Packers vs Texans: 10 Keys to Victory for Green Bay
For the Packers, the season hasn't exactly gone as planned as they're under .500 and with a 2-3 record.
It's been quite the opposite in Houston, however, where a fairy tale season is unfolding. One of only two teams without a loss in the NFL, the Texans couldn't have written a better script.
Working in the Packers' favor is their 18-5 all-time record in Sunday night games, good for a .783 winning percentage that is No. 1 in NFL history. To keep that record intact, here's what the Packers must do to take care of business and upset the Texans.
Stop Arian Foster
This season, the Packers have given up only one 100-yard rushing day to an opposing running back. Frank Gore rumbled for 112 yards in the season opener on only 16 carries, for an average of 7.0 yards per carry.
While it might seem they've done a good job limiting other running backs, they've also allowed 98 yards to Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 and 4.9 yards per carry last week versus Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts.
Arian Foster is probably better than all the previously mentioned running backs. Containing him will be a challenge.
Through the first five games of the season, Foster is second in the NFL in rushing (532 yards), just a few yards behind Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs (551).
Foster was also second in the NFL in rushing last season and led the league in 2010.
The Packers are a middling NFL team against the run, ranking 16th and giving up an average of 114.2 yards per game. It would go a long way towards a win if they can hold Foster and the Texans below that average.
Have a Balanced Attack
Twice this season head coach Mike McCarthy has made a crucial mistake by not calling for a balanced offensive attack, and both times have resulted in a Packers loss.
The first instance came in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks. Out of 27 first-half offensive plays, 24 were passes, meaning the Packers ran only three running plays the entire half.
It was a waste of Cedric Benson's talents, and, even worse, it allowed the Seahawks defense to not respect the Packers run and simply pass rush with abandon. As you might remember, the Packers gave up eight first-half sacks that game.
McCarthy's error in judgement reared its ugly head this past weekend in Indianapolis once Cedric Benson was injured and left the game, and again the Packers' offensive play caller abandoned the run.
Holding a 21-3 halftime lead, the Packers opened the second half with seven consecutive pass plays spanning two separate drives. One of the drives ended in an Aaron Rodgers interception and the other a three-and-out.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a pass-heavy offense, but there is no reason McCarthy shouldn't see that neglecting the run is hurting his offense, especially when his team has a huge second-half lead and must milk the clock.
Figure out How to Replace Cedric Benson
After being injured in the Colts game last weekend, running back Cedric Benson has been placed on the injured reserve/designated for return list.
Benson will be eligible to return later in the season once his Lisfranc foot injury heals, but until that time, the Packers are going to have to figure out how to use their new-look offensive backfield.
Prior to Benson's injury, Alex Green only had three carries all season, John Kuhn had five and Randall Cobb had two as well. Any other carries were by quarterbacks.
Benson had the remaining 71.
A good showing by Green once Benson left means he's probably in line for a heavier workload. Nine carries for 55 yards was a good start, but he still very inexperienced.
One player who will see his playing time vastly increase is James Starks, who hasn't been active for a single game yet this season as he's been limited by a turf toe injury.
Starks is finally healthy and able to return. He will definitely be part of the team's plans moving forward. How much of a part remains to be seen.
Get the Passing Attack Back to 2011 Level
The Green Bay passing attack has obviously not played up to its 2011 level of production, which is a major reason the Packers have two more regular-season losses than they did all of last year.
The Packers don't necessarily have to get back to the same near record-breaking level they were playing at last season, but they definitely have to become more efficient.
The highly-touted Packers receiving corps has to learn to play with a new-found physicality, because they're getting out-muscled by opposing defenses.
After combining for 24 touchdown receptions last season, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have one between the two of them so far in 2012. Jennings has been hampered by injury, but that is still an unacceptable level of production.
Aaron Rodgers needs to get in tune with his receivers in a hurry. He threw only six interceptions all of 2011, the Packers quarterback already has four this season.
Perhaps the most troubling statistic is Rodgers 6.9 yards per pass attempt, which is far off the pace of last year's 9.2 yards that led the NFL.
Don't Let Andre Johnson Have a Big Game
For two consecutive weeks, the Packers have been unable to stop the opposition's top receiving option.
Dom Capers' unit also provided little resistance against 33-year-old Reggie Wayne, the veteran Colts wide receiver that burned the Green Bay secondary to the tune of 13 receptions for 212 yards and the game-winning touchdown reception.
