The Green Bay Packers have a big road matchup on Sunday Night Football against the Houston Texans. It’s a tough matchup following an tough loss at Indianapolis last weekend. The Texans are clearly one of the best teams in the NFL and are undefeated at 5-0.
The Packers will need to put together their best overall performance in order to get a win. Doing so would be big step in the right direction for the Pack. Let’s look at the key matchups that will likely factor into the outcome.
Texans DE JJ Watt vs. PackersBryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton
Normally a QB matchup would lead off this segment but JJ Watt is the most important guy on the field for the Texans right now. He leads the NFL in sacks with 8.5 and talk of his being Defensive Player of the Year has already begun.
The Texans run a base 3-4 and Watt lines up on the left side of the line. Because of his skill set, Watt can stunt outside or in and will likely matchup against both Bulaga and Sitton along with C Jeff Saturday. Houston will likely mix it up in order to keep the Packer OL off balance and create favorable matchups. Any success by Watt spells trouble for the Packer offense.
Bulaga’s play has dropped off, at least statistically this season. Our very own Adam Czech breaks it down further. As mentioned, the Packers are going to have to turn in one of their most technically sound games to come out with a win. This rings especially true for the O line and Bulaga. Confidence is a big part of a player’s success on the field. In addition to the fundamentals, Bulaga needs to come in determined to win his matchups.
Sitton continues to be one of the Pack’s best O linemen, but the line as a whole has not been consistent. He will surely have his hands full with DT Shaun Cody as well as Watt. Again, confidence is key to Sitton’s performance. It’s the one factor he can control and improve between now and game time. Houston’s pass rush has been effective this year and keeping Watt at bay will help neutralize a majority of it. It will also dramatically increase Green Bay’s chances of winning this one.
Texans RB Arian Foster vs. Packers defense
Foster has more carries than any other RB in the NFL with 132 and is 2nd in rushing yards with 532. He will get his carries against the Packer and Houston will look to control the clock with the run game. The Packers are giving up just over 114 yards/game on the ground.
Foster has six TD’s on the year and continues to be one of the top backs in the league. Last week, the Packers struggled to contain Colts RB Donald Brown outside the tackles. Houston has the ability to exploit this apparent weakness. The Packer secondary may become important in run support. The Green Bay defense has to find a way to create 2nd and 3rd and long situations for Houston.
Creating a deeper challenge is that Packers DT BJ Raji left the Indianapolis game with an ankle injury. He did not practice on Wednesday and his status for Sunday’s game is uncertain. It would be a big loss if Raji can’t go.
With a back as effective as Foster, the Packers must respect the run and focus on taking away this aspect of the Texans’ offense. Much easier said than done. If the Packer defense can have any success in this area, it will limit play action possibilities and keep some pressure off the Green Bay secondary.
Texans TE Owen Daniels vs. Packer secondary
Daniels is Houston’s leading receiver with 23 catches and three TD’s. With attention needing to be paid to WR Andre Johnson on the outside by the corners, it will be up to Green Bay’s interior to defend Daniels.
This likely comes down to safeties Morgan Burnett and Charles Woodson. Daniels is a big and athletic TE and has a size advantage on both safeties. Tackling has been an issue for the entire Packer team and it cannot surface this weekend if they want to limit Daniels. He is averaging 13.5 yards/catch this year and the Pack have to somehow limit that total.
Because of the multiple offensive threats the Texans have, Daniels will likely get several favorable matchups against Packer corners and safeties one-on-one. Much like how the O line has to find a way to win their matchups, the same applies to the Packer DB’s. Communication is key and ensuring that Daniels doesn’t slip behind the coverage or find a soft spot in the zone to keep Houston drives alive.
Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Packers CB Tramon Williams
One week removed from the daunting task of chasing Colts WR Reggie Wayne all over the field, Williams will see a lot of Andre Johnson this Sunday. Johnson is behind only Daniels in total catches and has two TD’s on the year.
While he approaches his 10th year in the league, Johnson is still a downfield threat. His longest catch this season is 60 yards. With the Packers needing to keep an eye on Foster and Daniels, Johnson will get open. It’s a matter of Texans QB Matt Schaub finding him. And he’s a big target at 6’3”.
Williams has commonly been placed on the opposition’s best WR. Last week, the Colts moved Wayne around to get more favorable matchups. Johnson tends to stay on the outside as the X receiver and Williams should be shadowing him. While many have been calling for Packer DB’s to be more physical and press opposing WR’s at the line, losing that battle against Johnson will be costly.
Still, Williams showed an ability to make up ground and keep with faster WR’s in 2010. He will need one of those performances on Sunday to neutralize Johnson and allow the Packer D to stay balanced in their attack. I think we will all scream if the Pack come out in that same old zone and if they do, hopefully it works. My thought is that they need to press and do what they can to be disruptive and give the pass rush time to get to the QB.
Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Texans LT Duane Brown
Brown is one of the top LT’s in the league. The Texans have only given up three sacks all year with Brown having surrendered none. Clay Matthews is behind only Watt in total sacks with eight. This will be a battle. Brown brings a nasty demeanor to his game and looks forward to tough matchups. He was quoted as saying he looked forward to facing Baltimore Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs during last year’s playoff matchup. He was either lying or he’s a rare breed.
Matthews appeared to be gassed by the end of the Colts game as evidenced by an inability to get into the backfield in the 2nd half. He had a shot at Colts QB Andrew Luck and got a hand on him late in the game but was unable to finish as Luck slipped away for a big completion.
It’s hard to keep Matthews off the field with what he brings to the defense but his stamina needs to be monitored. A fresher Matthews late in the game could pay some big dividends as Brown tires too. When the Pack have blitzed this year, it has largely been ineffective. Most have come through the middle. A well-placed corner blitz here or there may help alter Houston’s protection thereby creating a better matchup for Matthews to get home to the QB.
Of course, leaving a Houston WR to a LB or safety could also prove dangerous but as I said, the Pack will have to take some chances to keep Houston on their heels.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: