Their backs are against the wall and they go up against an undefeated Houston Texans team at Reliant Stadium.
It’s not exactly the script Mike McCarthy drew up for the 2012 Green Bay Packers
Joking aside, after a stunning 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts many people have begun to write off the Packers for this season. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has had accuracy issues and the Packers defense actually looks even worse than the horrible unit of a year ago. With the Packers at 2-3 and staring 2-4 in the face with the mighty Texans with the league’s best defense up next, there is very little reason for optimism in Titletown, right?
Hold your horses, folks. Look back two seasons ago in the game before the Packers started their magical run to Super Bowl XLV. The team was 8-5 and would eventually fall to 8-6, but in that game against the New England Patriots with a still unproven Matt Flynn at quarterback the Packers fought hard and had the Patriots on the ropes until losing on the final play.
The Packers face a similar situation Sunday night at Reliant Stadium. The Texans are 5-0 and have the best defense in the league to go along with an incredibly potent offense. It almost like the Packers are looking into a mirror of what they should be but are not.
Don’t count the Packers out, however. McCarthy did a masterful job in that stretch run in 2010 and is at his best when his team’s back is against the wall. Not many people, including Packer fans, are giving McCarthy’s team much of a chance in this one.
The Packers might have the Texans just where they want them.
Scouting the Texans
On offense, it starts with quarterback Matt Schaub but by no means does it end with him.
Schaub is a smart quarterback. He’s as smart as Rodgers in the sense that he takes care of the ball and doesn’t force interceptions. This season, he has eight touchdowns against just two interceptions and has thrown for 1,162 yards. He has been sacked 18 times however and while that’s not as bad as the Packers who have given up 21 sacks, it shows the offensive line in pass protection is a weak spot for Houston in particular on the right side.
If the Texans don’t beat you through the air, then they’ll beat you on the ground. Arian Foster is the perfect back for Texans head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense. When Kubiak was offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, his offense spit out 1,000 yard backs like no one else in NFL history–Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis to just name a few.
This isn’t to take anything away from Foster or to call him a system back. Through five games, Foster has rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also caught one touchdown pass and has 60 receiving yards on the year. If there is one big flaw in Foster’s game, it’s his tendency at times to cough up the football. He fumbled five times last season and lost three of them.
Complementing Foster as an offensive weapon is wide receiver Andre Johnson. If Johnson could be summed up in one phrase, it’s “Megatron of the AFC.” Johnson is a physical receiver with incredible athletic ability and is able to go up and make the tough catches. At 6’3”, he’s a bigger receiver and that makes him that much more difficult to cover.
Perhaps even more terrifying than the Texans offense is their defense, led by second year defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Despite losing defensive end Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, the Texans have actually gotten even better on defense in large part to the emergence of defensive end JJ Watt, the former Wisconsin Badger. Watt is ranked second in the NFL in sacks with 7.5, second only to Clay Matthews with 8. He is such a disruptive force on the defensive line and is adept at tipping passes at the line of scrimmage. The porous Packers offensive line will have their hands full with him Sunday night.
The linebacker unit will definitely miss the presence of Brian Cushing, who was lost for the season due to an ACL injury. Brooks Reed, Tim Dobbins, Bradie James and Conor Barwin make up a group that lost a good amount of its punch when Cushing went down. This is a group the Packers could pick on in the middle of the field on Sunday.
The Texans secondary is solid if not a little underestimated. Cornerback Kareem Jackson leads the group with three interceptions, but this is not a group that will always kill an offense by forcing turnovers. Phillips preaches fundamentals to his defense and the secondary is good at wrapping players up and not allowing many yards after the catch. It’s something the Packers could learn a lot from.
Keys to a Packers victory
If the Packers can effectively attack the right side of the Texans offensive line with consistent blitzing and pressure from Jerel Worthy or CJ Wilson, that should open things up for Matthews to do his thing.
The Texans could add an extra tight end to help shore up any protection holes on the right side, but if Worthy and/or Wilson do their part, they should eliminate some of the double teams Matthews will inevitably face and allow him to hunt Schaub. If they get Schaub on the run, then they need to key in on Foster to make sure a quick dump pass doesn’t turn into a huge gain.
Rodgers may be one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL but even he will have difficulty evading the pressure from the Texans defensive line. If he is under too much of a siege, then he needs to get rid of the ball much faster than he has been.
It almost seems like the pass protection woes from 2009 have returned and Rodgers has rediscovered his bad habit of hanging onto the ball too long instead of throwing the ball away. If the Packers offensive line somehow can hold up, then Rodgers should be able to find his old rhythm which will bring the offense back into sync again.
-Stay aggressive on defense
The Packers jumped out to an early lead against the Colts last week only to suffer an embarrassing collapse in the second half. The same nearly happened a week before against the New Orleans Saints.
For whatever reason, whenever the Packers build a lead of two scores or more it seems defensive coordinator Dom Capers automatically goes into a soft zone defense. This has continued to bite the Packers as they consistently give up long yardage plays, in particular on third down and long.
The Packers need to stay on the attack defensively. Continuous blitzing will affect Schaub. If the Packers can contain Johnson, then the Texans passing attack loses a good amount of strength. This means no three-man rushes and a consistent pass rush from the Packers.
Packers 37, Texans 34 (OT)
The Texans are the chic pick this week, even amongst a fair amount of Packer fans. The teams’ struggles are well known and the Texans so far look to be the best team in the AFC.
Still, never underestimate McCarthy with his team’s back up against a wall. When he engrains the “us against the world” mentality into his players, good things almost always happen. With so many writing the Packers off, there is little doubt that’s the approach McCarthy took this week.
The Packers play strong against the Texans defense and the Packers defense actually comes up with a big stop late in the game. It’s a huge win for the Packers and while it may not be enough to stop people from speculating ridiculous things about them (looking at you, Colin Cowherd), it gets the team back to.500 and keeps the vultures away for a little longer.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke