I could easily just say that beating the Green Bay Packers, as your Houston Texans will try to do on Sunday Night Football on NBC, is as simple as keeping All-Galaxy quarterback Aaron Rodgers under pressure all night. The Seattle Seahawks "beat" Green Bay by getting to Rodgers for eight sacks and 12 hits. The Manningless, yet Lucky, Indianapolis Colts had five sacks and six hits in their upset win over the Packers last week. Aside from the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay's offensive line has given up the most sacks and now they are without their starting, and perhaps only, rushing threat.
As simple as it is to say that, I think there is more to this game than that. With Greg Jennings' status up in the air, Kareem Jackson showing some sort of ballhawk skills, and Jermichael Finley's hands o' stone, Randall Cobb looks poised to be an X-Factor in the slot. I would talk about Brice McCain versus Cobb, but the smart fellows on Battle Red Radio talked about that earlier this week. As my talking points dwindle, I did find something exploitative while pouring through all the statistics.
In a lot of statistical areas, Houston and Green Bay are similar. That is to say they match up pretty well and there aren't too many areas, Houston's pass rush aside, where either team can really boast an advantage - except for Houston running on the Green Bay defense.
Yes, there is some statistical claim that Green Bay's best bet might be running against Houston. The Packers are a surprising sixth-best in rush DVOA (+6.7%) while Houston sits 14th-best in defensive rush DVOA (-14.8%). The Texans will play without inside linebacker Brian Cushing, but the Packers are also without running back Cedric Benson, the perfect kind of back who could have exploited Houston's soft-gooey center. The Green Bay back-ups, which will play by committee, have a combined 218 carries in seven NFL seasons. Add in the fact that Green Bay averages 22.4 runs per game, sixth-lowest in the NFL, and it makes for a very unknown match-up.
What is not unknown is head coach Gary Kubiak's love of the run, as the Texans are averaging a second-best 36.6 runs per game. As we get back to my main point, Houston's best offensive match-up is their rush offense (seventh in DVOA; +5.6%) against the Green Bay rush defense (16th in DVOA, -10.7%). As we saw Monday night, the Texans are beginning to round into form on their rushing attack, after a bumpy start, as Arian Foster ran for 153 yards on 29 carries. Backed by a probable Ben Tate and Justin Forsett, Houston has the talent to wear away at a spotty Packer rush defense.
The biggest weak spot for Green Bay's defense is defending runs on the right side of the defense. The Packers are 17th (4.07 Adjusted Line Yards) in defending runs behind the left tackle and worst in the league at runs outside of the left tackle (a whopping 7.65 ALY or 1.55 more than the second-worst team). It is worth noting that the Packers sit 23rd in runs on the opposite side, the right tackle's side, too, but Houston loves them some left side rushing.
In Monday's game against New York, 21 of 33 rushes went to the left for 5.3 yards per carry. For the season, the Texans are gaining 4.6 yards per carry to the left, a full yard more than what they gain on the unsettled right side. It is easy to understand why the Texans rush to the left nearly a third of the time. It is a clear strength and favorite of the team to go left, and I do not see Kubiak and company shying away from that when they discover that it is a weakness of the Packers. I also do not see them shying away from the right side either, since they could use this as a confidence booster.
You have a coach who likes to run, a defense susceptible to the run, and their weak/strong points at the same point of attack. It is the easiest way to help minimize Rodgers, and all these zone-stretch plays will make the play action bootleg work that much more when the Texans look to put the game away. Even though I am wary of Foster's workload, the Blueprint is pretty clear: zone-stretch left, zone-stretch right, and physically dominate the Packers on NBC.
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