Packers vs. Texans: How Will Aaron Rodgers Maneuver against Vicious Defense?
If the Green Bay Packers were stifled by the Indianapolis Colts, then how on earth is Aaron Rodgers supposed to maneuver against the far more dangerous Houston Texans defense?
That’s the question on every Green Bay fan’s mind as the 2-3 Packers prepare themselves for the unbeaten Texans on Sunday.
This year’s Packers squad has looked nothing like last season’s 15-1 offensive juggernaut, and whether or not they recover could come down to the play of Rodgers, the league’s reigning MVP.
The Texans’ defense has been vicious, but here are a few ways that Rodgers can go about attacking them.
Get Outside of the Pocket and Extend the Play
It’s no real secret that the Houston pass rush has been the strength of their defense.
The Texans rank fifth in the league in sacks and boast maybe the best pass-rusher in the league in defensive end J.J. Watt (7.5 sacks).
Fortunately for Rodgers (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), he’s used to taking a beating.
The Packers have been dreadful at protecting their franchise quarterback this season, giving up 21 sacks in just five games. Only the Arizona Cardinals have allowed more sacks this season, and Rodgers can expect to be pressured, hurried and harassed again this week.
The Houston pass rush has bulldozed every quarterback in its path, but Rodgers has one big advantage over those quarterbacks—his legs.
Rodgers is the first quarterback that the Texans have faced that actually has the ability to get outside of the pocket and make accurate throws on the run. He’ll need to showcase every ounce of that ability if he wants to move the ball against this defense.
Because honestly, the way things have looked so far this season, the Texans could send just one man at Rodgers and still generate a lot of pressure. They’ve been that good and the Packers’ offensive line has been that bad.
Rodgers knows that his line has struggled this year (he is the one who's been taking all the sacks) and knows that he’ll have to extend plays with his legs if Green Bay wants to move the ball effectively. Look for him to get on the move and improvise against the Texans
Take Some Shots Downfield
Rodgers’s mobility won’t just help him in terms of escaping the Houston pass rush. His ability to extend plays will be crucial in taking advantage of the Texans’ biggest weakness—defending the deep ball.
Houston often has cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph play a lot of bump and run coverage.
This scheme has worked well so far (the Texans rank fourth in the league against the pass), but because it calls for the corners to play so close to the receivers, it leaves the Texans vulnerable to passes downfield.
That’s something Aaron Rodgers can look to exploit.
In five games this season, Houston has given up 13 passes of 20 yards or more, including six passes of 30 yards or more.
Now, a few of those plays were short yardage passes that turned into big gains, but many were not. That’s a pretty glaring weakness for a defense that some say is the best in the league.
What’s even more concerning is that the Texans have only faced one elite quarterback this season—the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning. And thanks to Manning’s diminished arm strength, a case could be made that Houston hasn’t faced a truly elite quarterback all season.
If guys like Ryan Tannehill and Mark Sanchez had success throwing the long ball against the Texans’ defense, then imagine what Aaron Rodgers can do.
His ability to avoid the pass rush means that receivers like Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings (should he play) will have plenty of opportunities to get open and make some big plays down the field. Expect to see a lot of long passes from Rodgers this week.
Attack the Middle of the Field
Houston may have won its Monday night game against the New York Jets, but that victory came at a heavy price.
The Texans lost star inside linebacker and defensive signal-caller Brian Cushing to a torn ACL. Cushing was hit with a low block by Jets guard Matt Slauson and is out for the rest of the season.
That’s a huge blow to the Texans’ defense. Cushing’s biggest impact came against the run, but he was also very skilled in coverage. His replacement for this week will be seven-year veteran Tim Dobbins.
Dobbins actually played under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in San Diego, so he has some experience in Phillips’ defensive system. But he isn’t the dynamic force that Cushing was on the defensive end, and Rodgers will look to take advantage of that.
In his game preview, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn assessed both Dobbins and fellow inside linebacker Bradie James, saying:
Dobbins, with 17 starts in seven years, is well-versed in Phillips' defense but is little more than a run-down player. James, 31, can't run at all anymore and is extremely vulnerable in space.
That’s it. Those are the guys you attack.
Without Cushing, the Houston inside linebackers don’t have the ability to stick with the Packers’ receivers or tight ends. That gives Rodgers two solid ways to attack Houston—the deep ball and the middle of the field.
Obviously the Houston defense is still tough, and Rodgers and the Packers have their work cut out for them. But cracks have begun to emerge.
Rodgers will have some ways to attack the Texans defense, and it might even be enough to leave Houston with a win.