Two Days Until Kickoff: 2 Packers at Texans X-Factors

Looking beyond the obvious names, here are two X-factors for Sunday’s game in Houston between the Packers (4-1) and Texans (1-5).
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – You know the big names, with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and Jaire Alexander for the Green Bay Packers and J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson for the Houston Texans.

Looking beyond the obvious names, here are two X-factors for Sunday’s game in Houston between the Packers (4-1) and Texans (1-5).

Houston: WR Randall Cobb

OK, Cobb is one of the more obvious names. However, Cobb gets the call for a few reasons. One, obviously, is his excellent history with the Packers. Second, it’s his immense personal pride. There’s no doubt he’d like to show his former employers that they screwed up by not retaining him in free agency after the 2018 season. Third, he remains a quality player – and he might be on the trade block.

“I think putting on the green and gold and running through the tunnel and knowing the players that’s come through that tunnel and the people that’s played on that field, it really is hallowed ground,” Cobb told reporters this week. “It’s really a special place. I have some very fond memories. A lot of interaction with the fans during the game and off the field and at the grocery store. So, it’ll always be a special place to me.”

Cobb is third on the Texans in receptions and, as has been the case throughout his career, has done the bulk of his work from the slot. That’s where he’ll find the Packers’ nickel defender, Chandon Sullivan. It should be an excellent individual matchup. Last year against Dallas, Sullivan had an interception while covering Cobb.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb is tied for eighth in the NFL with 18 slot receptions and ninth with 229 slot yards. Meanwhile, Sullivan has been excellent in the slot. According to PFF, of 44 players with at least 20 percent playing time in the slot, Sullivan is ninth with 11.0 snaps per slot reception and third with a passer rating allowed of 54.9.

“I remember the first game we played together,” Rodgers said of he and Cobb, thinking back to the 2011 opener against New Orleans. “He obviously ran back a kick, ran the wrong route and got a touchdown. You knew he was going to be special from that point forward. One of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with, a great sense for the game, a fantastic athlete, can do so many things on the field, just an incredible understanding of route running. The kind of player you love because if he made a mistake, he never made it twice. When he learned something about a route, he’d lock it away in his brain and could remember things from years prior, games prior, release patterns, certain guys he was going against, uncanny ability to set up routes. And he’s a security-blanket-type receiver. When you have a slot guy like that who can get open, that’s always a good matchup for you. And he did so many things for us. When he was healthy for us, he was a dynamic player and, obviously, a really close friend.

While Cobb’s contract and injury history probably made moving on from him after the 2018 season the right decision, the Packers haven’t even gotten close to him replacing him.

Green Bay: DT Kingsley Keke

This will be a homecoming for Keke, who grew up in Houston.

“Big football game,” Keke said on Thursday. “You know, growing up, I'm not going to lie, I was a Houston Texans fans growing up. So playing against them is going to be special. It's going to be a great feeling, especially to see my family, as well.”

The Texans are allowing some fans into NRG Stadium; Keke figured 10 of them would be family members.

“I looked on the schedule last year,” said Keke, whose favorite player growing up was former Texans receiver. “I remember we played Houston this year coming up. So, I marked it. It's special for me going back home. I had this in my mind. I'm happy to come back home and enjoy the game and play hard.”

Keke has two sacks this season and has been one of the bright spots on a lackluster defensive front seven. Green Bay’s defensive linemen have produced 14 pressures, according to PFF. Keke has seven.

Watson, meanwhile, has been one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Texans have been especially vulnerable to interior pressure. So, this could be a more than a homecoming for Keke. It could be a productive one, as well.