The Packers season has not been what they expected, and while there is plenty of season left, the turnaround has to start now.
Outside of the cozy confines of Lambeau Field as well.
You can't count the Packers out yet, but there are some things they very much need to address this week if they are to win and start regaining ground on their division rivals.
When the Packers are on Offense
At this point the biggest thing the Packers need to do is get Aaron Rodgers to settle down and do less. He's clearly pressing and his decision-making, as we discussed last week, isn't very good right now.
Rodgers needs to settle down and pick his spots better, even when under duress.
The Houston Texans are down Brian Cushing (ACL), due to a more-than-questionable block by the New York Jets in Week 5, but they still have the arguably the best defender in the game in J.J. Watt.
As up and down as the Packers' offensive line has played during the opening frame of the season, you can expect Watt to do some damage here.
So again, as I have said for weeks, I suggest a lot of short and quick passes. Now, the downside here is not having Cedric Benson, who was a plus in pass-blocking. Neither James Starks (who may not play) nor Alex Green have excelled at pass protection which only adds to Rodgers' issues.
However, Green is a solid pass-catching back so he can contribute out wide or out of the backfield as can Swiss army knife Randall Cobb.
In fact, get Cobb involved as early as possible. He is deadly with the ball in his hands, so put it in his hands. Have him take direct snaps, line up in the backfield as a running back and catch bubble screens and quick slants.
Get the ball into his hands fast and negate that ridiculous Texans' pass rush.
Also, if you need to keep tight ends in on the line to help block, do it. Jermichael Finley will be needed to catch the ball (or try to, because he hasn't been terribly successful at times this season), but even he can pitch in as a blocker. Whatever the Packers need to do to give Rodgers time to throw, they should do it.
But again, short, efficient passes are the way to go when trying to stymie the pass rush.
Should the Packers try to establish the run?
It will be tough to do. I like Alex Green, I really do. But you could see his ceiling on some of the runs when he replaced Cedric Benson last week.
He's good but not a player who can carry the ball the way Benson could, at least not yet.
Plus the Texans are pretty darn good against the run.
I would run the ball, but not try to overdo it, even if both Green and James Starks are available. Sure, Cedric Benson isn't Adrian Peterson, but so far the rest of the backfield isn't quite as good as Benson, so judicious running but no more.
Again it comes down to keeping Rodgers upright and using short passes to chunk away at the field.
Stop forcing vertical throws, which are rarely there, and concentrate on winning football games.
Here's another big thing for the offense: stop getting pounded at the line. The receivers are being beat up at the line, and they have to stop letting it happen. They need to be more physical than the Texans secondary.
The running game should have helped the short passing game, but that's unlikely to happen unless Green can show us something new or Starks stays healthy and gets effective again.
When the Packers are on Defense
When not losing parts of his ear on tackles, Matt Schaub is a good quarterback. Not great, not 'elite' (whatever that means this week), but good.
Clay Matthews is back to being Clay Matthews, while A.J. Hawk is playing better than ever before. However, overall there isn't enough pressure from people without flowing blonde locks of hair (well, Hawk cut his, but you get my point), and Matthews is still seeing a lot of attention.
Nick Perry is playing better but not well enough yet to attract attention from Matthews. This leaves a lot of time for Schaub to attack the secondary.
However, the Texans more than likely will just shove Arian Foster down Green Bay's throat. The Packers are all right stopping the run, but Foster is a rare talent and will be very hard to contain.
It will be up to the interior of the defensive line to step up and force the Texans to throw. The defensive line needs to hit him behind the line as often as they can. If they can force Schaub to throw more than the Texans would prefer, the secondary should be up to the task of slowing down the Houston offense.
Sam Shields has been playing well, Tramon Williams is playing at his 2010 level and Charles Woodson is playing well at safety, as well as corner.
Andre Johnson has been below average, but that's in part due to the heavy dose of running the Texans do.
So while on paper it seems like he has lost a step—in the event they slow Foster down or jump out to a lead, forcing the Texans to throw—Johnson remains a threat.
Williams will have his hands full and having Woodson, Morgan Burnett or M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian assist over the top would be helpful.
Of course, then the linebacker corps needs to hold tight end Owen Daniels in check. Unfortunately, Perry isn't much in coverage, and Matthews doesn't drop in coverage too much.
It may require the safeties to move up and help.
It's not going to be easy, but the pieces are there for this defense and frankly, the Packers need this win.
This is going to be a tough game for the Packers, as they have struggled so much this year, and the Texans are a team I had flagged as a potential loss, even when I was very high on Green Bay.
They will have to limit mistakes, Rodgers in particular. He cannot throw into double- and triple-coverage as he has the last few games. The Houston secondary will kill him for it.
However, if they can execute on both sides of the ball, they should give the Texans a run for their money.
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