Call me crazy, but I have a gut feeling that the 2-3 Green Bay Packers have a decent chance of defeating the 5-0 Houston Texans in Houston Sunday night. Win or lose, I expect the Packers to play a very spirited game.
Now why would I say this? I mean, the Texans have the third-ranked defense in the NFL. That includes being ranked ninth in rush defense and third in pass defense. The fierce pass rush of the Texans has also sacked the opposing quarterbacks 16 times (led by J.J. Watt's 7.5 sacks), which is tied for 6th in the NFL.
Plus, the Packers just lost a game against the Indianapolis Colts, in which they squandered an 18-point lead in the second half.
Add to that the current injury situation, which saw the Packers place running back Cedric Benson on IR, while it looks like wide receiver Greg Jennings, tight end Jermichael Finley and nose tackle B.J. Raji will all be out vs. the Texans.
All in all, the Packers have not reached the level of playing on all cylinders yet in 2012. They have come close offensively, with the game against the New Orleans Saints being a prime example and also the first half performance last week vs. the Colts being another.
The Green Bay defense is much improved over last year, but has not gotten as many turnovers and has given up passing yardage too liberally.
Special teams has also improved again this year, but the kicking game laid an egg last week.
Bottom line, still I expect the Packers to play very well, even with all the adversity facing them. I'm listing five reasons why I believe Green Bay has a real chance to beat the undefeated Texans on Sunday night.
Aaron Rodgers is having what most would call a good year. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, compared to four picks for 1,307 yards. That all adds up to a 97.0 quarterback average, which is eighth in the NFL.
Not bad, but not MVP-type numbers either. Why?
The big play is missing. Rodgers only has one completion of 40-plus yards and only has 12 completions of 20-plus yards in five games.
Also, Rodgers has been sacked 21 times, which leads the NFL. That also puts him on a pace to be sacked 67 times, which would be a new franchise record.
Add to all of that, Rodgers is now going to face the very tough defense of the Texans, which is ranked third overall in the NFL. The front seven of the Texans causes a lot of havoc, especially J.J. Watt.
Still, I believe Rodgers will put together one of his best performances of the season. However, he will need help. The offensive line has to play well and the receivers need to play at their best level. The running game also needs to lend a helping hand.
Rodgers also needs to throw the ball away if his primary options aren't available. That is one reason why he has been sacked so often.
Bottom line, this game is on national television. The big spotlight will be on Rodgers and the Pack, as they face the big, bad undefeated Texans.
Rodgers has faced similar tests, and more times than not, he delivers.
For Aaron Rodgers to have a big game against the Houston Texans, he'll need time to study the field and to look for big plays. That's easier said, than done.
As I wrote earlier this week, controlling the front seven of the Texans is a difficult task, but there are ways to get that job done.
The key is stopping J.J. Watt, who not only has 7.5 of Houston's 16 sacks so far this season, but the left defensive end has also batted down or deflected eight passes.
The right side of the Packers' offensive line, with help from center Jeff Saturday will need to play at their best level of the season Sunday night.
The running backs and the tight ends will also be utilized to help out in pass-blocking. At times that scenario will limit the options of Rodgers, in terms of his receivers, but it will also give him a much better chance of having the time to look for an open receiver.
Speaking of open receivers, the Packers have done a much better job the last two weeks of getting separation from the defensive backs, as well as doing well in the YAC (yards after catch) category.
You also can't afford to drop the ball against a defense like Houston has. The Green Bay receivers have dropped the ball far too often this year. Plus, Rodgers has missed on wide open receivers too, like he did last week when he missed Jordy Nelson down the right sideline for what would have been a touchdown.
The running backs, even minus Cedric Benson, still have to do their part as well. The season ending ACL injury to linebacker Brian Cushing of the Texans will help the Packers in terms of running the ball inside. Rodgers is going to need the offense to be balanced somewhat, if he is expected to have a big game.
All phases of the Packers' offense has to be in sync for Rodgers to succeed. That's tough to do against a defense like the Texans. But it can be done. It's going to take some intestinal fortitude and a professional effort.
