark book of evil deeds, with actions like intentional 12th man penalties to stop the clock to make a timeout possible, and using rules loopholes to run the clock down on the Patriots in a move mimicking something the Patriots had done earlier that season. John Harbaugh refused to shake his hand after a game in response to what he believed to be disrespect on Vrabel’s part.

Vrabel is building a strong resume to become the new douchiest head coach in the NFL, but he’s going to keep getting away with it for a while because, frankly, nobody gives a shit about the Titans.

Part of that is because even when the Titans are good, they’re outrageously boring. Their quarterback is late-blooming meathead Ryan Tannehill, who famously didn’t know the NFL’s divisional alignment as an NFL quarterback He pent his time in Miami being more famous for being injured and having a hot wife.

Their uniforms and color scheme have long been among the worst in the league, and they change seemingly every other season. You think they’d have at least accidentally managed to create something by now that doesn’t look like a cross between a 12-year-old’s Madden Create-a-Franchise from 2005 and the baby boy clothes aisle at Target.

Outside of this season, the team always seems to win between seven and nine games, whether it’s Jeff Fisher, Mike Mularkey or Mike Vrabel.

Speaking of which, can you believe these guys actually thought Mike Mularkey was an NFL caliber head coach after being statistically one of the worst in league history in TWO previous stops? Only the Titans could be so bland and unattractive a franchise that they had to dip THAT deep into the league’s oversaturated spate of retread coaches. 

You gotta feel like part of the reason Matt LaFleur was such an unheralded head coaching prospect was that he came directly from Tennessee, where probably a good 60 percent of football fans didn’t even realize there was an NFL franchise until they beat the stuffing out of the Patriots last winter.

This is the kind of franchise that’s so dull that the NFL offices would likely be actively rooting against them making the Super Bowl, because the nationwide reaction would be… “meh.”

Fittingly enough, like the Titans themselves, this game doesn’t even matter. The Packers don’t need a win to get to the top seed, so they can either come out with a victory or sleepwalk until week 17. It’s like, whatever, man.

Prediction:

Green Bay Packers, 37, Tennessee Titans…. Meh, who cares

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