As far as philosophies go, the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers couldn’t be more different in their approach to winning football games. The Texans are a balanced team, playing solid defense while employing an equal mix of the run and pass offensively. The Packers, on the other hand, are fairly one-dimensional. They have success airing it out on offense to the detriment of the run game, while the defense simply tries to keep up and only allow one less point to their opponent than their own offense scores. Both teams have demonstrated that their individual methods of football can result in wins. With that being said, it’s easier in theory to stop a team that is one-dimensional than one with a balanced attack, so the key for the Texans this week is to shut down the Packers lone weapon, the pass game.
Reigning league MVP QB Aaron Rodgers hasn’t quite found rhythm yet with his usually explosive offense. This group has been a top 10 outfit the past five plus seasons, in big part to the play of Rodgers and his unmatched stable of wide receivers. However, through five games in 2012, the Packers rank a middling 13th in passing offense while Rodgers and Co. seem to be out of sync. Errant throws, dropped balls, and insufficient protection have all contributed to the Packers’ lack of typical success.
There is, however, a two-part silver lining that should leave Packers fans feeling optimistic about their remaining eleven games. The first is that all parties involved recognize the Packer offense has struggled, and Rodgers himself has taken the blame head-on. This type of leadership is a necessity for a team’s quarterback, and Rodgers hasn’t always directly taken on this responsibility. The first step is always to admit you have a problem, and when the guy running your offense can admit he and his group aren’t up to snuff, it’s a positive step in the right direction.
The second part is actually a bit of addition by subtraction. Coming off an abysmal 2011 for the defense, the Packers have clearly tried to help out their struggling D by making a more conscience effort to run the football. The Pack brought in free agent RB Cedric Benson to fill the role of feature back, a void only sporadically met since the days of Ahman Green. However, with Benson’s injury last week, the Packers are so depleted at running back that they’re likely to abandon their attempts at balance and get back to slinging the rock all over the field as they have the past two seasons.
All of this plays into the hands of the Texans, who can sidestep the play-by-play uncertainty of whether the Packers will run or pass and simply pin their ears back for the pass rush. The key weakness of the Texans D has been stopping the run, a task only made more difficult in the wake of ILB Brian Cushing’s season-ending ACL tear. That being said, since the Packers no longer have anything resembling a run game, the Texans get an additional week to address this problem.
Despite double digit leads in every game the Texans have played this season, the pass defense remains stout. Opposing offenses are forced to pass early and often to keep up with the Texans, and unlike their Packer counterparts, the Texans D routinely steps up to the challenge, ranking fifth in the NFL. DE J.J. Watt and the pass rush put immense pressure on the QB while the secondary has done an improved job locking down receivers.
However, the Texans haven’t faced a passing attack like the Packers yet this season. They’ve faced a great QB in Peyton Manning, but Peyton doesn’t nearly have the same weapons that Rodgers does. The Texans, like just about every other team in the NFL, will struggle to matchup with the Packer receivers, leaving the team at a huge disadvantage. They key to beating the Packers, as demonstrated by the likes of the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, is to take advantage of a weakening Packer offensive line and get in Rodgers face. A contained rush that prevents Rodgers from using his feet to escape will force him to get rid of the ball sooner than he’d like, and should result in several sacks. Rodgers has been sacked 21 times this season, good for second most in the NFL. Sunday night’s game should be a field day for the Texans’ pass rushers.
The Texans’ ability to limit the Packers passing attack will be the key to winning Sunday night. The Texans have clear advantages in every other facet of the game, but this is the one area in which the Packers excel better than anybody else in the league. A strong defensive performance, coupled with a time-consuming offensive game plan, should help the Texans win at home in deciding fashion.
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