It shouldn't be hard for the Packers to identify the Texans' No. 1 receiving option on Sunday.
Andre Johnson has twice led the NFL in receiving in 2006 and 2008, had had over 100 catches in a season three times and is still a threat at age 31.
It's not as if Packers shouldn't respect the other receiving options in Houston—like tight end Owen Daniels—but they're advised to make someone else other than Andre Johnson beat them.
Force Multiple Turnovers
With the exception of Jay Cutler's four-interception game in Week 2, the Packers defense has exactly one interception this season, courtesy of rookie cornerback Casey Hayward.
That's a far cry from last season when the Packers' 31 interceptions led the NFL.
Dom Capers won't be picky how the Packers get their turnovers going forward. He'd probably be just as happy with some fumble recoveries.
The problem is, the Packers are the only team in the NFL who haven't recovered a single fumble this season, even though they've had one overturned by penalty and been the victim of a poor officiating call on another.
If Green Bay wants to win the turnover battle, they've got to start forcing turnovers at a much higher level than they have the first five games of the season. It doesn't matter how they come—interceptions or fumbles—but they've got to start happening.
Get Consistent Pass Protection
There have been two stretches in 2012 in which the Packers' pass protection has seemingly gone absent.
The first highly-publicized occurrence was the first half of the Seattle game.
While the Packers held the Saints to zero sacks in Week 4, they regressed back to their old ways against the Colts and gave up five sacks in the second half alone.
Granted, some of the burden falls on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers for holding onto the football too long, but not all the problems can be blamed on the quarterback. The offensive line is the primary culprit. It has to improve.
The play of Bryan Bulaga has been particularly egregious. The Packers right tackle has given up a total of 24 pressures this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), three times that of any other Packers lineman.
No matter who's at fault, the Packers can't afford any more performances where they're giving up five and eight sacks in one half. It's unrealistic to expect they're going to be perfect in that department, but by giving up handfuls of sacks at a time, drives are just being killed.
Rest and Rehab
Running back Cedric Benson is out for Sunday's game and beyond, but there's a whole host of other players the Packers need get better in a hurry.
In addition to Benson, also being forced to exit last week's game were tight end Jermichael Finley and defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
Raji rolled a ankle in the second quarter and Finley injured his shoulder in the third. Neither returned to action.
Both players were held out of practice on Wednesday. According to head coach Mike McCarthy, none of them will practice until at least Friday, if then.
In the same boat is wide receiver Greg Jennings, who has aggravated his groin at multiple points throughout the season and sat out the Packers' most recent game against the Colts.
Between those three players, that's a lot of talent sidelined by injury. The Packers can ill-afford to have so many impact players sit out of the Texans game.
Whether or not they practice this week is beside the point. All of them are experienced enough to miss practice time and still be ready to play on Sunday. They just need to get healthy, visit the training room and do whatever it takes to be on the active 46-man game day roster.
Keep the Passing Lanes Away from J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt, the former Wisconsin Badger, is playing at an incredibly high level this season.
With 7.5 sacks this season, he trails only the Packers' Clay Matthews in that department. But Watt has another trick up his sleeve that makes him even more dangerous.
Watt has deflected eight passes this season, three of which have been intercepted, reports JSOnline. Having such a tall frame and long limbs has made him capable of impacting a game in more ways than one.
The Packers have to be wary of Watt and where he is on the field at all times. Aaron Rodgers, in particular, needs to have a sixth sense about where Watt is rushing.
When possible, the tackles need to steer Watt out of the back of the pocket. When he takes an interior route, it's incumbent upon Rodgers to keep his passes out of Watt's way as much as possible, because the passing lanes will be much smaller and the windows tighter.
Gain Confidence for Mason Crosby
After missing two field goals against the Colts, including a 52-yard attempt that would have forced overtime, the Packers offense has to do its part to get Mason Crosby back on track.
Crosby's final field goal last Sunday was a knuckleball that wasn't even close to being good.
The last thing Crosby needs is to be faced with another long shot 50-plus yard field goal against the Texans.
Certainly, Crosby is a professional and will act accordingly, but it would behoove him to kick a series of shorter, more makeable field goals before putting him in a pressure situation once again.
The Packers offense would be advised not to stall on the opponent's 35-yard line, especially early in Sunday's game. Getting in a funk would not be a good thing for Crosby.