The Tennessee Titans fully experienced what it looks like when a team finally shells out all of their resources to help stop Derrick Henry and the run this past Sunday at Lambeau Field, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was the unlikely culprit for that.
Shutting down Henry was obviously at the top of the list for Pettine heading into that game, as he frequently filled the box with eight-plus defenders, daring Ryan Tannehill and his core of receivers to beat the Green Bay Packers through the air, which did not happen. But this kind of shutdown performance, which was desperately needed, should not push the necessary outcome regarding Pettine’s job status at the end of the season.
Pettine has, for far too long, been the scapegoat for this team coming up short in big moments, yet he still has remained the DC for this team. And for too long, the defense has been the unit that has been keeping this team from reaching its full potential, potentially wasting the career of Aaron Rodgers in the process.
Now, personnel improvements have certainly made Pettine look better, as Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith, along with newcomers to the club Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage, and Krys Barnes, have all reached or exceeded expectations so far for Green Bay. But their on-field performance should be tied to their natural talent more than the schemes that they are used in.
Over the past five games, the GB defense has held three of those opponents (Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans) to under 300 yards of total offense, which helps him look better. But if looking over the entirety of the season, Pettine’s unit has only held opponents to less than 300 total yards of offense four times, with the other occurrence being in Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
All of those four teams (except for the Titans) are expected to be held under 300 yards, as their offenses are devoid of healthy weapons and competent quarterbacks, so the GB defense was able to show up when needed. But across the other 11 games so far this year, the defense has struggled, due mostly to the playcalling by Pettine.
Five opponents have put up 350 yards or more of total offense this season, with the Minnesota Vikings (Week 1), New Orleans Saints (Week 3), and the Indianapolis Colts (Week 11) producing 375+ yards of offense. Three times the Packers defense was burned by a full offensive light show from their opponents, and a common factor in those matchups was the usage of an opposing running back.
Dalvin Cook, on both occasions this year, with 45 total touches going for 274 total yards and 6 total TD’s. Alvin Kamara produced two receiving scores and 197 total yards on 19 touches (13 receptions). Jonathan Taylor did not find the end zone but still put up 114 total yards on 26 touches (22 carries).
Regardless of how it happened, running backs burned Green Bay this year, and that has been the defense’s problem for a long time now, dating back to the 2019 season in their two meetings with San Francisco and even before. The GB defense allowed 397 rushing yards and 6 rushing TD’s combined from both games, absolutely inexcusable numbers, especially since 285 ayards and 4 scores came in the NFC Championship Game, where Pettine had time to prepare for SF’s run-heavy attack.
The kind of ill-prepared game styles that Pettine rolls out on a weekly basis has gotten this team into trouble plenty of times, and it will be the biggest question mark heading into the postseason. And while this side of the ball has certainly shaped up as the ‘20 season has drawn to a close, it still is very susceptible to certain offensive play styles (like a run-heavy attack, even though Henry was shut down), areas that Pettine has had plenty of time to address but has failed to do.
He certainly is not the worst option that this team could have as their DC, but Pettine still needs to go after this year – his failure to properly adjust, both in-game and in-season, has burned this team before and will continue to. Let’s just hope his shortcomings don’t hold this team back on its championship quest.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23