In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com, gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent.*
The Packers broke their four-game losing streak with Monday Night's win at Philadelphia. How much has that one win changed the narrative of what you've been hearing in Green Bay?
Hodkiewicz: Well, it's certainly turned into a more positive vibe, if nothing else, externally around the team. (Head coach) Mike McCarthy hasn't had a whole lot of four-game losing streaks, so there's been a lot of things said that's going on outside of the building. People questioning the direction of some things.
As it turns out, Aaron Rodgers was as good as he's ever been in that game against the Eagles. They were really efficient offensively, got off to the fast start that they were looking for, and really in all three phases, probably played the most complete game we've seen all season. Defense was able to get some stops, big plays, and the specials team stepped up as well, so that's kind of been the issue for the Packers this season.
It's just trying to get all three of those things to align in the same game, and finally in Philadelphia everything seemed to come together.
Aaron Rodgers looked like the old Aaron Rodgers again, like you said. Efficient, accurate, seemed like he was making every single throw on the field. What was the difference for him?** Hodkiewicz:
I think it was establishing a rhythm early on. First off, the offensive line, who's been down two starters, played exceptionally. He was not sacked, only hit twice, and it really allowed him to play the game that he plays, which is being able to get some short, intermediate passes, develop some rhythm and then start testing the opposing secondary downfield.
What I was impressed with the most is his ball placement. He had two passes to Davante Adams, a third-year receiver that's kind of broke out this year for them, as well thrown of a pass as you'll ever see right on the spot, over the shoulder catches that really helped set up the tempo for them.
(Wide receiver) Jordy Nelson is back now from his ACL injury that kept him off last season, so he's been his resource, and really, it came down to third-down conversions. They had manageable situations. The downs kept swinging in their favor, and they converted 10-of-14 third downs, 71 percent, which is something they were really hoping to achieve after some rough weeks where they were trying to get things established.
For Rodgers, the consistency was there. The tempo was there. He did develop a hamstring pull in the third, played through that in so many ways. It was exactly what the Packers needed him to be.
Wide receiver Davante Adams ended the game with 113 yards and two touchdowns. He's having this tremendous season after struggling early on in his career. Where has he improved the most and what helped him get over that hump?
Hodkiewicz:** The biggest thing this year, I think, he's been healthy. He developed an ankle sprain, I think it was Week 2 or Week 3 of last season, that kind of lingered the entire year. Almost up to when the playoffs were, and then you started to see come out a little bit. He's completely healthy now. He's a possession receiver, and that's where he's going to make his money. It's what he does: being able to bring in passes going back to his time at Fresno State with David Carr. That was how he really distinguished himself with the Packers with the amount of production he had.
He's really shown a lot of confidence and pose this year. Not that he didn't have that before, but you can really see where he's made the biggest strides. He has Aaron Rodgers' confidence and chemistry. I think that's been a really big key for him, and when the Packers needed him to step up this season, he's really answered the bell. Three 100-yard games, two weeks ago – even though it was a loss against Tennessee – he had 156 receiving yards, so he's been able to really become that outside boundary threat that this offense just wasn't really able to have last year when Nelson was on.
Now that they have him, (tight end) Jared Cook was at it this offseason, (wide receiver) Randall Cobb. There's a multitude of options and weapons that Rodgers can use, and now that everyone has become healthy during this final stretch of the season, I think that starting to bring out the best in Adams as well.
Now that Jordy Nelson is back from his ACL injury, do you see any after effects of that or does it seem he's back to 100%?**
Hodkiewicz: Maybe a little bit earlier in the season. The Packers and Mike McCarthy talked about this too that he might have pressed Nelson a little bit too much. They went down to Jacksonville for their opener and he ended up playing about 90-95% of the snaps in that game. The Packers have tried to reduce that workload a little bit in the middle of the season, and then now, they are starting to ramp it up a little bit.
The downfield plays are still something he's working on to get on the same page with Rodgers, but the thing is, he makes so many huge catches for them at critical times of the game. If you look at his body type, he's 6-3, 280 pounds. He really could play outside on the boundary, where everyone has seen the sideline catches that he makes, you know 20,40 yard completions.
