The NFL scheduling geniuses knew what they were doing when the penciled in the Packers and the Titans for a Week 16 Sunday night game at Lambeau. They probably figured that Green Bay would still be fighting it out with the Vikings for tops in the NFC North division. Plus, a national audience would undoubtedly like to see a leading contender for league MVP stack up those rushing yards. Finally, with a little luck Lambeau Field might take on the look of a snow globe just two days after Christmas.
The league’s wishes mostly came true, though not exactly as the schedulers planned. Yes the game had playoff implications, but it was for the top playoff seeding in the NFC. And yes, TV viewers got to see an MVP candidate at the top of his game – but it was a guy wearing green and gold, not red and blue. They nailed it, though, about the snow, which came down fairly heavily for most of the matchup/mismatch.
By the time the sky cleared as the game ended, several things had became crystal clear. Green Bay put NFL fandom on notice: they made an unmistakable statement. The Packers no longer have a roster full of holes. They are as talent-laden as any team in the league. They are no longer defenseless. Green Bay is a legitimate contender, not a pretender, for capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
As confirmed by the recent list of Pro Bowl representatives, it’s become pretty clear the Pack possesses: the league’s top QB; the league’s best contingent of running backs; the best shut-down cornerback; the best left tackle; the best center (though overlooked by Pro Bowl voters); the best O-line group; and, for sure, the league’s best wide receiver.
Introducing AJ Dillon
The biggest shocker on Sunday was that Derrick Henry was the third best running back on the field.
From the moment GM Brian Gutekunst selected AJ Dillon, the huge running back and second-round draft pick from Boston College, fans have been intrigued by what he might bring to the team. However, due to some pesky injuries, and having to spend more than five weeks on reserve/COVID-19 status, Dillon had to wait until Week 16 before making more than token appearances in the backfield. It was worth the wait.
Dillon wasted little time showing us all what he’s capable of. With Aaron Jones suffering a minor injury in the second quarter, he had this big stage mostly to himself for the rest of the game. By the time the flurries had abated, AJ had churned out 124 yards in 21 carries, including his first two NFL touchdowns.
Dillon easily outshone Henry, who managed only 98 yards in 23 carries. While Dillon averaged 5.9 yards, Henry was held to an average of 4.3. As a team, the Packers rushed for 234 yards, nearly 80 more than the Titans. Nor should we (ever) overlook Aaron Jones, whose ten rushes produced 94 yards – just another day at the office for the first-time Pro Bowler.
Dillon’s power, speed, and agility were on full display throughout the one-sided affair.
Midway through the second quarter Dillon had to reach down and behind him to corral a sinking pass from Rodgers. Given the field conditions, it was a display of supple hands – a good omen since he was seldom used as a receiver during his three years of college. By the end of the first half, Dillon already had picked up 51 yards on ten carries.
When the Titans closed to within five points in the third quarter, the Packers responded by looking to their husky rookie often the rest of the way. Facing a fourth and one with 3:42 left in Quarter 3, Dillon made a nice cut behind a couple of fine blocks, and rambled 30 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
LaFleur also put Dillon’s power to good use. Example 1: with 11:28 left in Quarter 2, and facing an important third and three from the Tennessee 13, LaFleur sent Dillon smack up the middle. Aided by fine blocking, Dillon easily gobbled up six yards. Example 2: with 2:30 left in the game, and the Pack at the Titan’s seven yard line, Dillon was again sent straight up the gut, where he dragged three Titans as he crossed the goal line. These are plays that Jones or Jamaal Williams would not have been able to convert.
Aided greatly by Dillon, the Pack finished the day converting on four of eight third downs, and on four of five trips to the Red Zone.
Thunder and Lightning
Some very successful NFL teams have featured running back tandems consisting of a power runner alongside a finesse runner. The quintessential such pairing was of course the Packers’ Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor back in the Lombardi era, and they were quickly followed up by Donnie Anderson and Jim Grabowski. In the late sixties and early seventies, Miami fullback Larry Csonka and halfback Jim Kiick became known as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Though the Packers might not be able to re-sign Aaron Jones at the end of this season, it’s now likely that Jones and the team’s new rushing sensation will share the running back duties for up to four more games. The ascendancy of Dillon will make it very difficult for defenses to game plan for two running backs whose styles are so different. This is quite an addition to what is already among the league’s top offenses.
