NASHVILLE, Tenn. —The Titans return to Nissan Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers.
The Titans (4-5) are coming off a 43-35 loss to the Chargers. The Packers (4-4) fell to the Indianapolis Colts, 31-26.
This week I caught up with Tom Silverstein, who covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Tom is in his 27th season covering the Packers.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @tomsilverstein.
Jim: Hey Tom. I appreciate you doing this. Let's get right to it. The Packers started 3-1, but have since lost 3 of 4, including Sunday's loss to the Colts. It sounds like tensions are running high there. What's the mood around the team at the halfway point?
Tom: Well, the loss to the Colts was pretty jarring. Losing at home was not expected. They thought they were getting a half-defeated team, and it turns out the Colts were way more fired up than they were to play the game. Basically what's happened is they suffered multiple critical injuries, and probably the most prominent has been running back Eddie Lacy. That's kind of caused them to become very one-dimensional, and they've had to rely on Aaron Rodgers quite a bit and Rodgers is not playing well. And there's not consistency to their offense. They've tried to go to a little more of a spread attack and it worked for the most part against Atlanta, but then for some reason they went away from it against Indianapolis, and it ended up being a big mistake. And so I expect them to go back to the short passing, West Coast offense, using four or five receivers all the time.
Jim: I noticed Rodgers appeared to call some of his teammates out after the game on Sunday. He said there was a "lack of juice" on the sideline. Did he deliver a message, and how do you expect the team will respond on Sunday vs the Titans?
Tom: Well, it really started from coach (Mike) McCarthy. And then it kind of trickled down to the players. That was kind of his assessment after the game, and then the players were all echoing that after the game. The crazy part is the next day (McCarthy) kind of backed off it, kind of said, 'Well, we did have energy, we just weren't very precise in the things we were doing." I think it's one of those games where the energy was kind of low, but it's a game they could have won win a low energy. They just weren't as sharp as they have been other games, and they couldn't rise above it. They really needed Rodgers to play one of his best games, and he couldn't. Now, they are pretty desperate. They have three games in a row on the road (at Washington and at Philadelphia upcoming) so this is a pretty important game, albeit an AFC game. They are still in it in the NFC North because the other teams are equally middling, so yeah, they have to have this win. It is critical. They have two NFC games after this game so they can't afford to fall under .500.
Jim: You've mentioned Rodgers. I look at his numbers and they're pretty impressive – 2,039 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. But you say he's not playing well? What's the problem?
Tom: He's having a bad year. He's not as accurate as he has been, he's missing open receivers, and he's not trusting his receivers. He is scrambling a lot – probably too much. His stats are almost always good because he rarely throws interceptions, so his passer rating is pretty good. He has some garbage yards from them having to come back at the end of games and they've made his performances look better. But he really has not played well. It's hard to say exactly what the problem is, if there's some kind of a disconnect between him and McCarthy or if it's him just not trusting his receivers enough. He is kind of a guy who doesn't like to take a lot of chances, and he won't throw into coverage a lot. And his receivers are not the kind of guys who will get wide open. This is not the same group as back when they had Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley and James Jones. This is a really different type of group. He has some really young receivers, and he is just not trusting anybody really, except for Jordy Nelson, and Jordy Nelson isn't all the way back from his ACL. So that's kind of what is going on with him.
Jim: Just a few more here. If the Packers are going to be contenders, it sounds like Rodgers is going to need to play even better. What else has gone well enough to convince Packers fans this team can make a run?
Tom: Well, they have to get some guys healthy first. They have to get Clay Matthews back, and he's missed the last two games and that has killed them on defense. Everybody benefits from having Clay Matthews on the field, and they were having guys who were having really good pass-rushing years and as soon as Matthews fell out of the lineup, they have fallen to the wayside. So they need him back. Their defense is decent when it's healthy. At one point this past week they were down their top four cornerbacks, so they are playing with two really young guys and they need to get some guys back. They also need to find a running game. They have to work Ty Montgomery more as a running back, and when they get James Starks back, that will help them a lot, too. Matthews was adamant he was going to play (against the Colts) and then he had a setback on Friday. I don't know if it's the kind of setback that will keep him out this week, or if it was just a minor one that kept him out of one game. But it seems to be a game-time decision just about every week. We'll have to wait and see whether he is going to play or not.
Jim: OK, last one here. I noticed the Packers are ranked No.1 in the NFL in rushing defense. How good have they been, and how are they getting it done?
Tom: Well, it's been solid. But early on they weren't facing very good running backs. Just about every team they faced their running backs were hurt or not available, and then they went up against Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott ran through them like they weren't even there and that kind of set them back a little bit. (Elliott had 28 carries for 157 yards vs Packers on October 16). But they are a solid run defense. They have a decent defensive line. Mike Daniels is kind of the guy who leads the way there, and him and Letroy Guion are good run players. When Matthews is there, him and Nick Perry are really good run players, and good at keeping players contained and funneling them inside. Perry is a really good run defender, a very strong and powerful guy. When those two are in the lineup, it is hard to run outside on them. When Matthews is out, Julius Peppers plays a lot, and he is not a very good run defender. So there's some yards to get there. It will be interesting on Sunday, because DeMarco Murray is probably the second-best back they'll face so far, so that is a big matchup for them.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series between the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers. (AP Photos)