Coming off a stunning loss to the Colts in Indianapolis, the Packers sit at 2-3 falling quickly behind division mates Chicago and Minnesota who are both 4-1.
Let me just get this out of the way right now. I’m going to pick the Packers to win this game, and I hate every second of it. I so, so want to be wrong.
As mentioned on Battle Red Radio Tuesday, I just think this Packer team is too good, too desperate, and too talented to continue playing at the level they have been playing.
I generally try to concentrate on TANGIBLE items when analyzing how I think a game will turn out. For this one, I’m going to fall into the trap of thinking that emotion and desperation can swing the outcome. At 5-0, the Texans are due for some kind of letdown. They actually seemed to have one against the Jets on Monday night (and let’s hope they got it out of their systems), but the Texans were fortunate to have it happen against a bad team.
The main reason I think the Packers may put on their best performance of the year is this – I can’t actually put my finger on WHY they are struggling so much. I know they have offensive line issues, but when Rodgers is well-protected, with the same personnel around him that he has had tremendous success with in the past, he just isn’t doing what he is capable of. It makes me think he will eventually figure it out. Why against the Texans? Well, because they just HAVE to.
Of course, there are tangible factors that make me think the Packers could come out victorious as well. We don’t yet know how the Texans are going to respond to the loss of Brian Cushing in terms of actual football impact, leaving out the leadership and emotional lift he brings. Tim Dobbins looks like he can do a serviceable job in his stead, but it’s definitely a problem in terms of covering running backs and tight ends. But that brings me to an important point…
Brian Cushing is a great linebacker – but like Dobbins or anyone else who would play in his place, he’s not great at coverage either. Especially since I fully expect the Packers to run WR Randall Cobb out of the backfield. Ten Cushings could not cover him.
So my point is, I don’t think the Texans will feel the full effect of Cushing’s loss as much against a Packer team that will likely throw the ball most of the time. It will be next week against the Ravens where the team will start to feel the sting.
I expect to get the best Packer effort of 2012 on Sunday night. While I don’t think that is enough to beat the Texans’ best effort, I just don’t know if Houston will be able to match the sharp focus that a talented, desperate team like the Packers will bring. There’s simply NO WAY that Aaron Rodgers has regressed. I just think he’s that good. Something’s not right with he and the Packers, but I think they put it together Sunday night and use that momentum to sling them back into the NFC North race.
I want so much to be wrong, and to be wrong, the Texans need to do the following: Get to Aaron Rodgers. It’s that simple. The Texans figure to keep the Packer running game in check, mostly because I don’t expect the Packers to try to get the running game going much. Rodgers will throw the ball enough that he’s going to get his stats – but it will be all about Houston’s ability to limit big plays. With their top WR Greg Jennings already ruled out, that’s a start. However the Packers have many other weapons in Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, etc. It’s unclear whether Jermichael Finley will play, but he would certainly be a matchup problem for the Texans, as he is for every team (except that the Packers just can’t seem to take advantage of that!)
On offense, I don’t expect the Texans to struggle much, unless they just come out unprepared or flat, which I can’t imagine happening on Sunday Night Football. The Texans will have to find a way to slow Clay Matthews down with chips from the running backs and extra blockers, but I also expect Gary Kubiak to “trust his guys” to make blocks so he can have as many pieces as possible available in the passing game. That’s a dangerous game when you’re talking about Matthews, but Houston needs to also be weary of pressure coming from other places. The Packers are tied for first in the NFL with 18 sacks.
A lot of people are picking this to be a shootout. I don’t see it going that way, but I think it will be a tough, back-and-forth game that will go to the last series.
WANT TO BE WRONG!!!
…but I’m picking: