Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 7: Packers-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

Aaron Rodgers is in the MVP mix again, and comes to NRG Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Aaron Rodgers is in the MVP mix again, and comes to NRG Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
When you start an NFL season with a 1-5 record, like the Houston Texans have, you just inherently, by way of simple math, stop at several junctures along the schedule where you say "Welp, if they lose THIS one the season is over." Very few teams make the playoffs after starting 0-3. (Ironically, the 2018 Houston Texans were one of them.) So Week 3 was a "must win". Then, the Texans lost to the Steelers.

So Week 4 became a "really, REALLY must win," and the Texans lost to the Vikings. Firing Bill O'Brien at 0-4 was enough to feel like the season was salvageable, and a win over the Jaguars the next week was a nice uptick in optimism. Then, the Texans found a way to cough up a late lead to the Titans, and they now sit at 1-5. Now, here come the Green Bay Packers, at 4-1 but fresh off a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and needless to say, a Texans loss and a fall to 1-6 is probably the last stop on the Futility Express.

A loss this Sunday, and the Texans are playing out the string. BEFORE NOVEMBER. Thanks O'Brien! So let's take a look at some of the nooks and crannies of this matchup on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium. Here we go...

4. Packers recovery
By almost any NFL power ranking out there, the Texans have faced four of the best (if not THE four best) teams in the league already this season — Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. The Packers are not far past them on those subjective rankings. The one difference with the Packers, as compared to this other four teams, is that the Packers come into Sunday's game off a loss. (The other four were undefeated when facing the Texans.) Actually, it was a BRUTAL loss, 38-10 to the Bucs, in which the Packers scored the first ten points, and the Bucs scored the final 38. Will the Texans be a bounce back game for a very good Packers team, or was Sunday the first of what will be many times that the Packers' porous defense comes back to bite them?

3. First down change up
While the Texans are 1-5 on the season, the fact of the matter is that Deshaun Watson, over the last four weeks, has statistically reestablished himself as a top tier quarterback in the NFL. Over the last four weeks, Watson leads the league in yards per attempt and has posted a passer rating of over 100 in each of those four games, the first time he's done that since his scintillating rookie season in 2017. So one key for Sunday will be Tim Kelly's play calling, and his realizing that Deshaun Watson is the key to staying in manageable second and third downs, not David Johnson. Watson averaged 11.7 yards per attempt on first down against Tennessee, and even mixing in Watson's legs in the run game on first down is a far better option than running the woeful Johnson into a brick wall to concede a second down and long. Tim Kelly needs to continue to peel away from the O'Brien-esque play calling tendencies.

2. Next up, Aaron Jones!
On the flip side, the Texans' run defense continues to be abysmal, ranking last in the league in yards allowed per game, at over 177 yards per game. In their one win, over the Jags, they actually defended the run well, allowing only 75 yards on 20 carries. In their five losses, here's how the run defense performed:

WEEK 1: at Kansas City, 34 carries, 166 yards (Edwards-Helaire 25/138 yards)
WEEK 2: vs Baltimore, 37 carries, 230 yards (four ball carriers between 48 and 73 yards rushing)
WEEK 3: at Pittsburgh, 38 carries, 169 yards (Connor 18/109 yards)
WEEK 4: vs Minnesota, 40 carries, 162 yards (Cook 27/130 yards)
WEEK 6: at Tennessee, 27 carries, 263 yards (Henry 22/212 yards)

Aaron Jones fantasy owners, REJOICE!

1. What happens Monday (and the next eight days after that)
So, the best case scenario for the Texans is that they win this game on Sunday, and carry some momentum into the bye week with an overall record of 2-5. That is the BEST CASE SCENARIO, and even with that, their chances at making the post season would be miniscule. So the question becomes "Will the Texans be an active player at the trade deadline?" This probably deserves its own post, but in the big picture, the trade deadline has been a huge topic around the team this past week, as Romeo Crennel reportedly addressed the team on Wednesday, reminding them that they have a game this Sunday, and that they need to block out the "trade deadline noise." A loss to the Packers SHOULD have them selling off assets like crazy to make life easier for the next general manager, but we shall see.

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