Sept 30, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) has an eye injury checked by a trainer during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

Sunday Night Matchup: Packers at Texans

I went out on a little bit of a limb in my predictions this week – as I do on a few games every week – calling for the Texans to win this one by 17 points.

While the Packers have only won 2 games this year and Houston has yet to lose and playing at home, my idea here isn’t on records alone – especially since the Texans are without LB Brian Cushing – a key cog in their defense.

But the Texans’ defense seems to be in what I think is the best situation an NFL defense can ever hope to obtain…that of which I call “Interchangeable Parts.”

Aug 30, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coaches against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium. The Texans defeated the Vikings 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Certainly, Cushing’s replacement isn’t the player Cushing is. Tim Dobbins is a 7-year veteran of 3 different teams, having begun his career in 2006 with the Chargers. He played in Miami in 2010, then on to Houston the next year. He’s never been a statistics-generating machine, but this Texans’ defense seems to be one where they especially buy-in to the system and are unselfish in their play, and that’s what you want out of any team whether it’s offense or defense. It means the loss of any single player shouldn’t have a material effect on their ability to do their job.

See exhibit one from 2011: Mario Williams.

The San Francisco 49’ers have perfected this team concept and the players operate it not with their boring platitudes in post-game interviews but with their play on the gridiron.

The same case could be made for Houston as the defense has really blossomed under former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach, and now Texans’ Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips. Phillips couldn’t keep the Cowboys focused and under control but headed south to Texas’ largest city and no longer has that problem. Jason Garrett is reminded of it again today with their very tough loss. Some places are just easier to coach due to circumstances, and America’s Team needs a strong personality to lead them.

However, the Packers came into the season with the NFL’s best regular-season record over the 2010-2011 seasons, winning games with high-octane passing and AR-12 but with a porous defense. In fact, they set an NFL record for defensive futility last season while going 15-1.

Defense wins championships? Ask New England, who lost the Super Bowl – barely – but with the second-worst defense in NFL history…second to the same season’s Packers’ defense.

But now, the Packers have really upped the juice on that defense, ranking 16th (exact middle of the “pack,” no pun intended) now in the league. Who would have guessed it’s their offense – ranked 21st in the NFL – that would be the problem?

Not many. They rank 16th in passing offense as well – right behind the feared Tennessee Titans’ air attack. The issue seems to be that they just aren’t making the big plays they were with only a single passing play going for over 40 yards all season and 13 going 20 or more yards.

Compare that to Houston’s since they’re tonight’s opponent: Houston ranks 20th in passing, since they’re a zone-blocking run-first team, 14 plays of 20+ yards with 3 over 40 yards. With all those great receiving threats the Packers have, Houston’s right up there with them in big pass plays.

Part of that is the fact the defenses have to worry about that Houston running game, opening up longer and deeper passing lanes as they try to keep Arian Foster and Ben Tate bottled up. WR Andre Johnson is at the crest of his career, if possibly starting to slide down the other side a little bit by now and TE Owen Daniels has had a nice season so far. Matt Schaub has never been in the conversation as an “elite” quarterback, so balance, game-planning, and good play-calling has been what’s done it for Houston.

Here’s the “Big Deal” part: Sacks.

Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 21 times this year, second only to Kevin Kolb’s 23. If you saw the Cardinals’ loss on Thursday of last week against the Rams, compare AR-12’s situation to Kolb’s. Even the best QBs get jittery after being beaten up, and that shows up in hesitation, indecisiveness, missed open receivers, and faltering accuracy when he has the time to throw and an open receiver. AR-12 took 36 sacks the entire season last year, so he’s on pace to be sacked 67 times this season. That’s a lot of punishment and doesn’t even consider the knockdowns and hurries. The guy is under duress, and the issue is that his offensive line isn’t doing the same job they did last season.

Facing a Houston defense ranked third in the NFL should only make things worse. While anything can happen in any given game, signs point to AR-12 being harassed in a major way tonight. While his completion percentage is the best of his career since he began starting games, a little more digging finds the issue.

AR-12’s yds/attempt has climbed every year since he began starting games in 2008: 7.5 in 2008, 8.2 in 2009, 8.3 in 2010, and an incredible 9.2 in 2011.

This year, it’s only 6.9…by far the lowest of his career. It just points to his not having time to throw and tossing a lot more high-percentage checkdown passes. He simply doesn’t get the protection up front that he needs for the longer routes to develop…and would be in-line with the lack of big plays out of the passing game.

Houston has given up only 3 sacks the entire season and one of those cost Matt Schaub a piece of his earlobe a couple of weeks ago. Still, that’s only one sack, and still far removed from probably the most famous sack in NFL history…the one where Harry Carson missed Joe Theismann, allowing Lawrence Taylor to hit him, breaking the veteran QB’s leg and finishing his career. I recall the play; I saw it live when it happened.

God, I’m old.

Yep…Texans double-up the Packers tonight, 34-17.

follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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