Five Days to Kickoff: 5 Packers at Texans Keys to Game

A lack of pressure up front, a lack of production in the secondary and the potential of J.J. Watt facing a Packers O-line without David Bakhtiari are among this week's keys.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – During training camp, Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith went on an epic rant about the importance of pressuring – and not just sacking – the quarterback.

“A long time ago, it’s probably when they started recording sacks, or some fans, coaches or whoever it may be defined a great pass rusher off of sacks. That’s one of the, I hate using the word stupid, one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen,” Smith said as part of an answer than lasted almost 5 minutes (see video). “You define a great pass rusher by consistency. Somebody came to my office earlier – I’m sorry, I’m kind of worked up on this – I’m sitting there and we’re talking about it. I said, ‘Take Player A and he had 13 sacks. Then we’ll take Player Z and he had 13.5. Who would you say is the better rusher? Well, you’d say they’re both pretty consistent, they’re probably about the same. OK, then you take Player A that had 57 pressures on the year. Then you take Player Z that had over 100? Now who would you take?

“That’s why you have to look at how they’re affecting the quarterback. When they’re in the game, are they affecting the quarterback with the pressures?”

Through five games, the Packers have 12 sacks. That puts them on pace for 38 sacks – not far off last year’s total of 41. However, as evidenced in Sunday’s blowout loss at Tampa Bay, what’s missing is the consistent pressure. The Packers have 53 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That puts them on pace for 170 – far distant from last year’s 304.

Za’Darius Smith has 13 (pace for 42), Preston Smith has seven (pace for 22) and Kenny Clark has zero. Last year, Za’Darius Smith had an NFL-high 93, Clark had 62 and Preston Smith had 55. The Smith Bros. and Clark combined for 210 pressures last year. That’s more than the entire defense is on pace for this season.

Until the pressure numbers go up, the turnover numbers are going to stay down and the Packers are going to have to rely on their offense to carry the load.

Here are four more keys as the Packers get ready for Sunday’s game at the Houston Texans.

2. More Decreased Production

Last year, thanks in part to that pass rush, the Packers tied for third with 17 interceptions and were 11th with 74 passes defensed. This season, only two teams have fewer interceptions than Green Bay’s two and no team has broken up fewer passes than its 12.

Texans quarterback Dashaun Watson is one of the best in the NFL but he is tied for 23rd in the NFL with five interceptions.

Green Bay has invested heavily in its pass rush and secondary. The group that delivered so much production last season has underperformed in the early stages of this season.

“Certainly, I’d like us to finish plays. We had really two opportunities and potential picks yesterday in the game, and we’ve got to finish those plays,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “I think that’s come up a few times prior to this games in our previous four games. So, we’ve just got to make sure we do a good job finishing and getting the ball out. I think we’ve got three turnovers and that’s not good enough. The recipe for winning football in this league is you’ve got to win the turnover battle, and we know that. Yesterday we were minus-two and they were two big-time turnovers that led to 14 points and it really swung the momentum of the game. I just think that we’ve got to look at some of things we’re asking our guys to do and make the necessary adjustments. We’ve got to bounce back from this one because we’re going to play a tough team this week in Houston.”

3. Back on Track

Green Bay’s explosive running game was blown up by the Buccaneers’ juggernaut run defense. Aaron Jones had only 15 yards on 10 carries – his fewest yards with more than five carries in his career.

If the running game is sick, Houston’s defense should provide the medicine. The Texans enter the week ranked last in the NFL with 177.5 rushing yards per game and 5.43 rushing yards per attempt. The Texans, who lost run-stuffing defensive tackle D.J. Reader in free agency, are more than a quarter-yard worse than any other team in the league.

4. Bakhtiari

All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari missed most of the second half against Tampa Bay with a chest injury. Afterward, neither LaFleur nor quarterback Aaron Rodgers sounded especially alarmed. However, on Monday, LaFleur said the team was “still monitoring” the injury.

Maybe it was LaFleur being coy the day after a game. Or, maybe there’s some real concern. The Texans’ defense is led by J.J. Watt, who has four career seasons of 16-plus sacks. When Watt is healthy, he is an indomitable force. He’s got three sacks this season. Watt plays up and down the line of scrimmage. There’s little doubt the Texans would want to match him up against whoever is playing at left tackle if Bakhtiari is out of the lineup.

5. Cobb vs. Sullivan

Former Houston coach Bill O’Brien traded star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for former All-Pro running back David Johnson.

Houston’s passing attack has been quite good without Hopkins. One reason why is the arrival of former Packers receiver Randall Cobb. Cobb has caught 22-of-28 passes (78.6 percent) for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll face Chandon Sullivan. According to PFF, Sullivan ranks ninth among 44 slot defenders with 11.0 snaps per reception and third with a passer rating allowed of 59.4.