Say 'Cheese!': Texans Vs. Packers Means Watt Vs. Rodgers

Mike Fisher

Both the Houston Texans and the Green Bay Packers will be trying to bounce back from losses as they approach Sunday's Week 7 NFL meeting at noon at NRG Stadium.

But the similarities between the two programs largely ends there, as Houston is 1-5 while Green Bay is 4-1. There are ties that bind, though, including a "Cheesehead'' thing, as the Packers' key guy (still and of course) is QB Aaron Rodgers and the Texans' key guy (still and of course) might be J.J. Watt.

Anthony Wood of SI.com’s Texans Daily and Bill Huber of PackerCentral in the SI family compare some notes ...

1. The Texans appear to be playing better with Romeo Crennel running the show. What’s the difference?

The biggest difference has been offensive coordinator Tim Kelly being given full control. With O’Brien in charge, he was always going to be somewhat involved in play-calling. Under Crennel, it’s entirely Kelly’s offense. Of course, O’Brien’s fingerprints are still all over it in terms of the roster and much of Kelly’s style, which is not a surprise given he spent most of his coaching career working under O’Brien.

However, Kelly has allowed the offense to play to its strengths more, specifically the deep ball. He’s used the speed of Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks to their advantage, something the Texans were expected to do all season. It is also worth mentioning that quarterback Deshaun Watson has found his rhythm in this offense, as well as with new receivers Cooks and Randall Cobb. Plus, the offensive line is coming together after shaking off some early rust. Combined, the improved play of the offense has at least masked the defense’s deficiencies.

2. Randall Cobb had some big seasons with the Packers and is off to a decent start in Houston. Could you tell us about Cobb’s start in Houston and how the passing game has done without DeAndre Hopkins?

The lack of preseason reps hit him hard early in the season. He only had 23 receiving yards in Week 1 and didn’t start until Week 3. He’s begun to find his place in this offense. With Cooks and Fuller spreading the field, Cobb has been able to use the shallower routes to find some space, as have tight ends Darren Fells, Jordan Akins and Pharaoh Brown.

With regards to the passing game as a whole, there is room to improve. This offense was designed to “swarm” defenses, for lack of a better term. Bringing in running backs Duke and David Johnson, two of the league’s better dual-threat backs, alongside a few versatile tight ends and a mixture of strong receivers was supposed to remove the need for a No. 1 receiver and make it difficult for defenses to focus on just one player.

The offense has improved significantly in recent weeks but it needs to find a way to get the Johnsons more heavily involved in the pass game. They also need to find a back who can pound out yardage up the middle to balance their attack, as neither Johnson has shown the ability to consistently provide an effective run game.

3. J.J. Watt is a legend around here. He’s had some monster seasons and also some lost seasons. Is Watt in Year 10 still the game-wrecker he was in his prime?

The stats say no, but the tape says yes. He hasn’t been as productive as in past seasons but that is due to the lack of pass rushers elsewhere on defense. Watt has been the only consistent pass-rushing threat since Week 1. Therefore, he garners the most attention from linemen.

READ MORE: Are Texans Trying To Trade J.J. Watt?

READ MORE: Stoots Podcast: The Texans' Future Is At Stake

If you watch his game from Week 6, however, it is clear he has plenty of juice left. He was absolutely everywhere in recording a strip-sack, defended pass, tackle for loss, quarterback hit, and forced fumble. He has been in the quarterbacks’ face every week this season, and you can still see the impact he has even when he isn’t recording a sack. Watt just needs his teammates to step up.

4. Not sure if you saw the Packers-Bucs game but Tampa Bay smothered the Packers’ running game and then blitzed the heck out of Aaron Rodgers. Can Houston duplicate that success or is the run defense too much of a lost cause?

The run defense is a lost cause. The Texans rank at the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed (1,065), yards per attempt (5.4) and first downs by rushing (58). Losing defensive tackle D.J. Reader in free agency hit them hard, but mismanagement by O’Brien in building an unbalanced roster hit them harder. There simply isn’t enough talent on this defense. The linebackers have struggled all season to set the edge, meaning it’s a free for all at times.

There have been bright spots from P.J. Hall, Zach Cunningham, Whitney Mercilus and Justin Reid, but not consistently. Throw in the missed tackles that have been an issue since Week 1, and the aforementioned lack of pass rushers, and Rodgers shouldn’t be too worried. 

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