By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior analyst
~Missing the starting triplets, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Cedric Benson, the Packers figured their offense might not be as potent as normal.
Little did they know, it would be worse than that. The Packers offense rolled up a paltry total of 238 yards, on 3.8 yards per play. That was their worst showing on offense in a long time. Rodgers also absorbed two very hard sacks, and fumbled the ball away right before halftime deep in their own zone, helping the Jaguars to a touchdown that almost tied the game going into halftime.
But the Packers survived as Rodgers did throw a pair of touchdown passes, one to the youngster Randall Cobb, and the other to the old, reliable fan-favorite Donald Driver.
The Packers won 24-15, and a rare blocked punt for touchdown was a key in getting it going. The Packers had not scored a touchdown on a blocked punt since 1990, the 4th longest streak in NFL history. This one was provided by Davon House who came around the edge to block the punt. Three or four guys batted the ball around before rookie Dezman Moses fell on and smothered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and 14-3 Packers lead.
While the defense didn’t play good, they did bend but refuse to break.
Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert passed for 303 yards, and a touchdown, no interceptions.
But playing without injured star Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars couldn’t get much going on the ground behind Rashard Jennings. The Packers defense held Jennings to 59 yards on 3.5 per carry.
The Packers were a heavy 16-point wagering favorite in this game, but didn’t play anywhere near it. Still, the bottom line is the W or L, and with the win, the Packers moved to 5-3, now tied with the fraudulent Minnesota Vikings in second place. The Bears got a gift from Steve Smith late in the game as the receiver forgot to wear long enough cleats. With Carolina leading by 5 late in that game, Cam Newton threw a simple out pass to Smith, who slipped and fell, allowing the pass to be a gift interception and a short return for a touchdown and the lead with 2 minutes to go.
After Carolina marched down and went back ahead by 2 with a field goal after that, Jay Cutler led the Bears down into field goal range, and Bears kicker Robbie Gould nailed a game-winning 41-yard field goal on the last play to give the Bears a 23-22 win. Mason Crosby was glad he didn’t have a game-losing/winning kick on the last play of the game.
Would you have had faith in Crosby in that situation?
The 5-3 Packers will be at home again next week as the Arizona Cardinals, missing their starting QB and top 2 RBs, come to town. After that, the Packers get their much-needed bye before traveling to Detroit and NY to face the champion Giants afterwards.
By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com
~Sorry, you don’t replace Charles Woodson
~Remember when I told you I would be away from the blog for a bit while navigating the Chicagoland rain to Soldier Field? That plan got delayed a bit by the news, first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, that Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson will miss six weeks because of a broken left collarbone.
There was no mention of Woodson’s injury during or after the Packers’ 30-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, although he did not play on the final series, as Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com noted that Woodson grabbed his shoulder and writhed on the ground while defending receiver Brandon Gibson late in the fourth quarter.
Woodson injured his left collarbone, the same one that he injured in Super Bowl XLV. It’s not clear if his latest injury is as serious; six weeks is on the low end of a return timetable for a fully fractured collarbone. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Woodson will miss at least a month.
Regardless, there are a handful of indispensable players on the Packers’ roster, and Woodson is one of them.
The Packers have done well to find workable alternatives for injured linebackers Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and Nick Perry. The Packers also have managed the losses of nose tackle B.J. Raji, receiver Greg Jennings, running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Sam Shields, much as they did during their run to the Super Bowl in 2010. But even if Woodson is no longer in his playmaking prime at age 36, he is still a unique and valuable rock amid the transition the Packers’ defense has undergone this season. It will be impossible to replace the veteran leadership and versatility Woodson has brought.
Woodson might have only one interception and five defensed passes this season, but he has played the fourth-most snaps (95.9 percent) on the defense this season after safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Tramon Williams. Along the way, he has made the transition to safety in the base defense while working as a slot cornerback in the nickel. That means the Packers will have to replace him with different people in multiple packages. Either M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian will take his place at safety, and then the Packers will have to choose between Davon House and Jarrett Bush at cornerback as long as rookie Casey Hayward is filling in for Shields.
Just as important, Woodson has once again joined with quarterback Aaron Rodgers to provide the Packers with locker-room leadership as strong as any team in the NFL.
This sky isn’t falling in Green Bay. The Packers have a way of navigating this type of adversity. But this injury will hurt more than most. Charles Woodson sits at the soul of this team, and for the moment it’s empty.
