As some of you know, I'm not 100% Texans fan. I'm only 98.4% Texans fan. The 1.6% comes up once every 4 seasons when the Texans face my first team, the Green Bay Packers. I'm a fan of the Houston Texans, but I'm an owner of the Green Bay Packers. I'll also show the same loyalty to the Texans that I have for the Packers over the last 40+ years. Well, 98.4% of the time. I think I'm in a pretty good position as a fan of both teams to preview this game.
Okay, here's my preview of the Packers vs. Texans game. It's a text wall, so settle in. For more info on the matchup from the Packers side, there is no better source of information than The Dope Sheet:
This link is to the abbreviated version, but that one contains a link to the full 30+ page pdf. Makes this comment look small.
One of my favorite Dope Sheet items is the "Connections" section, which lists ways the two teams are linked. For example, did you know that Packers Head Coach Matt LeFleur's first coaching job was with the Texans as an offensive assistant? That was in 2008-2009, when Texans DC Anthony Weaver was a player for Houston. Another good one: everybody knows JJ Watt is from Wisconsin, but did you know Max Scharping is from Green Bay? Lots of interesting stuff in there.
On to my preview. The Packers are 3-1 all time against the Texans, and 2-0 in Houston. The current records suggest that the Packers should extend that streak, but Houston had the more inspiring performance last week, as they both lost, but Green Bay lost bad. Could the Packers have been exposed? Green Bay won every game after a loss last year (3 games), so maybe them coming off a loss isn't a good thing.
One thing the Packers did right last Sunday was scoring on their first drive. The Packers are the only team in the NFL to score on the opening drive of every game. The Texans have punted on their first drive in every game, although their last two games they did get a couple first downs, so things are looking better. That's important, because I think a fast start either way makes a big difference for the Packers.
With the lead, the Packers can run a balanced offense, while the opponent has to play catch up, which usually means more passing. This helps hide the Packers weakness against the running game, and makes their defense look better than it really is. The balance on offense can keep the opponent's defense off balance, allowing the Packers to use a lot of creative plays and spread out the field. If the Packers are behind, Rodgers tends to try to do it all himself.
How to beat Green Bay? Let's ask Tampa, as they made it look easy.
Tampa Bay's defense beat the Packers offense by first stopping the run, then blanketing Davante Adams and pressuring Rodgers. They were able to get into Rodgers' head early with two interceptions - his only two on the season. Also, the only turnovers of the season for Green Bay. The Texans defense will need to focus on Adams in the passing game. He's Rodgers favorite target, and while the others might hurt you, Adams is the only one who has shown he can do it consistently.
If Rodgers had a bad game, RB Aaron Jones had a terrible game. Only 15 yards on 10 carries, and the Packer offense leans heavily on him. He did find the end zone once, and added 3 catches for 26 yards, but the Buccaneers speedy linebackers kept him pretty well bottled up all day. That will be a job for Cunningham and Adams this Sunday. Backup Jamaal Williams is a capable back, and good in the passing game, but Jones is the playmaker at RB. If you can stop Jones, stopping Williams should be easy. If you can't stop Jones, you're in for a long day.
The Tampa offense used a strong running game and the remains of Rob Gronkowski to beat the Packers defense. It was the third 100 yard game in a row for Ronald Jones, and backup Keshawn Vaughn added 5 carries for 42 yards. I know everybody hates it when the Texans run the middle, but that is a real weak spot for the Packers defense. Might be a good time for Akins to break out at TE too.
On the Texans side, they can't make mistakes. Rodgers is a master at catching defenses off guard, getting them to jump offsides, or catching them with too many men on the field. That's a nightmare for a first year DC, because you aren't getting off with a 5 yard penalty for those mistakes - Rodgers tries to turn every one of them into a big play.
Blitzing Rodgers isn't normally effective, but Tampa had success rushing and dropping different guys (zone blitzing). They also got a break when LT David Bakhtiari went out. Initial reports are that he'll be "Bak", but he might be limited. Houston will need to test him early, or abuse his backup. They'll also need to keep their speedy linebackers clean, especially Cunningham. Cunningham vs. Aaron Jones will be a key matchup, as will Adams vs. the Texans secondary.
The Packers defense is not an ideal match for the Houston offense. They are at their best against passing offenses, which is where the Texans have had the most success. Their secondary has some injuries Houston might be able to exploit. Look for them to try and pick on CB Josh Jackson when he's in the game. The Green Bay pass rushing duo of Smiths has been mostly a solo act by Za'Darius Smith so far (5 sacks), but Preston Smith is fully capable of breaking out. They should also get good interior pressure from Kenny Clark and Kingsley Keke (2 sacks). I expect Watson to be under pressure, but I expect that most weeks.
Where the Packers defense is weak is interior linebackers, and the running game. If the Texans RBs are going to have a breakout game, this is their chance. Teams have run well against Green Bay, but they are usually teams that run well against other teams too. I think I have less confidence in the Texans runners than I do in the Packers defense. As mentioned above, TE coverage is an issue for them as well. Fells could do some things, but I think Akins skill set could exploit the Packers D.
The Packers special teams are solid. Mason Crosby hasn't missed a FG, and the punter has been okay - when they've needed him. His 7 punts last week equaled his total punts for the previous 4 games combined. Former Texan Tyler Ervin has been the return guy for Green Bay, but he missed last week with a wrist injury. The Packers missed him more on offense, as they like to use him on jet sweep action, or other plays designed to spread the field. No word yet on if he'll be active.
To sum up, like every sports talking head in the country, I expect Green Bay to bounce back with a big game against Houston. But there are some ways the Texans can hurt the Packers, and Watson is enough of a winner and a playmaker to turn the tables, especially if the Packers make a couple mistakes. Problem is, the Packers don't make many mistakes. I'm predicting something like 41-24, Packers.