Odds and Ends
With his passer rating of 128.1 against the Titans, Aaron Rodgers has now opened up a gap of more than 11 points (119.4 to 108.2) versus MVP contender Patrick Mahomes (who rated only 79.5 against the Falcons). Aaron’s closest passer rating pursuer is now the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, at 112.1. This award is announced at the end of the regular season.
Congrats to Aaron Jones, who went over the 1,000 yard mark on Sunday despite missing two games on the season. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry, which is tops among qualifying running backs; those trailing him include: Nick Chubb (5.4), Derrick Henry (5.2), and Raheem Mostert, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara (all at 5.0).
Davante Adams is now averaging 102.2 receiving yards per game (he’s missed two games). His closest pursuers are Calvin Ridley and Travis Kelce, at 94.4 each. In total yardage on the season, Davante’s 1,328 yards trails only Kelce and DeAndre Hopkins.
On to Chicago, then on to the playoffs!
Looks a bit like Larry Csonka.
I always forget to mention JP, although i can’t remember the date and i could be months off …..
But Happy 2nd Anniversary.
Thanks for keeping this place afloat. (although i was concerned a couple times)
In the immortal words of Mike Ditka. ” I THINK WE BECAME A TEAM TODAY!! WE BECAME A TEAM!! THATS WHAT ITS ABOUT!
Well…no disrespect to Dillon, he had himself a nice game against the Titans 18th ranked run defense.
But i’m not about to disrespect a guy who has rushed for 3,317 yards in his last 30 games scoring 31 TD’s, even if he isn’t on my team. Because i acknowledge a player who does it consistently at a high level over time.
Like Aaron Jones, Henry wasn’t picked for the Pro Bowl by accident, he earned it.
There is a difference between proving it over time, and having a good game
“The Packers no longer have a roster full of holes. They are as talent-laden as any team in the league. They are no longer defenseless. Green Bay is a legitimate contender, not a pretender, for capturing the Lombardi Trophy.”
That could be true, everyone deserves their opinion.
But, lets do this…lets put that quote on ice until we get to the playoffs and actually prove it.
Maybe the game against the Titans shows (proves) we are a Championship team. Some of you believe that, and who knows…..maybe your proven correct.
But…….shouldn’t we, i don’t know…get to the playoffs and prove it?
The Packers 0 line seemed pretty god damn defenseless against the Bucs front 7. Didn’t look real good against the Panthers as Rodgers was laid out 5 times.
I think we were a legitimate contender to win a Super Bowl in the 2014 season.
Some thought we were a legitimate contender at 15-1 in 2011.
The only problem was…..proving it.
Hell, i don’t think the bears game is going to be the cakewalk some might think it is. That game will be tougher than playing the Titans in the snow i’ll guaran damn t that.
Lets finish the regular season before we start talking Lombardi trophy’s.
They need to prove it this weekend. This is a playoff game too.
PF4L. The stats I see say the Packers run game made a slightly above average Titans run defense into a slightly below average run defense. Is your 18th ranked run defense before or after the game? I see the Titans were 12th ranked in YPC before the Packer game but are now 17th ranked in YPC. In run yards per game the Titans were 15th before the Packers game and 19th after the Packers game.
Jason, have you changed something on the site? For some reason I do not see this article on your home site. In addition it takes going to each article to see all the new comments. Usually your home page shows all the recent comments.
Howard…i fucked up.
I wrote this long response, and i went to look at something and i accidently took out that window. And i’m pissed because i worked on it awhile. Condensed….
I might have switched (reversed) up the Packers 120 YPG, with the Titans 110 YPG (before the game) and went from memory. My apology if that’s the case
But neither here nor there, that wasn’t really the point i was trying to make.
I complimented Dillon a few times since the game, but it’s one game. One game. I gave him props, after that i don’t know what i can do. It was one game, i’m not crowning him.
There is a light world apart from Dillon to Henry. I brought it up because i thought Henry was a bit disrespected. That was my point.
It’s fantastic that the author points out that Dillion had a higher YPC average than Henry.
Henry has 344 carries for 1.777 yards and 15 TD’s in one season
Dillon has 45 carries for 239 yards and 2 TD’s…………for his career.
There is world of difference.