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~ST. LOUIS — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers made themselves right at home in another dome, this time the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Backed by a huge block of cheeseheads who were every bit as loud as the real home fans, Rodgers carved up and silenced the Rams for three touchdowns and over 300 yards again.
Green Bay’s depleted defense limited the Rams to one meaningful touchdown and one late one in a 30-20 victory on Sunday.
Emerging star Randall Cobb caught two touchdown passes and last season’s emerging wide receiver Jordy Nelson had eight receptions for a season-best 122 yards for the Packers (4-3).
Rookie Casey Hayward made his first start in place of injured Sam Shields and intercepted his fourth pass in three games. Second-year corner Davon House got some action on defense for the first time this season after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason. He gained some experience and made a few nice plays, before getting torched on a slant and go for the late touchdown. House will learn that he is allowed to get his hands on receivers within the five yard zone, and depending on the ref, much further than five yards.
The Packers ended the Texans’ unbeaten start at Houston last week, but had alternated losses and wins the first six weeks. Rodgers was 30 for 37 for 342 yards in his fourth 300-yard game this season. His passer rating was 132.2, coupled with the sharp effort last week in Houston, Rodgers is rolling into 2011 form, and doing so without number one wide receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings missed another game resting his injured groing.
Steven Jackson ran for his first touchdown of the year, and just the Rams’ 10th overall, to trim the deficit to a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. But Rodgers made a sensational throw to Cobb for a 39-yard pass that put the Packers up by two scores with 3:06 to go.
Rookie wideout Chris Givens had a 56-yard reception for St. Louis on a screen pass in the fourth quarter, his fourth straight game with a 50-yard plus reception. Fellow rookie Greg Zuerlein kicked a 50-yard field goal.
Rodgers’ numbers were not nearly as flashy as last week, when he tied the franchise record with six touchdowns and no interceptions. But he was very efficient while leading an offense heavily tilted to the pass game and went 9 for 14 on third down.
The Rams were undefeated in the Edward Jones Dome. They opened the home schedule with victories over the Redskins, Seahawks and Cardinals, limiting opponents to 14.7 points per game.
Green Bay played without four defensive starters. Shields (shin, ankle), linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) were inactive. Linebacker D.J. Smith was recently placed on injured reserve. Original starting linebacker Desmond Bishop missed the whole season with an injury suffered in the first game of preseason back in August.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford was 21 for 34 for 255 yards and an interception, and was sacked three times behind a patchwork line with just two starters left from the opener. Bradford threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 3 seconds to go.
After dominating in time of possession in the first half, holding the ball for more than 18 minutes, the Rams ran just seven plays in the third quarter and were held to minus-7 yards while the Packers had 129 yards and 11:39 in time of possession.
Nelson wrapped up his second straight 100-yard game early in the third quarter, often picking on rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Cobb threw a nice fake on Jenkins in the end zone on a 5-yard catch that put the Packers up 17-6 midway through the third.
Rodgers completed his first nine passes for 115 yards, including a 52-yarder to Nelson that set up a 3-yarder for Nelson’s fourth score in two games. The first incompletion came with just over six minutes left in the half when Rodgers slightly overthrew James Jones on a sideline pattern, with Jones able to get just his fingertips on the ball.
Here’s another perspective to make Packer nation feel even giddier: Not only has Rodgers and this offense started to roll again, without Jennings, but did you notice Jermichael Finley was not a featured guy? There were no drops by Finley, no sulking, no blaming anyone else. Harmony.
While Alex Green doesn’t see the lanes like Cedric Benson was starting to, remember that Benson is expected back in December, while Jennings will be back before that.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Last year, in the Packers 15-1 season full of wins, the St Louis Rams held the Packers to their lowest point total in any of those wins, in a 24-3 Packer win back in week six, at Lambeau Field.
Through six games this season, the Rams rank fifth in scoring defense and seventh in total defense in the National Football League.
Scoring defense ranks teams according to points allowed; total defense ranks teams according to yards allowed. The Rams are allowing 18.5 points and 311.5 yards a game this season. So even though the sample size remains relatively small with 10 games still to be played, the defensive turnaround has been just short of astounding so far.
“I’m pleased with where we are,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “But we have a lot of work to do. We have clearly over the next (few) weekends significant challenges. So ask me that question again after the next three games.”
For Packer fans expecting Aaron Rodgers and company to waltz into the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and easily march up and down the field, I have news for you: Be prepared for more of a struggle more along the lines of what you saw in Seattle and Indianapolis in the second half.
