March 24, 2018

Texans To Watch: Packers Edition

The Houston Texans battle the 13 Time World Champion Green Bay Packers in front of a national audience in consecutive weeks this Sunday night at Reliant Stadium.  Although the Packers are not as formidable as they were last year, this game is probably the biggest test for the Texans so far this year.  With the loss of inside linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans’ defense will need to step up and play sound fundamental football with an emphasis on tackling.

The Packers’ recent setbacks so far this year appears to be directly related to their lack of running back production and balance in the play calling – and to make things worse, they loss their starting running back Cedric Benson last week.  In their loss to the Colts, they abandoned the run all together but according to Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy the offensive play calling is predicated on the defensive alignment.

“We don’t just line up sometimes and run it or just line up and throw it. We do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage. The way they play on defense factors if it’s run or pass.

“I don’t think you just line up and count your 10 runs and your 10 passes and that’s balanced.  I don’t believe in that philosophy,” said Mike McCarthy.

Cedric Benson, whose sprained foot is in a walking boot, will be replaced with a committee of unproven running backs.


Texans to Watch Defense:

This is an intriguing match-up for Wade Phillips’ defense.  Does Phillips play mostly nickel and dime packages daring the Packers to run the ball?  This strategy would also allow Phillips to blitz from so many different positions (safety or corner blitzes).  If this is the strategy, then the players to watch will be the inside linebacker play of Bradie James and or Tim Dobbins.  Phillips probably won’t ask James or Dobbins to cover the tight ends, especially Jermichael Finley (if he plays, he has not practiced this week), too often, but they will be responsible for covering underneath routes, screens, the running back coming out of the backfield, and when Aaron Rodgers scrambles.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings’ (who has not practiced all week) groin injury may limit his ability to play Sunday, so the Packers wide out/punt returner Randall Cobb is probably the biggest threat besides Aaron Rodgers.  The key to beating Rodgers is pressuring him.  The question is can the Texans do it with just their front five in Barwin, Smith, Cody, Watt and Reed as they have so far this year?  The Packers have given up 21 sacks on the season (compared to the Texans 3) so it appears there are some areas to exploit.  Phillips will probably need to disguise some blitzes and or coverages seeing that the Packers make a lot of play calls at the line of scrimmage – which may be difficult if the crowd at Reliant is too loud.

Texans to Watch Offense:

In order for the Texans to win this game, the offense will need to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.  As the rest of the NFL morphs into a pass first league, Kubiak’s Texans are built to do the opposite.  The Texans, unlike many teams – including the Packers, can beat teams 3 ways: by running the ball, passing the ball deep, or by passing to the tight ends underneath the coverage in the middle of the field.  Kubiak’s laminated and high lighted play call sheet, which is bigger than the menu at IHOP, is loaded with plays to combat any defensive alignment.  It all comes down to execution.

You can bet defensive coordinator and former Texans’ head coach Dom Capers will try to disrupt Schaub’s timing by blitzing from all over the field.  Capers puts Clay Matthews in the right match-ups to utilize his pass rushing skills, and the Texans should expect Matthews to line up over Duane Brown or whoever plays right tackle (Newton/Harris), this week’s offensive players to watch.  The Texans must keep Schaub upright and stress free.

Capers’ 3-4 defense relies on a big nose tackle to occupy blockers.  B.J. Raji (6’2” 340lbs) is their guy but as of Monday his ankle was in a walking boot and he has not practiced this week.  In order to run the ball effectively, the Texans will need to be able to push Raji around and his injury may allow just that.  Keeping Capers and the Packers’ defense off-balance – run when they think pass and pass when they think run – will determine how successful the Texans’ offense is come Sunday night.  Bottom line, the Texans do not want to make this game a shootout.  Their plan will be the same as it has always been – ball control and take your deeps shots when they are presented.

For most Texans’ fans, this is more than a football game – this is an opportunity to show the football world that Houston is a legitimate contender and Reliant Stadium is the toughest place to play.

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