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Green Bay Packers Week 13 Preview: Houston Texans

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Packers Return to Lambeau For Must-Win versus Texans

Last week in Philadelphia, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers fulfilled stage one of six on their gauntlet of must-win’s toward their end goal of reaching the playoffs. Next up, the Houston Texans (6-5).

Despite the Texans winning their only game at Lambeau in 2008, Rodgers first season under center, there is no place better for Green Bay to continue their run than at home against Houston.

So far in 2016 they have only compiled a 1-4 record away from NRG Stadium, scoring 13.2 points per game and giving up over 26. This is compared to a 5-1 record at home where they average 21.3 points per game and have allowed just 17.1.

If the Packers are going to exploit this trend, it all starts with making quarterback Brock Osweiler throw the ball early and often.

Packers Defense Hoping to Exploit Struggling Texans Passing Game

Houston, you may have a quarterback problem.

When the Texans snatched Brock Osweiler away from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos for $72 million in the off-season, many scoffed at the idea of him being a franchise quarterback after such a small serving size. It seems those people were on to something.

Only $37 million of the four-year contract is guaranteed, but even that seems outlandish based on Osweiler’s production.

His QB rating of 72.2 this season is not only the worst in the league, it’s also lower than Houston rejects of the past like David Carr (75.5), Sage Rosenfels (84.3), Case Keenum (76.8), and TJ Yates (73.6).

Osweiler is also only completing 59.5% of his throws for a dismal 5.8 yards per attempt on his way to 13 interceptions, tied for the most in the league.

The inability of the young signal caller to play consistently has hindered the Texans offense as whole, placing them as the 31st ranked offense in the league behind only the Los Angeles Rams. They also rank 30th in red-zone efficiency and 29th in points.

With limited speed, the 6-7 Osweiler has proven to be a sitting duck in the pocket. When pressured he will make some terrible decisions, something the Packers must take advantage of on Sunday.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is currently the only member of the Green Bay secondary with an interception, and if they want to put the Texans away they have to make plays when they get the chance.

This will come in large part through stopping one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league, DeAndre Hopkins.

Perhaps one of the more puzzling aspects of Osweiler’s season has been his failed connection with Hopkins.

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Last season Houston quarterbacks Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, TJ Yates, and Brandon Weeden combined for a 93.8 QB Rating when targeting Hopkins, this year Osweiler has only managed to record a 51.0 rating.

Moreover, in 2015 Hopkins caught 111 passes for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns from the aforementioned four different quarterbacks, and many thought with a stabilized position he could put up even better numbers. This hasn’t been proven true, as he has caught just 55 balls for 610 yards and three scores in 2016. 

The unique thing teams have found out about stopping him is that you actually can’t. The only way to truly contain him is through Osweiler. Hopkins can make any catch in any situation if given the chance, but with any heat at all Osweiler becomes unable to make the simplest throw.

This is why the health of Clay Matthews will be of the utmost importance come this weekend.

It seems the mere presence of Matthews’ long blond hair on the field strikes fear in opposing offenses. Green Bay’s quarterback hurries, hits, and sacks all go up when he’s on the field.

In fact, the Packers sack leader Nick Perry has recorded all eight of his sacks in games in which Matthews has been active. This is because he has eaten alive one-on-one match-ups brought on by backs and tight-ends chipping in on Matthews side instead of his own.

However after a shoulder injury Monday, Matthews usage is completely up in the air once again. Early signs point to him playing, but he’s fooled us before.

Alongside Hopkins, rookie wide-out Will Fuller has shown glimpses of greatness in his time on the field as well.

After having some knee and hamstring issues early in the season, a healthy Fuller has looked hard to stop. Last week against the Chargers he caught four passes for 60 yards, but looked to be a block or juke away from a touchdown every time he got a touch.

On the season he has caught 30 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns, as well as scoring a touchdown in the return game early in the season against Tennessee.

Stopping two weapons like Hopkins and Fuller is no easy task, especially for a secondary as painfully mediocre as Green Bay’s. The improved health of Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall at corner will be a plus, but it will more than likely come down to Osweiler’s ability to make throws.

