5 Things the Green Bay Packers Need to Do to Beat the Houston Texans
5 Keys to Packers at Texans
There’s no getting around the fact that Sunday night’s game against the Houston Texans is going to be tough for the Green Bay Packers. The Texans are feeling good at 5-0 and boast a fearsome defense, while the Packers are still struggling to carve out an identity.
Arian Foster and the Packers run defense is a match made in Gary Kubiak’s heaven. Foster, the best running back in the league, is averaging over 100 yards a game this season and will be facing a suspect Packers run defense that is giving up 111 yards per game.
On the defensive line, the Texans will be without linebacker Brian Cushing, who’s out for the season with a torn ACL. Though losing Cushing is a big deal, the Texans still have a lot of talent on the defensive line, including leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt. Wisconsin native/traitor Watt has already racked up 7.5 sacks in five games, and looks to add to that total against a Green Bay offensive line that has given up more sacks than any other team, excepting Arizona’s paper doll offensive line.
While the Texans’ strength is their defensive line, the secondary is no slouch, either. The Texans have held opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 51% completion rate, though a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber should be able to hurt that statistic a bit.
The Packers’ own secondary will have their hands full with Andre Johnson and a couple of really solid tight ends in Owen Daniels and James Casey. Quarterback Matt Schaub is not exactly a human highlight reel, but he’s a smart, reliable quarterback who protects the ball and generally does not take risks.
So, aside from the Texans’ rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, and passing defense, I don’t think the Packers have much to worry about. As Packer fans know, this game really comes down to which Packer team shows up. Will it be the team that dominated the Chicago Bears in Week 2 or the team that forgot to show up for the second half in Indianapolis last week?
Here are the five things the Green Bay Packers have to do well on Sunday if they want to hand the Houston Texans their first defeat of the year:
Commit to the Running Game
This is a lot harder said than done when your starting running back has just gone to the IR with a Lisfranc injury. Alex Green has only played a handful of snaps this season and 2010’s flash-in-the-pan James Starks has not yet seen the field this season, despite being healthy the last two weeks.
The most important thing is that the Packers cannot abandon the run if neither Green nor Starks is able to provide consistent rushing; instead they just have to get creative. If the running game isn’t working, they need to push the screen game, getting short passes to Green, Starks, John Kuhn, or Randall Cobb.
The Packers also have to use Cobb’s versatility and speed to their advantage by putting him in the backfield if the running game proves ineffective. The Packers have used Cobb this way here and there, with some success, and I think more of it would be a good thing.
Consistency in the Pass
This goes for the entire offense: offensive line, receivers, and Aaron Rodgers. Striking a balance with the run game will go a long way in this respect. The Packers passing game has suffered when they have been unable to threaten with the run, as opposing defenses haven’t had to commit defenders to the line for the possibility of a run. Rodgers needs to be more willing to throw the ball away, even if it means punting, rather than taking a sack by holding onto the ball too long.
With Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley questionable for Sunday, the Packer receiving corps will be challenged. I don’t think it would hurt to dust off veteran Donald Driver for more than just a couple of snaps to give Houston another receiver to worry about. James Jones has turned in the most consistent performance of any receiver in the young season and will need to do the same this week.
Yes, this sounds obvious, but if you have watched the Green Bay secondary play softer-than-a-baby’s-bottom zone, you’ll understand why this is so important. I’d rather see a Packer defensive back get beat in man-to-man coverage than watch every opponent’s pass go uncontested in this not-terribly-competent zone defense they’ve been running. The problem is that the Packer defense has a lot of rookies that probably cannot be trusted in man coverage yet. That said, the zone defense has got to tighten up. I’m sick of seeing the other team’s receiver catching balls without a single Packer player even in the TV screen.
The Packers defense is going to give up yards - that’s just the way it’s going to be. The Packers can live with that - if the defense is forcing turnovers and giving the offense extra possessions. After taking the ball away 38 times last year, the defense has only notched five turnovers in five games. (They really have 9 turnovers ATR - Adjusted for Terrible Reffing - but I’ll let that go.) The Packers have often played a high risk-high reward style of defense and when you’re not cashing in on the “reward” part, it gets ugly fast. 2-3 team record ugly.
Be Flexible in Play Calling
I’m generally a fan of coach Mike McCarthy’s play calling, but this year, he’s had some missteps that have cost his team games. The most notable offenses have been the first half of the Seattle game and the second half of the Indianapolis game. In both instances, the Packer offense was grossly lopsided in favor of the pass to the point where the defenses didn’t even have to line up to cover the option of a run.
McCarthy has to be willing to let the Houston defense dictate his offense in some ways. If Alex Green suddenly gets hot, go to him, even if you do have the best quarterback in the league. The Packers and their coaches have to be better at in-game adjustments, because they won’t be able to afford waiting until halftime until to get going against this Houston team.