Sports

Packers vs. Texans: Preview, Keys, Prediction

The Green Bay Packers (5-6) return to Lambeau Field for the first time in a month as they play host to the Houston Texans (6-5), with kickoff slated for Noon CST. Details on the matchup:

  • The game will be televised regionally on CBS with Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson on the call. Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren call the action for Packers flagship 620 WTMJ, carrying the broadcast over the 50-station Packers Radio Network. The game can also be heard across the country on ESPN Radio, with Mark Kestecher and Mark Schlereth on the call.

  • This is the 4th meeting between the two teams, with Green Bay holding a 2-1 advantage.

  • The Packers won the most recent meeting, 42-24, in Houston. Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in that game.

  • The Texans won the last meeting at Lambeau Field, a 24-21 game in 2008.

  • Green Bay has scored at least 23 points in eight of their last nine games.

  • Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 18-3 in December games at Lambeau Field, the best such home record in the NFL since 2006.

Here’s how Green Bay’s offense stacks up against the Texans defense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 24.9 ppg (11th)

Houston: 21.5 ppg (t-12th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 364.9 ypg (11th)

Houston: 316.7 ypg (5th)

Passing

Green Bay: 266.7 ypg (7th)

Houston: 209.2 ypg (5th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 98.2 ypg (22nd)

Houston: 107.5 ypg (19th)

And how the Packers defense matches up with the Texans offense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 26.3 ppg (25th)

Houston: 17.6 ppg (29th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 350.8 ypg (13th)

Houston: 316.9 ypg (29th)

Passing

Green Bay: 260.6 ypg (21st)

Houston: 195.9 ypg (31st)

Rushing

Green Bay: 90.2 ypg (7th)

Houston: 121 ypg (5th)

What does it all mean?

After reeling for four consecutive weeks, the Packer defense allowed just 292 total yards last week in Philadelphia, marking the first time they had held an opponent under 350 yards since week seven. Sunday’s game against the Texans certainly looks like it could very well be another step in righting the ship defensively. They will face a Houston offense that has been held under 300 yards five times in 11 games and hasn’t thrown for more than 256 yards in any contest this season.

Offensively for Green Bay, Sunday represents what should be a decent test. With the Texans defense ranking fifth in both total yardage and passing yardage, it will be up to Aaron Rodgers & Co. to prove their breakout performance in Philadelphia wasn’t a flash in the pan for 2016. The Packers should also get an opportunity to continue reviving the running game against the middle of the road rush defense of the Texans.

When Green Bay is on offense…

JC Tretter and T.J. Lang will most likely miss another week. Aaron Rodgers was officially listed as questionable on the Friday injury report. Since the league eliminated the “probable” designation this season, it’s safe to assume Rodgers will be good to go on Sunday. The bigger question: just how good to go will he be? Rodgers finished the Philadelphia game despite tweaking his hamstring, though he was noticeably less mobile. The Packers built much of their offensive momentum last week on quick, rhythm passes, and it will be essential to do that again if the quarterback isn’t able to move as much as usual. Houston will likely test Rodgers by sending pressure early, which should give a good indication of the two-time MVP’s mobility.

If the Texans do lean on a pressure-heavy game plan, the Packers should see some increased opportunity in the running game. James Starks will likely continue to get the bulk of the work, but Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael surely will figure into the plan as well. According to Mike McCarthy, Michael has impressed with his ability to pick up the Packers’ playbook, though he got just one carry against Philadelphia. Statistically, the running game is the biggest hole in the Houston defense. The path the Texans choose in regards to how they handle Aaron Rodgers will play a big part in deciding how Green Bay’s running game fares on Sunday.

When Green Bay is on defense…

The Packers finally get some decent news on the injury front. Linebackers Clay Matthews, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez were all listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Matthews left the Philadelphia game briefly with a shoulder injury, but returned and will play Sunday despite limited practice time this week. Ryan was close to returning last week, but was scratched prior the game. While Martinez’s status for the Texans game remains somewhat murky, he is clearly making strides towards getting back on the field.