This is a solid defense with a very good coach.
Led by the addition this year of the antagonizing cornerback Cortland Finnegan, the Rams defense has been very much improved, including beating Robert Griffin III a few weeks ago.
“We take pride being out there with the game (on the line),” safety Craig Dahl said. “We’ve just got to find a way in some of these close games on the road to come up with a big play. Maybe a scoring opportunity on defense where we strip something out, a ball gets knocked loose and we pick it up and scoop and score.”
“I knew the talent we had here last year — the guys they kept around,” he said. “And the additions they brought in here this year have just been tremendous. Also, we’ve got (Michael) Brockers back now which is a huge impact on our defensive line. And for the most part we’ve stayed healthy in the secondary.”
The Rams run defense has allowed only 64 yards on 36 carries over the past two games — against Arizona and Miami.
“We’re attacking the line of scrimmage,” Fisher said. “We’re setting our edges. And we got the safeties involved. It’s just something that we have to continue.
“It was an emphasis of ours as soon as our Thursday game (against Arizona) was over. We came back and said we have to run the football and stop the run over this next month to put ourselves in position to win games… So we have to keep that going.”
Fans know that if the Packers offensive line plays well and gives Aaron Rodgers a lot of time, he will probably carve up the Rams secondary.
But this Rams defense will be pulling out all the stops to get after Rodgers, as they did against Drew Brees last season when they battered him around in a Rams upset of the Saints.
By Kareem Copeland, NFL.com Around the League Writer
~Green Bay Packers inside linebacker D.J. Smith is out for the season, coach Mike McCarthy announced at his Monday news conference.
Smith suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s 42-24 victory over the Houston Texans.
The second-year pro became a starter in Green Bay after Desmond Bishop was lost for the season with a torn hamstring during the preseason. Veterans Robert Francois and Brad Jones should have the first opportunity to replace Smith. Francois started two games on the inside in 2011 while A.J. Hawk dealt with a calf injury.
The Packers’ defense played admirably against the previously undefeated Texans. Cornerback Sam Shields (shin) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (knee) also were injured during the game. Nose tackle B.J. Raji sat out with a sprained ankle he suffered the previous week against the Indianapolis Colts. McCarthy says he’ll know more about Shields and Perry later in the week, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.
Green Bay is 15th in scoring defense in the NFL (22.5 points per game). If guys are going to be banged up, this is a good stretch for it, with the St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals on the schedule the next three weeks.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~The Packers welcomed a new running back to the team yesterday after losing Brandon Saine for the season on Sunday Night.
Johnny White was a 5th round pick by the Buffalo Bills last season and made the team as a rookie, backing up stars Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
He had 34 yards this season on just eight carries. He’s 5-10, 210 pounds, which is a bit smaller than the rest of the Packer backs at this time.
White played his college ball at North Carolina and was a Tar Heel teammate of Packer tight end Ryan Taylor, also drafted last year.
He will wear the precious No. 34 for the Packers. Walter Payton he’s not, but the number 34 has been worn by many great running backs.
White will most likely be asked to contribute on special teams first. Alex Green and James Starks will be the primary ball carriers for now, with John Kuhn an option as well.
Starter Cedric Benson will be out until December, at least. The Packers hope he can come back in early December and be fresh for the playoff push to New Orleans.
Let’s just hope that’s it for injuries to Packer running backs this season.
Posted by Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Aaron Rodgers badly misfired on his first deep pass Sunday night, flat out overshooting a wide-open James Jones down the sideline on 3rd-and-3. The Texans, unforgivably, lined up offside on fourth down, giving Rodgers a second shot at the drive.
Rodgers took the very next snap and delivered a perfect arcing pass to Jordy Nelson, who took it in for the touchdown. And, just like that, the Texans had blown their chance.
Green Bay maintained all week that it wasn’t panicking, despite a 2-3 start and a complete meltdown in Indianapolis last week. On the strength of a 42-24 demolition of the Texans that may have been the best game we’ve seen any team play this year, we now know why.
“What do you think you told the critics tonight?” NBC’s Michelle Tafoya asked Rodgers after the game.
Rodgers looked back at her, offered a half-smile, and said: “Shhhhhh.”
It was apparent from Sunday’s opening moments that the Packers were determined to make a statement. They were firing in their no-huddle offense, cranking up to a faster tempo than we’d seen for most of the year. The plan was clear: Let Rodgers do his thing.