He also can play the slot really well, almost as much as a hybrid tight end. He can be effective in that way as well, and that's some of the reasons why the Packers have been able to convert some of those third downs in Philadelphia. He's 31 years old at this point. I don't know how that compares to where he was at 2-3 years ago.
It's tough to say, but I mean, in terms of the chemistry with Rodgers and being able to make big plays – I think he's second right now in touchdown receptions this season – that production has definitely been back. It something that certainly was missed last year when he wasn't on the field.
It seems like everybody was very down on the Packers ability to move the ball on the ground, and it's struggled at times with no Eddie Lacey. Still didn't eclipse 100 yards on the ground even in the win over the Eagles. How much of a concern is that heading into the month of December?
Well, it's interesting. They've kind of had to patch this thing together. They claimed Christine Michael off the waiver wire from Seattle a week ago, so now he's getting integrated with the offense with James Starks missing a few games with a knee injury. He's been back and kind of stepped into that starting role.
When Starks was hurt and Lacy was out, they actually went to (wide receiver) Ty Montgomery there, the third-round pick from a year ago, and they started using him as a running back. He had some success at certain points of the year. You'll see him run some passing plays and patterns out on the backfield as well that has helped add a new wrinkle to the offense. It's definitely not your traditional "Eddie Lacy, give him the ball 15-20 times a game and see what happens."
They have had to kind of manufacture that production in different ways, and Aaron Rodgers has played into that as well with his scrambling ability. He's on pace right now to set a new career-high attempts and touchdowns this season, so they did finally get their first rushing touchdown by a running back. Full back Aaron Ripowski got that on a one-yard goal line run in Philadelphia. It hasn't been one guy, it's been several guys, but the Packers – they still have some confidence that this group can get it done going into December.
On Monday night, the Packers defense got pressure on Carson Wentz, had four sacks, held the Eagles to just a field goal in the second half, and even then, that was from 50 yards. Where has defensive coordinator Dom Capers been wanting to improve the defense heading into that game, and was it merely just injuries that kept him from having a performance like this?
Hodkiewicz: Well, they won't say it, but injuries in the secondary has been huge and it's kind of been the storyline of this defense this season. They lost Sam Shields, who was their shutdown No. 1 corner, in the first game of the year against the Jaguars to a concussion. He's since then been placed on Injured/Reserved. They also lost (cornerback) Quinten Rollins, their second-round pick from last year, and their first round pick, (cornerback) Damarious Randall, for extended periods of time as well with groin injuries. Now, both of those guys are back. Randall actually played in his first game against the Eagles. He's a big difference maker for them. They have a lot of confidence in his play-making ability and a guy that can make a huge impact down this defense. They feel that they're different when he's on the field.
You also have to look at Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, their third-year safety. He had his third interception of the year and now has really stepped up in his play-making role. The Packers were expecting big things from him this season, and he hasn't disappointed. He had a big month in November with, I think, all three picks coming in those four games. They feel better about where they are at right now, and the fact that they've been able to get a little help with that cornerback position, something that can really help out Don Capers going forward here as he tries to find a way to make this all work here during the final stretch of the season.
We don't get snow down here in the south, so what are the chances we see it Sunday? What are your predictions for weather for Lambeau Field for the game?
Hodkiewicz: You know, everything I've seen so far points at it being okay. The thing that's kind of odd is that it's been a really nice year here at Lambeau Field. I think it was against Indianapolis. They actually had their warmest November game in history. It was 67 degrees at kickoff.
So, I don't know if we're going to be getting the traditional frozen-tundra kind of conditions, but certainly once December comes around, you start to see these temperatures drop. You got to get used to that in terms of the kicking, the punting, the run game, pass – everything gets effected. With the temperatures hovering somewhere in the 30s there, it could be interesting to see how it plays out, but I don't know if we'll be seeing any of the white stuff with this one.
Check out some of the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for the Packers on Sunday.