It may be only one loss, but the trend lines are concerning.
For a second straight week, the Texans (5-1) were outplayed in a handful of key areas, most notably within the once-vaunted line play as well as individual battles of receivers vs. cornerbacks. But unlike this past Monday, when the Texans went against the hopeless combination of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, they met a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers that fully exploited those holes.
The result was a nationally televised shellacking that has many wondering if the Texans can compete with the NFL's elite.
"There are no excuses here," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "We got beat across the board."
Logic tells us that virtually every team in the modern NFL throws up a stinker. These same Packers lost a week earlier to the Colts. The 49ers were drilled at home by the Giants, who earlier in the year were beaten at home by the Cowboys. The Patriots fell Sunday to the mediocre Seahawks.
Most true contenders, however, show it in their response -- much like Green Bay did on Sunday night.
In six days, the Texans have a similar redemption opportunity when they face a Baltimore team now tied with them atop the AFC. To win, though, the club must plug a handful of holes, many of which began showing this past Monday in New York. Here's a look at five of the most costly against the Packers:
5.) Duane Brown Matt Schaub entered Sunday with three sacks. That total doubled in just one game, along with two interceptions that largely resulted from throws under duress. Arian Foster followed up his best game of the year in New York (29 carries, 152 yards) with a 17-for-29 clunker. Both players' performances largely reflect the Houston offensive line, which was thoroughly outplayed by a Green Bay front missing one of its best players in tackle B.J. Raji.
The mistakes are somewhat understandable from the right side, where the Texans are still developing a handful of guards and tackles following the offseason departures of Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston. What's inexcusable were breakdowns from Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, who proved no match against Clay Matthews in pass protection.
The Texans let Winston and Brisiel leave in large part because they saw Brown as a franchise-caliber player that could anchor the unit during its transition. They rewarded him with a massive extension during the preseason. It's now up to Brown to prove worthy. 4.) Glover Quin The most publicized Quin mistake came early in the fourth quarter, when the Houston safety bit on a playaction fake on a 3rd-and-1, allowing Rodgers to find tight end Tom Crabtree for a game-clinching 48-yard touchdown. But the most disturbing error came on the prior Green Bay scoring drive, when Quin made the perfect read but couldn't intercept a Rodgers pass that hit him right between his hands. It was the same story as three weeks earlier in Denver, when the Broncos put together a late rally after several Texans (including Quin) dropped point-blank interceptions.
No defense is going to shut down elite quarterbacks. It can, however, put them in positions to make occasional drive-killing mistakes. The Texans did exactly that against both Rodgers and Peyton Manning, but Quin was unable to close the deal on both occasions.
3.) Jerome Boger The last time we saw Jerome Boger as the lead official in primetime in Houston, he infamously high-fived Vince Young after a Houston collapse on Monday Night Football. This week, he put up quite an encore.
While no individual call was abhorrently bad, it was the culmination of ticky-tack flags that burned the Texans. Two of the first four Green Bay scores came after fourth-down penalties extended stalled drives, including an "unsportsmanlike conduct" against Connor Barwin when leaping to try and block a third-quarter field goal. Rulebook or not, what Barwin did occurs on nearly all attempts but is seldom called.
"Some of those penalties were just, they could be called either way," said defensive end Antonio Smith.
Meanwhile, a third Packer touchdown resulted in large part due to a 28-yard pass interference penalty against Kareem Jackson, who deflected a pass while making zero contact with the Green Bay receiver.
"That was big early in the game on Kareem," said Smith. "I don't think that I saw much of a pass interference. The referee that was right there didn't call it. The one who was across the field did."
2.) Gary Kubiak As with most teams, the first 15 Houston plays are scripted, largely reflecting the coaching staff's view of where to exploit the opposition. On Sunday, Kubiak proved no match for Mike McCarthy. The Texans went three-and-out on their first two drives, while the third didn't make it past their own 20. That allowed Green Bay to race out to a 14-0 lead, placing the Texans under heat for the rest of the night.
"We got down early, and they're not a football team you want to get down to," said Kubiak. "I'm disappointed in myself."
The Texans have had a tendency in their scripted plays to use the pass to set up the run. Despite the success of the run game against the Jets, it happened again Sunday with seven passing plays among the first ten snaps. Moreover, of the three rushes, one came on a 3rd-and-12 draw in which the Texans were essentially just trying to give more room to the punter.
McCarthy and the Packers looked as if they saw it all coming, turning pass rushers like Matthews loose without fear. That put the Texans in an early hole, and they never fully recovered.
1.) Johnathan Joseph The foundation for Wade Phillips's defense is supposed to be Joseph, a highly paid cornerback who in theory should take away one receiver and allow safeties and linebackers to cheat elsewhere. For a second straight week, Joseph didn't live up to his part. Joseph spent much of his night against Jordy Nelson, who burned the Texans for nine catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
Most troubling was the 41-yard scoring strike from Rodgers to Nelson on the game's initial possession, on which the wideout had Joseph beat by several steps. Similar things happened against New York, but errant throws from Sanchez allowed the Texans to survive. Rodgers didn't miss.
"I'm fine to go," said Joseph, who has been listed on injury reports with a sore groin. "Obviously I will see how I feel [Monday] when I come back in. I will probably be sore."
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Joseph looked sore enough Sunday that he asked to be subbed out on a handful of first-half plays. If that's the issue, the Texans can soon resolve it. They have a bye on Oct. 27, effectively giving players two weeks to heal. They can extend that rest even more for Joseph should they choose, with mediocre Buffalo following the bye on Nov. 4.
Whatever the case, Joseph isn't the version of himself seen in 2011. For the Texans to beat elite quarterbacks such as Rodgers, he needs to be.
Check out our Texans-Packers slideshow here.