He did it better than he ever has — Rodgers tossed a career-high six touchdown passes, three of them to Nelson, and finished the game with a 133.8 QB rating.
Each touchdown pass was more sensational than the one before. In the fourth quarter alone, he rolled out on a 3rd-and-1 play-action and tossed a strike to Tom Crabtree for a 48-yard score, despite taking a shot to the chest from Brooks Reed. Less than three minutes later, he drilled one in to James Jones from 18 yards, and Jones made an acrobatic one-handed grab in the end zone.
Rodgers entered Sunday night’s game having completed nearly 69 percent of his passes on the season, and his 10 TD passes were more than all but six quarterbacks.
But we had yet to really see the Rodgers we’ve come to expect — the one that made a mockery of NFL defenses during the 2011 season. Through five weeks and losses to San Francisco, Seattle and Indianapolis, everything had seemed to be harder for Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.
Then Sunday night rolled around and, suddenly, everything felt back to normal.
That’s a worrisome fact for the Texans, who hoped to use their national-TV stage to remind the nation that they were one of the league’s legit Super Bowl contenders. Instead, they were totally outclassed on both sides of the ball.
Houston’s defense was ripped to shreds, especially once Green Bay started double- and triple-teaming J.J. Watt in order to protect Rodgers. In case you weren’t keeping score at home, the Texans are now 0-1 in the post-Brian Cushing portion of their season, and Sunday certainly did nothing to ease the concerns of Houston fans that Cushing’s devastating Week 5 knee injury could derail the team’s plans.
Even more confounding, though, was the Texans’ inability to do much of anything against Green Bay’s defense — especially on the ground, where the Texans have established themselves as one of the league’s most formidable forces. Arian Foster, despite scoring twice, managed a mere 29 yards on 17 carries. Without his run game helping, Matt Schaub struggled, firing a pair of interceptions and taking three sacks.
With everything going against them, the Texans started to fall apart. Twice on Green Bay’s first possession of the third quarter, Houston made critical errors, committing a pair of penalties to keep that drive going.
Rodgers, of course, finished it off with a 1-yard TD pass to Nelson.
Perhaps that was the best sign of any Sunday night that the “old” Aaron Rodgers had returned to action. When Houston shot itself in the foot, thus presenting the Packers with an opportunity, Rodgers made sure they paid.
Green Bay likely didn’t feel any sympathy for the Cushing-less Texans, either. The green and gold played Sunday without B.J. Raji and Greg Jennings, then saw Nick Perry, D.J. Smith, Sam Shields and Brandon Saine helped from the field with injuries of their own.
Those ailments will create concerns for the Packers on Monday, especially given that this team has yet to string two wins in a row together in 2012. But for the moment, Green Bay has to feel pretty great about what it accomplished Sunday night.
This was an absolute clinic, in all facets. Even Green Bay’s much-maligned offensive line held up, frequently providing Rodgers with loads of time to set and throw. As a result, the Texans were unable to stay with Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and, yes, even Crabtree downfield.
Put a healthy Jennings back into this mix, with Alex Green providing some spark on the ground, and it’s easy to see why the Packers still believed in themselves and their offense.
“We’re all just tired of answering questions about what happened to the Packers, what happened to me,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t gone anywhere.”
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior analyst
~Aaron Rodgers was tired of answering questions about where he and the Packers offense had been. Asked tonight after the game by Michele Tafoya what his performance said to the critics, he responded “shhh”.
A team-record tying six touchdown passes has way of silencing a lot of folks. No interceptions helps as well.
“I think we were all just tired of answering questions about what happened to the Packers, what happened to me,” Rodgers said. “It was a good team effort tonight. The offensive line blocked great. We ran the ball with effectiveness. Guys made some plays down the field. Just getting back to the way we are capable of playing. We haven’t gone anywhere.”
All in all, Rodgers was 24/37 for 339 yards and six touchdowns as he and the Packers offense was reminiscent of 2010-2011 in a throttling in Houston of the previously undefeated Texans. Houston was considered by many to be the best, and most well-balanced team in the NFL.
They were, however, playing their first game without Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing, who suffered a torn ACL last week to end his season.
Speaking of injuries, the Packers suffered more than their fair share Sunday night.
Already missing B.J. Raji on the D-line with an ankle, rookie Nick Perry went down with a possible-serious knee injury. Not long after that, another linebacker, D.J. Smith, went down with an achilles, ankle, or foot injury.
