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ProFootballFocus, Three To Focus On -- Green Bay @Houston
3TFO: Packers @ Texans, Week 6
Cole Schultz | 2012/10/12
Many had both Green Bay and Houston penciled in as division winners before the 2012 season even started. And while Houston has done everything to confirm the notion that they belong atop their division, the Packers have struggled thus far. They havenít had the easiest of schedules, playing three teams that made the playoffs last year, but the passing game seems off, looking nowhere near as prolific as it did last year. Itís curious how much of this is due to the loss of Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin to Miami in the offseason, since the only other major losses were Scott Wells and Ryan Grant, who have both been more or less replaced with a similar level of talent. Already two games back in the NFC North, itís imperative that the Packers get a win here if they hope to keep pace with the Bears and Vikings.
Houston, on the other hand, is undefeated and has a commanding 3.5 game lead in the AFC South. At this point, it would be a shock if they lost the lead ó they have to face only four teams with a winning record the rest of the way, despite not having faced one yet this year. Even so, Houston has been convincing in its victories with three of them coming by at least 20 points. It may be a little early for speculation, but the Texans have as good a shot as any for a first-round bye, and a win against the Packers would do a lot to stay ahead of their AFC competitors. Letís take a look at a few of the matchups these teams must focus on if they want to get the ĎWí under the lights of Sunday Night Football.
J.J. Watt vs. Packers Offensive Line
It youíve read anything on the Texans in the past five weeks, youíve likely heard about a player by the name of J.J. Watt. The sophomore out of Wisconsin is following-up his stellar rookie campaign with an incredible start to 2012. His current grade of +35.4 through five games is highest among all defensive players, and three times higher than the next closest 3-4 defensive end. His nine sacks (half sacks being counted as full sacks) is tied for the league lead. Watt has spent the majority of his snaps on the left side of the defensive line, but Houston hasnít shied away from moving him around. No one has been able to slow Watt down this year, with his lowest grade (+5.0) still landing him on our Team of the Week.
The unenviable task of holding off Watt this week is handed off to the right side of Green Bayís offensive line ó Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga. Sitton (+6.4) is playing to his usual lofty standards. Heís yet to give up a sack and has allowed only one hit and five hurries in Green Bayís pass-heavy offense. Bulaga (-8.0) has done a complete 180 since his outstanding 2011 season. After conceding one sack, two hits, and 18 hurries in the 12 games he played in 2011, Bulaga has already matched or surpassed each of those numbers this season. Outside of a disastrous performance in Seattle though, Bulaga hasnít been particularly bad. If these two can neutralize Watt, it will go a long way toward opening up Green Bayís passing game ó Watt is the only Texan who has a pass rushing grade above 4.0.
Battle of the Big Men
It doesnít seem to matter much who the Texans have running the ball, as they always seem to be able to generate rushing yards, as evidence by Arian Foster and Ben Tate combining for over 2100 yards last season. A lot of the credit must go to the offensive line, which had four of its starters grade in the green last year for their run blocking. But 2012 is a different year, and Houston so far has a mixed bag in the trenches. Duane Brown (+14.8) and Chris Meyers (+7.6) have been outstanding thus far. In fact, Foster has averaged 4.7 y/c on runs to the left of center, compared with just 3.3 y/c to the right. Contributing to this imbalance is the struggles of the right side of the line ó Antoine Caldwell (-6.7) and Derek Newton (-8.3) have had some issues at the point of attack.
Rookie Jerel Worthy (+3.5 run defense) leads Packers defensive linemen with 209 snaps in five weeks, and his run defense grade leads the whole team. Worthy, who lines up primarily on the defensive right, will have his work cut out for him. With B.J. Rajiís status uncertain after an ankle injury last week, the rest of the line should see an increased workload. C.J. Wilson (+3.0 run def), whoís averaged only 28 snaps in the four games heís played in, will likely see an increase in his snap count this week. He may have had a terrible 2011, but even Erik Walden is contributing to the Packersí improved defense this year ó he ranks fourth among 3-4 OLBs with a 9.3 Run Stop Percentage.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Texans Cornerbacks
Itís hard to fathom why, but Green Bayís passing attack has looked nothing at all like the prolific unit that saw Aaron Rodgers named MVP. Rodgers, who this year didnít manage a quarterback rating over 100 until Week 4, has actually been just as accurate with the football as he was last year. His Accuracy Percentage (which accounts for spikes, drops, throwaways, batted passes, and balls thrown while being hit) is second in the NFL right now at 80.8%, a tad higher than his league leading 80.6% last season. But 17 drops by his receiving corps (five by both Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley) have limited the Packersí ability to sustain drives. Rodgers isnít blameless in the passing gameís woes though. His accuracy under pressure is a commendable 80% (fourth overall), but heís taking sacks way too often ó a third of all pressure on Rodgers results in a sack, which is the highest in the NFL.
Responsible for making life hard for Rodgers will be cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (+2.7 pass defense) and Kareem Jackson (+3.7 pass def). The starting duo has allowed just one touchdown this year compared with four interceptions and four more pass deflections, and neither has allowed a QB rating over 67 on passes thrown into their coverage. Green Bay may have more luck against slot corner Brice McCain (-2.4 pass def). McCain will likely have the undesirable task of covering wide out Randal Cobb (+4.7). Cobb, who has spent over 75% of his playing time in the slot, has caught 17 of the 19 balls thrown his way from the slot. That slot catch rate of 89.5% is good for second highest. Expect Cobb to get a lot of targets in this game, and it will be up to McCain to limit those opportunities.