Green Bay’s fifth-ranked rush defense will face a solid test against Houston. Lamar Miller runs the show for the Texans in that department, averaging 80 yards on just over 19 rushing attempts per game. Despite relatively good yardage production, however, Miller has reached the end zone just three times on runs in 2016. Houston’s ground attack ranks fifth in the league and should garner Green Bay’s attention, if only because it means the Packers will likely win the game if they shut it down.

Why, you ask?

The Texans’ passing game is abysmal. While Houston’s offense features one of the great young playmakers in the game, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, it also trots out the leagues most overpaid quarterback. Brock Osweiler enters the game ranked dead last in passer rating (72.2) among starting quarterbacks. The fifth-year quarterback has thrown 11 touchdowns to 13 interceptions while completing just 59.5 percent of his passes. Osweiler has thrown interceptions in nine of 11 games, including a three-pick game against San Diego last week. You get the picture.

Nonetheless, the Packers will need to stay alert to the electrifying Hopkins, who has been targeted a team high 105 times. He has hauled in 55 of those passes for 610 yards and three touchdowns. Aside from Hopkins, Houston’s receiving corps three others with at least 30 receptions: Tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz (39) and Ryan Griffin (34) as well as receiver Will Fuller (30). I highly doubt the Packers will try to match Damarious Randall with Hopkins one on one except on pressure plays. Houston has allowed only 20 sacks on the season, so it might be more likely the Packers stick to run-stopping concepts and try to force Osweiler to make plays.

Keys to the Game

Turnovers. Sunday’s game matches two bottom tier teams from a take/give standpoint. Green Bay enters the contest with a -5 turnover differential, while Houston comes to Lambeau at -9. While I’m not overly concerned about the Packers’ offense taking care of the ball, I do think the matchup against the Houston offense presents too good an opportunity not to capitalize on. Simply put, Brock Osweiler can be flustered. He has not taken care of the football by any stretch in 2016 and the Packers need to make him give it away again on Sunday.

Third Down. The Packers have converted on 49 percent of their third downs this season, good for second in the NFL. They went 10 of 14 on third down against Philadelphia, which went a long way in helping Green Bay control the ball and win the time of possession battle. The easiest path to success on third down is getting into a manageable position. The Packers have converted 64.7 percent of third downs when they needed five yards or less. That number drops to 44.6 percent when faced with 6-10 yards to go. When they need more than 10 yards on third down, Green Bay has converted just 28.6 percent of the time.

Team Defense. Green Bay has a chance to dominate this game defensively. To do so, they’ll need a solid, integrated effort from everyone on the field. The front seven will need to contain Lamar Miller, while the secondary will need to communicate effectively to keep tabs on DeAndre Hopkins. When not in run-stopping mode, Packers linebackers may be asked to shadow Fiedorowicz, which isn’t necessarily an easy task. If the defense operates smoothly, they can put forth their best effort of the season.

Make Lambeau Loud Again. The last time the Packers played in front of their home fans, boos littered the air throughout the afternoon as the team put up a too little too late effort in a loss to the Colts. Green Bay fans – the sane ones at least – know that this team is far from being out of contention for a division title. The Packers can give the crowd something to get excited about by imparting their will early. If that happens, the momentum will continue to build within the team as well as the fan base.

Prediction

Last Monday night’s game at Philadelphia offered much to be optimistic about for the Packers. The quarterback was back on form, Davante Adams had the best game of his career, and the defense didn’t resemble a sieve. With all that said, the 2016 Green Bay Packers haven’t exactly been a model of consistency. The performance in Philadelphia has given fans a cautious optimism, but they need to see that it wasn’t an aberration. Luckily for the Packers, their return to the Frozen Tundra comes against an opponent they can, and will, dominate. Packers 30, Texans 13.