Brandon Saine suffered what appeared to be another possible significant knee injury. And Sam Shields also went out with a leg, knee, or foot injury later in the game.
Jordy Nelson caught three of Rodgers’ touchdowns, James Jones caught two for the third straight game, tying Don Hutson’s franchise record. Tight end Tom Crabtree caught the other one as Rodgers set his career high with the six touchdowns.
With the win, the Packers moved to 3-3 (4-2 if you count the Seattle game as a win, like many do), and they play their third straight road game next week in St Louis. After that, the Packers get two home games as Jacksonville and Arizona pay visits north.
The defense played a great game, and held rushing champion Arian Foster to 29 yards on 17 carries, a rare stinker of a game for Foster and the Texans strong rushing game. The Packers did it without starting NT Raji. Ryan Pickett stepped up, as did A.J. Hawk at ILB.
While the Packers leave Houston thrilled with a win, there will be much concern about how serious the many injuries are.
By Thomas Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – If the Green Bay Packers lose to the Houston Texans Sunday night in front of a national television audience, it won’t mark the end of their season.
How they play against the Texans is another matter.
Under coach Mike McCarthy, the one thing the Packers have done fairly consistently when things are falling apart is raise their level of play to match that of a quality opponent.
“The crazy thing about it,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “I’m not really concerned about us in these type of games. I’m more concerned about us in games we should win. We’re going to show up for this game.
“It’s ‘Sunday Night Football.’ We’re going to play well. Since I’ve been here, that’s how we’ve played in big-time games.”
Raji, who is nursing an ankle injury and whose status might not be determined until hours before kickoff, isn’t far off in his analysis. The Packers have risen to the occasion a number of times under McCarthy.
But if they instead lay an egg against the 5-0 Texans, it would be a pretty good sign this season is going to be a dud.
At 2-4, they would probably be three games behind the leader in the NFC North (Chicago and Minnesota are both 4-1) as they prepare for a third-straight road game inside a dome. They might be able to survive a loss if they play well, but if it’s a repeat of the second half against Indianapolis last week, there’s no telling how deep of a funk they’ll be in.
“It’s a big game,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “You’re excited. We look forward to it. We know it’s going to be a playoff atmosphere so we’re pumped up and excited for it.”
In McCarthy’s history, there have been several notable midseason rebounds. For instance:
2011 – After barely surviving a home game with the 4-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers went on the road and slugged out a 27-17 victory over the 7-3 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day to remain undefeated.
2010 – After a horrible loss to a 2-10 Detroit team in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out with a concussion, the 8-5 Packers played one of their best games of the year on “Sunday Night Football” the following week against New England with Matt Flynn at quarterback. Though they lost, 31-27, their strong performance built confidence for a run to the Super Bowl.
2009 – After losing on the road to an 0-7 Tampa Bay team, the 4-4 Packers came home the following week and beat the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys, 17-7, in a Fox national doubleheader game. The Packers won six of their next seven to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs.
To say any of the big-game performances of the past guarantees a sterling effort Sunday night against the Texans would be foolish.
Houston has won by a margin of 68-24 in its two home victories this year, and the Packers have been outscored, 34-18, in the second half of their two road losses. The Texans have not turned the ball over at home and the Packers have forced one turnover on the road.
Plus, the Packers will probably be without receiver Greg Jennings and could be missing Raji, tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder) and tight end D.J. Williams (hamstring). It will be their first game without leading rusher Cedric Benson (foot, injured reserve) in the backfield.
The common thread through the rebound victories was defense.
In the Detroit victory in ’11, they picked off quarterback Matthew Stafford three times and held receiver Calvin Johnson to 49 yards. In the New England loss in ’10, the defense held quarterback Tom Brady to 163 yards passing. In the Cowboys victory in ’09, they forced three turnovers and sacked quarterback Tony Romo five times.
This year, the Packers rank 16th on defense and have played well only in spurts. They were run over by San Francisco’s Frank Gore in the opener but then dismantled Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler four days later.
They handcuffed Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson but didn’t finish off the game. They played poorly against New Orleans and then were solid for one half against Indianapolis.
“I think at some point we just have to make it happen,” Raji said. “The coaching staff puts a lot of time into a game plan and the messages we’re receiving. But ultimately, it’s a player’s game. The players don’t do it; it’s not going to get done.
“It’s kind of on us.”
