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Sunday Night Football Preview

Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: December 25, 2020, 5:43 pm ET

Before we dig into this matchup, we must be aware about the weather looming for this game.  

Yes, it will be the perfect game to watch on TV.

No, it will not be a perfect game to play in.

Right now, the current forecast for Sunday night in Lambeau calls for temps 20 to 22 degrees and a real feel temp of 9 to 10 degrees.  We are seeing winds in the 15-25 mph range with gusts in the 22-28 mph range.  And we are seeing a chance of snow showers.  And we could get several inches of snow.

When we see temps this low coupled with winds this high, this weather could have a substantial impact on the game’s outcome.

And then there is the chance of snow.  Not all snow is alike.  And we don’t know what we’ll get here.  But there is the chance that if this snow is at all heavy, even for part of the game, it will significantly reduce downfield visibility.

And that will impact the passing game to a tremendous extent, particularly given the likelihood of high to very high winds, depending on what materializes.

As such, take the below analysis with extreme caution, as there is a chance much of this could be muted due to the weather.

The key statistic that the Titans absolutely must be aware of with regard to this game:

Aaron Rodgers is 69-1-1 when leading at halftime at Lambeau Field.

He’s simply brilliant in the second half of games at doing just enough to win games and he rarely makes mistakes and throws interceptions or turns the ball over.

If the Titans want to win this game, they better game plan to lead at halftime.

And if they want to lead at halftime, they need to ensure they aren’t wasting plays by running Derrick Henry into loaded boxes for minimal gains on first downs in the first quarter.

Look, we know the Titans want to run Derrick Henry early and often.

The only thing that’s guaranteed is they will be able to run Henry early.  

But what isn’t guaranteed is running him often.  Because to run him often, you need to be leading.  Particularly in the second half.  

And as such, my advice to the Titans is focus not on getting Henry touches early so much as getting lead early.  Because with a lead, you can run Derrick Henry as often as you would like in the second half against a tired Packers Defense.

All of that said, the Titans should have success running Derrick Henry in this matchup.  The Packers rank bottom-10 in run defense efficiency and has played really one, solid run offense in the last two months, and that was the Minnesota Vikings in week 8.

That was a game which featured heavy winds, rendering a QB like Kirk Cousins relatively limited. In the entire game, Cousins attempted just 14 passes.  Meanwhile, the Vikings Offense hitched their wagon to Dalvin Cook.

They ran him predictably, early and often, and despite the predictability, the Packers Defense couldn’t stop him.

Cook gained 163 rushing yards, at a 5.4 YPC clip with a 60% success rate.

An insane 37% of Cooks runs gained first downs.  

He scored 3 TDs.  

In the first half alone, Cook gained a first down on 54% of his carries.

Digging deeper, the Titans run outside zone runs on the vast majority of their run plays, and they gain 5.7 YPC with a 62% success rate on these runs and +0.11 EPA/carry.  

The Packers allow outside zone runs to see significant success.

Turning to the air, the Packers Defense plays zone coverage on 75% of opponent attempts, a rate well above average.  Look at Ryan Tannehill’s splits this year:

Zone coverage:        9.3 YPA, +0.35 EPA/att, 57% success
Man coverage:        7.1 YPA, +0.11 EPA/att, 51% success

These numbers are not close.  Tannehill should be able to see success passing the ball when they do turn to the air, which may turn out to be the desired course of action should the Packers Defense stuff the box and try to stop Derrick Henry first and foremost.

On the other side of the ball, we have a terrible Titans Defense which struggles to get after the quarterback.

The Titans have the NFL’s lowest pressure rate on opposing quarterbacks.  This will open things up to Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps to get open against this secondary.  Because it’s very likely for the Packers, and their offensive line which ranks #1 in pass block win rate, to have time to allow these receivers to uncover downfield.

The Titans secondary may get more snaps out of Adore Jackson, but that still is unlikely to do enough to slow down this Packers passing game, should the weather permit it.

If weather is a factor, the Packers will have to lean more on Aaron Jones, who played 90% of the Packers offensive snaps last week.  The Titans have allowed 17 rushing TDs to opposing RBs, ranking 5th worst in the NFL.

This line opened as high as the Packers -4.5 and 5 points.  But with the Titans looking solid last week and the Packers struggling to put away the Carolina Panthers, this line has been bet down to the Packers -3.5.

I would be shocked if this total closed at the 56 points that it currently sits at given these weather conditions.  I believe multiple syndicate betting groups are waiting in the wings to see if this total gets bet any higher or if this forecast lightens up.  But if the total doesn’t get bet higher and the forecast continues to shape up to be what we currently are seeing, I believe this total will get bet lower.

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.