This group has done this before. Just remember Super Bowl XLV vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Compared to the 2011 season, the defense of the Green Bay Packers has played much better this season.
Last season, the Packers were ranked dead last in total defense in the NFL. The Packers were also ranked 32nd against the pass.
This year, the Packers have had some lapses, especially in allowing too much passing yardage, but overall, their performance has been much better.
The Packers are currently ranked 16th in the NFL in total defense, which includes being ranked 17th in run defense and 16th in pass defense.
The biggest turnaround for the Packers this season has been in getting to the quarterback. Last year, the Packers only had 29 sacks all season, which had them ranked 27th in the league. This year, the Packers have 18 sacks in just five games, which has the Pack tied for the league lead.
The Packers are led by Clay Matthews, who leads the NFL with eight sacks.
For the Packers to get into the top ten defensively, they need to be able to get more turnovers, which ironically was their best attribute in 2011, when the defense led the NFL with 31 interceptions. This year, the Packers have only five picks, and four of those came in one game.
The Packers need to have a complete performance from their defense Sunday night. Both physically and emotionally.
The Packers need to have a relentless pass rush, plus take the ball way when the opportunity beckons.
The defense will be facing two of the biggest offensive weapons in the NFL, as Houston has running back Arian Foster, who can burn a defense either by running or receiving, while Andre Johnson is considered one of the elite wide receivers in the game.
Foster is second in the NFL in rushing, while the Packers have faced receivers of Johnson's ilk recently. The secondary did very well against Brandon Marshall of the Bears, but did not fare well against either Marques Colston of the Saints or Reggie Wayne of the Colts.
Bottom line, it's gut-check time for the Packers and it's time to put up or shut up on Sunday night
I believe that they will put up.
The special teams of the Packers has been very good this year overall. The return game has been good. The coverage units have been better than average. Tim Masthay has been punting at a Pro Bowl level. And up until last week, kicker Mason Crosby had been perfect.
But Crosby had two costly missed field goal attempts vs. the Colts last Sunday and that played a large part in the painful loss the Packers suffered against Indianapolis, a game in which Green Bay squandered an 18-point lead.
Special teams has to be very good Sunday night for the Packers to win.
Both of the victories by Green Bay this season were helped in part by big special teams plays.
In the game against Da Bears, the Packers executed a fake field goal to perfection as tight end Tom Crabtree scored on a 27 yard shovel-pass from Masthay.
In the win against New Orleans, the Packers faked a punt on their own 17-yard line, when John Kuhn ran for the necessary yardage for a first down.
The Packers and Texans have only played twice in their history. The series is even at one game apiece. Both games were decided by a field goal.
Crosby is a Texas native, so he'll most likely have family and friends in attendance. He needs to forget about last week and get back the focus he displayed earlier in the season.
The Packers will need that from Crosby, along with everyone else on special teams.
The Green Bay Packers have a proud coaching staff. Almost all of them have the rings to prove it. The game against the Texans in Houston on Sunday night will be a big test for the coaching staff, in terms of their teaching and motivating expertise.
Mike McCarthy has always had his teams ready to play on the road. McCarthy and the Packers are 28-22 on the road since 2006. The Packers are also a perfect 3-0 in the postseason on the road.
The loss to the Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck last week was very similar to a loss the Packers had in 2009.
Like last week, the Packers were heavily favored and were facing a rookie quarterback. In 2009, the Packers faced Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Bucs, and like Luck did last week, Freeman brought his team back late in the game to secure an upset.
The Green Bay coaches and the players turned their season around in 2009 after the loss to the then-winless Bucs. The Packers won seven out of their last eight games to reach the playoffs.
The Packers have a similar challenge this week.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers also has another reason to motivate his players against the Texans. Like he was with the Carolina Panthers, Capers was the very first coach of the then expansion Houston franchise.
Beating the undefeated Texans (in Houston) would have to be a highlight in the stellar coaching career of Capers.
Bottom line, I believe the coaching staff of the Packers will have the team ready to play. And not just play...but play very well.