Missing more than anything is the turnovers coordinator Dom Capers’ defense is known for. Through five games last year, the defense had forced 13 turnovers, including eight on the road.
This year, the number is five, including just one on the road.
“You can’t press for turnovers,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “Turnovers are going to come. Once they come, they come in bunches. You can’t over-react to it. Just keep doing your job and trust the defense.
“The defense will put you in a situation where you can get a turnover.”
Still, this game has a lot of meaning for the Packers’ defense, especially with the offense sputtering and banged up. The onus is on that group to bottle up quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans’ formidable lineup.
And it’s on Capers and his staff to find a way to get more from rookies Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian and Casey Hayward as well as Burnett and D.J. Smith, a pair of young starters without an interception or forced fumble.
“Just play speed,” Smith said, when asked where young players have to match the veterans. “I think I play fast, but just that step closer, it’s the difference between getting a sack and just getting a hit. You have to see things before they happen.
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By Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders
~Upset Watch appears every Thursday this season for ESPN Insider, as Football Outsiders uses a proprietary formula to forecast the expected point spread of each game based on current DVOA ratings (explained here) and, early in the season, our DVOA projections. Each week we highlight the most likely upset on a game with a line over three points, plus an additional game in which a significant underdog has a strong chance to cover.
Bill Parcells often said “you are what you are,” meaning that a team was truly only as good as its record. But actually, that’s not really true. Analyzing a team’s performance over hundreds of plays gives you a better idea of a team’s quality than a win-loss record. You can’t go back and change the past and wipe losses off your slate, but a binary win-loss record really isn’t a good way to judge how well a team will play going forward.
The Green Bay Packers are a great example of this. The Packers have been one of the best teams in the league this year despite losing three games — well, two games, plus one with an asterisk. Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, which compare success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent, have the Packers sixth in the NFL right now. In fact, the Packers are the second-best 2-3 team in the history of DVOA stats, which currently go back to 1991. Except for the two teams playing this season, the teams in the top 10 all finished with winning records and/or made the playoffs. And if you need another reason to like the Packers over the Texans this weekend, we’ve nailed our last three upset picks. Just sayin’.
The Packers aren’t running up and down the field like they did a year ago, but they aren’t quite the “faltering offense” that some have described. Once we adjust for situation and opponent, the Packers still have a top-five offense, even with star receiver Greg Jennings sidelined most of the year. And while the defense doesn’t come close to Houston’s dominant unit, it has been above average.
The Texans have looked much better than Green Bay in part because of who they have played. Green Bay has played the third-hardest schedule so far by average DVOA of opponent, while Houston has played the third-easiest schedule. Once we account for strength of schedule, Houston is still better, at second overall, and it is properly favored in this game. But right now the gap between Houston and Green Bay is smaller than the gap between Houston and No. 1 San Francisco.
The biggest worry for the Packers is that their greatest weakness on offense is pass protection — not the kind of thing you can hide against the Houston Texans. Our Adjusted Sack Rate metric measures sacks per pass play, adjusted for situation and opponent, and the Packers offense is 31st at 10.0 percent, while the Houston defense is fourth at 9.2 percent. However, the Packers may not fall for J.J. Watt’s greatest trick. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had only five passes batted down at the line last year, tied for 29th in the NFL. This year, he’s had only one tipped pass (by Chris Clemons of Seattle).
If the line can keep Rodgers upright long enough, he will want to look for wherever Kareem Jackson is patrolling the field. The Texans tend to move Johnathan Joseph around to cover the opponent’s top receiver, and that leaves a lot of opportunities for the second weapon — probably James Jones on Sunday — to take advantage of Jackson. The Texans are No. 1 in the league in DVOA against No. 1 receivers, but just 23rd against No. 2s, who have caught 67 percent of passes. Eric Decker of Denver was a particular problem, with 123 yards on seven catches plus a 26-yard gain on a defensive pass interference call.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers have to figure out how to turn the pass-rush tables on the Texans. Houston does a great job of protecting Schaub — he’s been sacked a league-low three times — but the Packers are the toughest pass rush Houston has faced this season. Green Bay ranks fifth in defensive Adjusted Sack Rate, right behind the Texans. The Packers may want to consider double-covering Andre Johnson the whole game, because they’ve had a ton of trouble against opponents’ No. 1 receivers (27th in DVOA).
One last advantage for the Packers is one that’s always useful for the underdog: special teams. Randall Cobb is always a threat to turn the game around with one return.
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