There is no getting around it — the Houston Texans' home loss to the San Diego Chargers last week, while not unexpected (the Chargers were a three-point favorite at kickoff), was fairly devastating when it comes to the team's ability to fix some of their problems offensively (roughly 98 percent of which can be traced back to Brock Osweiler's right arm) under the thin veil of won-loss success.
Now at 6-5 and on a two-game losing skid, the Texans are one more bad Sunday from being in a dead heat with the Titans and Colts atop the AFC South. A Texans loss to Green Bay this weekend along with a Colts win on Monday night would set up a Week 14 de facto playoff game in Indianapolis next week, where the Texans are 1-13 in their existence.
But the good news? THEY'VE WON ONE IN A ROW IN INDY!
Hey, you want to know where the Texans have also won one in a row? GREEN BAY! Back in 2008, the only other game in team history played on the frozen tundra (and I was there that December day, and goddamn was it ever frozen, the fifth-coldest game in Lambeau at the time), the Texans defeated the Packers on a late field goal by Kris Brown, 24-21.
That was a 6-10 Packer team in its first season with Aaron Rodgers as a starter. Since then, the Packers have won a Super Bowl, Rodgers has won multiple MVP awards, and Green Bay is a postseason fixture. Meanwhile, the Texans have blown out a coaching staff, started nine different quarterbacks, picked first in the draft in 2014 and attempted to remove no fewer than 214 oxen from ditches surrounding NRG Stadium.
This Sunday, the game is crucial for both sides, as the Texans need a win to grab back some of the aforementioned cushion we discussed, and the Packers are probably one loss away from their season functionally ending. Here are some things to watch for...
4. Contain Aaron Rodgers
In Monday night's win over the Eagles, Rodgers appeared to tweak a hamstring, which limited his mobility but not his productivity. I'm not sure if it's wrong that I was doing this, but after each play, I was hoping Rodgers would grab his hamstring. If that makes me an evil person, then buy me some horns and a pointy tail and get it over with.
Hey, you know who else is evil then? Texans linebacker Brian Cushing:
"There's no question it will definitely help out if he can sit in the pocket and doesn't really feel like running," Cushing said, "because there's nothing more defeating than on third down covering everybody, having everyone doing your job and everything's set and then the quarterback runs right by everyone for the first down, because he's the guy you don't account for as far as numbers and matchups.
"If it limits him, obviously, that'll be a big plus for us. There's no question about that."
So yeah, the less Rodgers can do off schedule and out of the pocket, the better. Meanwhile, under center for the Texans...
3. Just be the "Raiders game" version of Brock Osweiler
While we most certainly ARE asking Brock Osweiler to quit sailing balls over his receivers' heads and to throw for more than 99 yards in a game (yes, even in wins), we are not asking him to be anything remotely close to what the Packers demand from Rodgers. Brock, just be the version of you that you were against the Raiders (26-39, 243 yards), minus the interception and sprinkle in one big play down the field to Will Fuller. Cool? Especially in this game, on the road, moving the chains to keep Rodgers off the field should be a little easier with the Packers linebacking corps ravaged with injuries right now. This should allow for C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin to continue their stellar play in the passing game, and maybe even a big hitter from Akeem Hunt on a screen pass or wheel route or something. Make the easy throws, and keep the ball out of the hands of the dudes in the yellow helmets. Okie dokie?
2. Limit big plays
The Texans defense has been a statistically solid unit so far this season, although lately it's slipped down to 14th in DVOA. Still, though, they've been mediocre to poor at rushing the passer and turning teams over, which means, if their opponents are hitting big plays, it's game over. Not surprisingly, the last two games, both losses, turned on (you guessed it) big plays — the Raiders game on a 75-yard catch and run by their fullback Jamie Olawale (missed tackle by Andre Hal), and the Chargers game on a 52-yard bomb to Dontrelle Inman (Quintin Demps with the stumble in coverage). With an anemic offense and a sound-but-not-scary defense, the Texans can't be making things easier for their opponents. With big-play receivers like Jordy Nelson and the suddenly surging Davante Adams, the Packers have the firepower to make it three straight weeks of lethal big plays.
(SIDE NOTE: I'll get this started right now... TEXANS DRAFT NEEDS: 1. Strong Safety, 2. Free Safety...)
1. Rally the troops
The theme for this week seems to be "nobody believes in us." Bill O'Brien brought it up in his Monday press conference, before quickly backtracking and correcting himself, lest he anger the Texans fan base further by accurately telling them exactly what they're thinking, I guess. Then came this gem from Brock Osweiler on Wednesday:
"Not a lot of people believe in us right now, but I can promise you there’s nobody who believes in this team more than myself, there’s nobody who believes in this coaching staff more than myself. I really think this two-game losing streak that we’re on, it’s going to set us up for a great story in the long run. I don’t think there’s ever been a successful NFL season that didn’t have adversity somewhere in that season. So, I really could not be more excited for the challenge this week, going to Lambeau Field, a very difficult place to play on the road."
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This, of course, came right after an answer in which he claimed to "block out all of the noise," which theoretically would make it impossible for him to know who does and does not believe in him. Whatever. Sometimes games like this come down to more than just X's and O's. Sometimes they come down to fighting for whatever it is you've been working for all year in the face of the fact that everyone you love thinks you suck at fighting. While this is far from a great Packers team, this is the type of venue and opposing QB that turns the Texans, historically, into mush. If they're ever going to "believe in each other when no one does," Sunday would be a good time for the Texans to start.
Because right now, I don't.
Prediction: Packers 24, Texans 13
Spread: Packers -6
Season record (SU, ATS): 8-3, 7-3-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.