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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Game Preview: Packers @ Texans

by Thomas Pyc
PackerChatters Staff

Since the NFL came together in 1960 the Green Bay Packers (5-4) have yet to lose to an expansion team the first time they meet. The Houston Texans (4-5) probably do not care about that statistic and who can blame them? They’ve got more important things to worry about, like their season. The Texans enter the game on a two game losing streak during which they surrendered a total of 80 points. The Packers, on the other hand, have managed to put together a four game winning streak when it mattered most and put themselves in first place in the NFC North. But fighting to stay in their respective playoff races is not the only things these teams have in common. Both rosters contain solid receiving corps, fastball slinging quarterbacks and suspect defenses.

The defense of the Texans’ (27th in yards allowed) is like no other the Packers have seen this season because they run a 3-4 (3 down linemen and 4 linebackers) defensive scheme. Currently, the biggest weakness they appear to have is the ability to get to the quarterback shown by their 32nd ranking in quarterback sacks. Most 3-4 schemes rely on the linebackers to play off of the three big-bodied down-linemen in order to attack the backfield. All of the Texans’ defensive linemen are over 315 pounds and know how to tie up blockers. The best linebacker for the Texans is Darren Sharper’s older brother Jamie and is utilized in every defensive situation. Kailee Wong is another good backer and probably offers the teams biggest pass rushing threat. Texans’ head coach, Dom Capers, controls the defense and is happy with the development of his rookie cornerback Dunta Robinson (10th overall pick). Capers’ likes to utilize his defensive bench players depending on the down and distance and he is not afraid to give a rookies a shot to make waves in a game if a veteran is under performing.

It will be interesting to see how the Packers’ offense (4th in yards) attacks the Texans’ scheme. The strength of the Packers’ offensive line will be tested but they will have to show the ability to quickly adjust to the speed of the blitzing linebackers. The last time the Packers faced a 3-4 scheme was against the Atlanta Falcons in their only home playoff loss in team history back in 2002. The typical weakness associated with this defensive scheme is vulnerability in the run game, an area the Packers have excelled in. Another area that the Packers have been thriving in is protecting Brett Favre, especially on third down where Favre hasn’t went down since 2003. If the three-time MVP can have the time to pick apart Houston’s secondary, he should do so.

Texans’ quarterback, David Carr, has probably had some flashbacks to his rookie season, when he was sacked 76 times. Over the past couple weeks with right tackle Todd Wade ailing from an ankle injury opposing defenses have been successful using speed-rushers to get to Carr. If Carr is given time the trio of wide receivers (Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford) have been effective and remain a constant threat. The Texans’ rushing attack has been centered around 2nd year man Domanick Davis but Jonathan Wells should see a decent amount of playing time as well. The connection between Carr and Johnson has been effective so far this year and might present the Packers some problems in that soft middle that other teams have recently exposed on third (and fourth) downs.

Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila should draw an extreme amount of attention from the Texans’ blocking scheme considering his recent two sack performance against Minnesota and Houston’s’ problem with speed rushers. That attention can obviously benefit the remaining members of the Packers’ defense and provide opportunities for defensive coordinator, Bob Slowik, to utilize the speed of his linebacking-corps to get to Carr. Al Harris technique-driven success has allowed him to remain a solid cornerstone in the Packers’ secondary for this season but other than the Colts game this is going to be the best receiving corps Harris and his fellow defensive backs have faced. A true test for a shaky secondary.

Key Matchups

Packers’ DLine vs. the Texan’s OLine – The Packers have several different packages they can throw at opposing offenses and this week they will be need to be exceptional in order to help keep the Carr-Johnson connection in check. Speed-rushing Packer defensive linemen substitutes, Cullen Jenkins and R-Kal Truluck, have to take advantage of their time on the field.

Texans’ Coverage Units vs. Packers’ Return Units – What special teams? Yep, special teams. The Texan’s have two of the best kickers in the league when it comes to field position. Ironically, the Packers’ kickoff return squad ranks first in the NFL (32 yard line average start).

Mike Sherman vs. Dom Capers – This is the first time these coaches have met head to head. Sherman works with his offense as much as Capers is into his defense. Playing to their teams’ strengths should create a close game but throwing a changeup could prove to be a big difference maker.

The Bottom Line

The Texans’ need this game and both teams should be amped to play on Sunday Night Football which has annually finished the top series on basic cable since 1987. The Packers’ offense should be able to score but bad field position might make up for Houston’s protection scheme struggles and keep the game close. If the Packers can come out of the half determined they can leave Houston succesful and start thinking about the Rams.

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