If Rob wants to tell me the last Packer player that rushed for 1,777 yards and 15 TD’s in 15 games. I’d be more than happy to listen.
But don’t put a one shot deal on a pedestal over someone’s great season performance as a means to justify a team’s worthiness to get to the Super Bowl. Lets get there first, it’s been awhile.
This response ended longer, now i’m all riled up, thanks Howard….lol
I agree with you. One play, one game, and one season does not make a player a hero or a zero. Dillion has to put together a string of performances, but in his first game with substantial touches he put down the first building block. Henry has put up sustained performances. I really like Henry. I’m positive LaFleur likes Henry. I think that is the reason the Packers drafted Dillion over some other backs.
I don’t think we will ever see running back tandems on the field at the same time in the NFL again. At least in the mode of Hornung/Taylor, or Csonka/Kiick. I do think we might see a tandem of Jones/Dillion in the game in certain situations such as 3rd/4th and one, or goal line plays.
There was not a big sample size in the Titans game, but Dillion faired well in pass protection. Pass protection by Dillion will Be one of the keys as to how often he sees the field.
Dillion did run over or through a few defenders. Dillion also clocked at least a couple of his blockers on runs. Turner and St. Brown, at the least probably have sore/bruised backs to prove it. Hey rookie cut off our backside, don’t run up it. ;-)
The problem with right now…going into the playoffs, is Williams is well versed in this offense. which is probably why we seldom saw Dillon in the regular season (besides Covid) and why we might not see him much in the playoffs if both Jones and Williams are healthy.
That is not a knock on Dillon. It’s just not Dillon’s time yet.
As far as a tandem, if Jones keeps doing what he’s doing, and Dillon proves to be the back he showed us and maybe even improves with experience. could you imagine that as your one-two punch? That would be one hell of a tandem wouldn’t it. We’d barely ever have to punt.
But i’m not sure in the off season, if fate is going to hand that to us.
I like the part about no punts — solves our punt return for touchdown problem.
For those of you who like to see the players “being themselves” check this out if you have the time.
Rodgers swearing…AJ Hawk suckin on a fat stogie.
The Pat McAfee (cool dude) Show.
“The biggest shocker on Sunday was that Derrick Henry was the third best running back on the field.”
Not sure I’d go that far because GB was able to load the box to stop the run and TN was not able to stop the GB passing game, let alone the GB running game.
Clearly, GBs defense or the snow/cold helped shut down the TN passing game — probably a combination of both. Limiting the TN running game AND shutting down the TN passing game was a very good sign for homes games in GB this time of year.
It would be fun to see Jones and Dillon in the backfield together and see how the defense responds. If the defense goes with big bodies then split Jones out and pass it. If they go small, pound the ball on the ground.
Another key to Dillons’ value; 2nd half of games and watching the opposing defenses try to stop a runaway train! I like it! I like it a lot! Then counter it with the aggresive A. Jones, and versatile Williams. It’s only been one game as far as Dillon goes but, what a different dimension he brings to this already potent offense.
According to the leagues transaction wire and Packers Wire, Packers have claimed DT Snacks Harrison off waivers from Seattle.
The Henry being the third best back on the field statement is silly. I am very high on Dillon, and I love Aaron Jones. But neither are of Henry’s level. Sure, maybe on the field that particular night. But I think that speaks more to the high level the Packers defense played at that night.
I will say it now, that is the best game the Packers have played in years. It has the vibes of the Giants game in 2010, a great all around game that boosted the confidence of that squad and propelled them to go on the run they did. I am in no way guaranteeing this will end the same. But I just have a good feeling about this team. It just has it. Between the level the pass rush and secondary are playing at, how well Rodgers is playing, how well they are running the ball, and the offensive line being intact again, I just think it will be hard to beat this team, especially at lambeau.
The Bucs game can be brought up, and rightfully so because it was a disaster and they may well face off against them again. But there are a few things that may well be different the next time around. The Bucs are not the 49ers of last year. They have not been dominant, and have been wildly inconsistent. Rodgers will not throw two pick sizes again. And the game will be at lambeau. This game will not be playing out like it did before, that much I am certain of. I am confident in this team, maybe a lot of people on this board aren’t. I don’t give a shit. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. I think this team is the best one since 2014, and may well be able to do what that one didn’t