My how things have changed. Green Bay lost only one regular season game last year and that didn't happen until week 15. Of course they should be 3-2 instead of 2-3 if it hadn't been for an awful call from the replacement refs, but last years Packers team wouldn't have let a team starting a rookie quarterback hang around and keep the game close long enough where a bad call could change the outcome. They can't protect Aaron Rodgers, their defense can't stop anybody, and they have injuries at nearly every position, but this game will still be a good test for the Texans. Yes they've struggled, but the Packers have a lot of weapons on offense that can spread opposing teams out and force them to cover in space which could be a problem for a team missing their star middle linebacker and signal caller on defense. The Texans have had several impressive wins this season, but winning on a short week, without Brian Cushing, and against the 2011 MVP would be their most impressive victory to date.
Texans Offense Vs. Packers Defense:
Overall the Packers rank a respectable 14th in points allowed, but I think that number is a little deceiving. That number was lowered by games against the Seahawks and Bears who were just miserable on offense. Against competent offenses like the 49ers and Saints, and even the Colts last week, the Packers gave up an average of 29 points per game. Really the only thing the Packers do well on defense is rush the passer, but the Texans can neutralize that with screens and an effective running game. If their starting nose tackle B.J. Raji misses the game on Sunday night (he's questionable), the Texans should be able to run all over the Packers much like they did against the Jets on Monday night.
Our friends at the Battle Red Blog found an interesting stat pointing out the Packers struggles stopping the run to the left side this season.
The Packers are 17th (4.07 Adjusted Line Yards) in defending runs behind the left tackle and worst in the league at runs outside of the left tackle (a whopping 7.65 ALY or 1.55 more than the second-worst team).
The Texans have arguably the best left tackle and best running back in the league so expect to see them attack the left side with the run game quite a bit on Sunday night.
Looking at individual matchups, Derek Newton has struggled in pass protection this year and he'll face perhaps his biggest test yet this week against Clay Matthews. The Packers linebacker has 8 sacks this season which ranks first in the league after a sack was taken away from Watt, and Matthews has been one of the best pass rushers in the league over the last four seasons. The Packers will move Matthews around to both sides and even line him up over center at times, but when he's lined up across from Newton they'll have to give him help. I don't care if it's James Casey or Owen Daniels or even leaving in Arian Foster, but they can't let Newton block Matthews one on one. We saw what happened on the first play of the Broncos game when Newton was matched up one on one with another great pass rusher in Elvis Dumervil; hopefully they've learned from that play. The Packers have holes in their secondary that Schaub can exploit (rank 25th in passing touchdowns allowed) if they keep him on his feet. The Texans have given up just three sacks all season (first in the league) so I don't expect any problems in pass protection this week.
Texans Defense Vs. Packers Offense:
Through five games this season the Packers have allowed 21 sacks which ranks 31st in the league. Last week the Colts got to Rodgers five times, a concerning total from a team that hasn't rushed the passer very well this season. Before last week the Colts had seven sacks in three games; a rate of 2.33 sacks per game, half of what they got against the Packers. The Texans rank fifth this season in sacks thanks in large part to J.J. Watt who ranks second in sacks, so I expect them to get to Rodgers. When the Texans blitz, Cushing has often been the extra rusher this season so it'll be interesting to see how they use his replacement Tim Dobbins. Even without Cushing, I expect them to put on consistent pressure all game with just their front four against the Packers shaky offensive line.
The Texans defense has been more vulnerable against the run this season than the pass so the loss of Cedric Benson for the Packers is a big one. Through five game Benson rushed for 248 yards, the other five Packers with rushing attempts this season have combined for 238 rushing yards. Alex Green who should get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, averaged 6.3 yards per carry last week against the Colts so he could have success, but the Packers run the ball only 22 times a game; sixth fewest in the league. The Texans rank fourth in the league this season in passing yards allowed; a number even more impressive when you consider that most of their opponents have fallen behind early and been forced to become pass happy. When healthy the Packers have the best passing game in the league, but neither Greg Jennings or Jermichael Finley have practiced this week (both questionable, game-time decisions) and they don't seem as efficient or explosive this season. Through five games this season the Packers are averaging 240.8 passing yards per game; they averaged 329.6 passing yards per game during their first five games last season. The Texans need to jam the Packers receivers as much as possible, throw off the timing of their short passing routes, and give time for J.J. Watt and crew to get to Rodgers.
The Texans finally made the move to replace Trindon Holliday. Starting this week Keshawn Martin will be returning both kicks and punts, something he did very well in college. I think it was a good move, not only was Holliday not breaking off any big returns, but he struggled nearly every game to even get back to the 20 yard line.Through five games the Texans rank dead last in yards per kick return at 17.6; a move had to be made. Martin returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown while at Michigan State and I believe will be a huge improvement over Holliday.
On the other side, the Texans have had issues in kick return coverage this season and will face another dangerous kick returner this week. Randall Cobb had two returns for touchdowns (1 punt, 1 kick) last season and returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this year against the 49ers.
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