After a surprising loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week, a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations now teeters on the brink for the 2-3 Green Bay Packers. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Packers now have to attempt to salvage the season by traveling to face the 5-0 Houston Texans.
Knocking off the Texans in their own house in prime time will be no easy task, but their record aside, the Packers are still a very dangerous football team. If they can execute in the following areas, Green Bay can emerge from Sunday night's contest with a win.
Abandon the Run and Spread the Field
It's not like anyone confused Green Bay's running game with Houston's, but with starter Cedric Benson now out at least eight weeks with a Lisfranc injury, the NFL's 20th-ranked rushing attack is in dire straits. Head coach Mike McCarthy told James Carlton of CBS Sports that the Packers will utilize a committee attack featuring Alex Green, James Starks and Brandon Saine:
The first carry will be Alex Green. He's a little farther ahead than James is right now and that's the way we'll go. But we have three halfbacks and we'll utilize all three of them. I have no time for competition. We're going to take the hot hand.
With all due respect to those backs, the Packers aren't going to move the ball consistently on the ground against Houston's defense. So Green Bay would be well served to just come out firing. If the Texans defense has a weak spot, it's in the secondary, so spread the field, run an up-tempo no-huddle attack and try to keep Houston from getting into a rhythm defensively.
Protect Aaron Rodgers
Of course, for the Packers to successfully implement a pass-heavy attack Sunday night, they'll need to do something that they've struggled with all season long: protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
To this point in the 2012 season, only the Arizona Cardinals have surrendered more sacks than the Packers. And as McCarthy told Carlton in a separate piece, he's well aware that Green Bay will have its hands full with explosive defensive end J.J. Watt, who trails only the Packers' Clay Matthews this season when it comes to sacking opposing signal-callers:
You always keep your eye on the Wisconsin kids. You always appreciate what they do and what they've done for the University of Wisconsin, but now what he's done down there. He's making big plays from the defensive end position. Their inside pass rush from him and (Antonio) Smith is as good as we've seen.
It goes without saying, but the Packers absolutely have to find some way to get Rodgers some time— whether it's by keeping a back or tight end in to block (which wouldn't help the whole "spread the field" idea much), running the majority of plays from the shotgun, designed roll-outs...whatever it takes.
Step Up the Pressure Defensively
Spurred on by star running back Arian Foster, the Houston Texans have one of the most formidable rushing attacks in the National Football League. And with the Packers ranking in the middle of the pack (so to speak) in run defense, odds are that Foster will have a pretty good night Sunday.
However, when the Packers do get the Texans into obvious passing situations, they need to do everything in their power to put pressure on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub and try to pressure the 31-year-old into making a mistake.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers needs to trust that cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Charles Woodson can cover wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels without help and dial up some exotic blitz packages.
This could be it for the Green Bay Packers. Another loss would put the team in very real trouble. The NFC is deep this season, and 9-7 likely won't be enough to get the Packers in the playoffs like it did the New York Giants a year ago.
So, it's time to throw caution to the wind and get aggressive, both offensively and defensively. At this point, the Packers really don't have a choice.