September 30, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (23) rushes during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

An Early Look at Packers vs. Texans – From the Belly of the Beast

September 30, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) reacts after losing his helmet on a play during the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

By Bill Walton

This week, the Green Bay Packers travel to Houston for Sunday night’s game against the Texans.

Living near Houston, I’m getting an earful from local fans and the media.  Admittedly and obviously, the Texans are good.  Very good.  Maybe even scary good.  But as the New York Jets can attest, the Texans are not unbeatable.  If any team can hand the Texans their first loss of the season, it could be the Packers.

It will take a much better effort than the Packers gave against the Colts to beat the Texans.  Here are a few of the personnel the Packers need to figure out a way to take care of on Sunday night:

• Defensive lineman J.J. Watt.  A one-man wrecking crew, he’s leading the league in sacks, batted balls, offensive coordinator headaches, and quarterback frowns.  Watt is a former Wisconsin Badger who claims to research and read opposing quarterback route trees to determine the best place from which to try and bat down passes.  He also lines up on either side of the defensive front.  Perhaps a few wrinkles might be in order – maybe more rollouts or hot routes behind wherever Watt is … not.

• Running back Arian Foster.  Foster makes the Texans’ offense go.  Teams have to respect his running ability, which opens up everything else the Texans do with the football.  Foster has 532 yards on 132 carries so far this season.  The Packers improved run defense, already showcased against Seattle in particular, has as good a shot to limit Foster as any defense in the league.  Most of Foster’s yards have come between the tackles.  It will take a solid effort from all 11 defenders on every play, but it can be done.

• Wide Receiver Andre Johnson.  Johnson is tall, big, fast, and prolific.  The Packers might treat him as they did Bears WR Brandon Marshall in week 2 – safety help high backing up Tramon Williams in primary coverage. The other Texans receivers are serviceable, particularly Kevin Walter, but Johnson is the primary threat. He’ll have to be blanketed on every play.

• Quarterback Matt Schaub.  Schaub came to Houston from Atlanta in 2007. At the time, most Texans observers thought the deal – composed of picks to Atlanta that many thought the Texans sorely needed, for what had been primarily a backup quarterback – wasn’t going to pan out.  Schaub has at various times been labeled a game manager and he’s never had a passer rating over 100 for a season.  However, he’s tough – they’re still looking for that chunk of his ear that got ripped off when he was tomahawked by Joe Mays in the Denver game. He’s also a team-first guy. He is everything the Texans think they need in a quarterback. It’ hard to argue with them – they’re 5-0.

Linebacker Brian Cushing, a former USC teammate of Clay Matthews, is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Jets game on Monday night. Head coach Gary Kubiak calls the loss of Cushing a big blow to the team, but even without Cushing the Texans’ front seven should still be formidable. Linebacker Brooks Reed’s hairstyle makes him a dead ringer for Clay Matthews.  The early over/under for NBC mentions of the resemblance between Matthews and Reed is 6 1/2.

The Texans defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips. What can be said about Phillips other than he’s a much better defensive coordinator than a head coach? He’s getting the job done in Houston.

It’s widely believed that the Houston Texans do everything well.

They have no holes. Their offense, defense, and special teams are all good to great. If last Sunday’s debacle in Indianapolis told us anything, it might have been that the Packers are at the point where they need to pull out a win, on the road, against a top team.

That kind of win can swing momentum, provide a spark that can help propel them through the rest of the season, and make believers out of some of those who have already written them off. I’m not one of them. The defense needs to resemble the defense that has come up big as opposed to the defense that’s been surprisingly porous at times.

The offense needs to mix things up, commit to run carries, and above all, protect the football.  When push comes to shove the Packers can play with anybody. As we’ve seen so far this year, when the Packers seem to find something that works they haven’t seemed to stick with it or come back to it.

They’ll need to stick with what works in order to stick with the Texans. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was self-critical on his radio show today and it sounds like that’s a good thing.

If Rodgers plays up to his potential, this game will be fun to watch. For Packers fans, that is.

I’ll have more on this game later in the week.

GO PACK!

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