It May Be Miller Time For the Texans

Despite the big money acquisition of Osweiler being a dud, their other pick-up of Lamar Miller has worked to perfection for Houston.

Miller is currently 5th in the league in rushing yards at 881, and has shown tremendous skill and patience within a bad offense. He has speed and acceleration that can burn just about any defense, and is versatile in both pass catching and pass blocking.

He’s been a rare bright spot for the Texans and has aided in making Houston the 5th ranked rush offense in the league with 1,331 yards from scrimmage. They also own the league’s second longest active streak of 100 or more yards rushing at six games. 

The Packers defense spent much of the year as the league’s top rush defense, but has fallen lately due to injuries to inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez.

Now ranking in at 7th giving up 90.2 yards per game and 17th giving up a total of nine rushing touchdowns, the Green Bay defense will have their work cut out for them against Miller. This will be especially true if they are still without the duo of Martinez and Ryan in the middle and are forced to bring Matthews inside or rely on Carl Bradford and Joe Thomas for four quarters.

It’s All About Rhythm and Timing For the Packers Offense

The Packers offense had their smoothest game of the year against Philadelphia on Monday, and seemed to unlock the mystery box filled with quick timing patterns and high percentage throws they’ve been hiding all year.

Aaron Rodgers looked as good as he’s ever looked and everyone followed his lead against a very good defensive unit.

This week they will be matched up with an even better group from Houston.

The Texans defense is led by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, a man who’s never met a blitz he didn’t like. According to Sportradar he has blitzed 31% of all snaps in 2016, the eighth highest rate in the league. His defense ranks fifth in yards (316.7) and is tied for 12th in points (21.5), and is mainly responsible for Houston being above .500 at the moment.

Crennel’s affinity for bringing pressure should play directly into the Packers new found game-plan.

The more men sent at Rodgers the less will be available in coverage on receivers Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery on the edge and across the middle, leaving openings for yards after catch on various bubble and screen passes.

Head coach Mike McCarthy proved last week he isn’t apposed to replacing the run game with short yardage passing to his backs and slot receivers, a realization that came about six weeks later than it should’ve.

While Houston’s corners are talented, they are prone to penalties and can be beaten down the field.

A.J. Bouye, probably their best cover corner, will more than likely be placed on Adams most the game. Adams certainly has an advantage on the shorter, slower man, and the head-to-head should yield another big game for him in both the intermediate and deep pass game.

Randall Cobb should also see an increase in targets this week against Kareem Jackson in the slot. Jackson is a physical player over the middle but doesn’t present much of a fight in terms of keeping up with Cobb’s first step.

If Rodgers isn’t able to get the ball out quick to his play-makers he could be in for some trouble. Even without J.J. Watt, the Houston defense has some real players up front.

Outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus are about as physically intimidating as edge rushers can be.

Clowney hasn’t translated his college dominance to the pros, but has shown spurts of potential. Thankfully for Aaron Rodgers and his injured hamstring, he’s been ruled out due to injury.

Mercilus has been playing lights out as of late, and is the real killer on this defense. Much like Clowney, he’s a freak athlete that can make plays that make your jaw drop. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and will provide a handful for Green Bay’s line.

The Packers have found something in this up-tempo pass heavy offense, and I don’t think a reeling Texans defense will be able to hold up for 60 minutes against the exotic pistol formations.

Final Thoughts

The current front-runner for the NFC North, the Detroit Lions (7-4), head into Sunday with a reasonably safe lead over both the Packers (5-6) and the Minnesota Vikings (6-6).

However, they face a tough road ahead.

After they play in New Orleans (5-6) this Sunday, they head home for a game against division rival Chicago (2-9) before heading out for road games against the New York Giants (8-3) and Dallas Cowboys (11-1). Assuming the predicted favorite wins each game, they would be 9-6 heading into a week 17 game against the Packers.

This means if, and yes it’s a big if, Green Bay wins out until that point it could set up another winner-takes-all championship game in the final regular season game.

Of course all of this is mute if the Packers don’t take care of business this week, but as I said last week and will reiterate this week, never count out an Aaron Rodgers led team.