The Texans (1-5) host the Packers (4-1) in Week 7 at NRG Stadium. It's the first regular season meeting between the squads since December of 2016, when they squared off at Lambeau Field. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at Noon CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Deep Thoughts – Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense are getting explosive plays. Houston leads the AFC in receptions of 20 yards or more, and Watson is atop the NFL in completions of 20 yards or more with 27. He's found Will Fuller, V, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Kenny Stills, David Johnson and even Pharaoh Brown for at least one completion of 20-plus yards in 2020. The diversity of deep strike possibilities continues to blossom for the Texans.
"I think the more we're able to spread the ball around and get guys involved, the harder we'll be able to defend," Cobb said. "You look at the games Brandin's been able to put up these past few weeks, Will continuing to make plays down field. That's what it's all about. I think that's why we were all brought here together. I think we've got to get Kenny more involved, get him more opportunities. Being able to have us all on the field and create matchup issues for defenses, it makes us hard as a unit to cover."
After punting twice in the opening quarter last Sunday, the Texans scored on six of the next eight possessions, getting touchdowns on five of those six drives. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly described the "number of different things" that helped the Texans get explosive, and get points.
"Obviously our guys upfront doing a good job of keeping him clean and allowing him to get comfortable back there," Kelly said. "He's done a great job really of coming in and preparing and really being able to try and anticipate what he's going to see each and every play and having a plan. When you come into a play and you have an idea of what you're going to see and you have a plan as to where you want the ball to go, it helps you to get through things quicker and get the ball out."
In addition to solid play from the line, and Watson having a good plan, Kelly also credited the receiving corps' ability to get loose.
"The guys on the outside are doing a great job of winning," Kelly said. "When you're not sitting there waiting on one guy, you have multiple guys that can go out there and win, it allows you not to sit there and hold, hold, hold. It allows you to really get through your progression and when you have multiple guys that are winning, I think it makes that deal easier for the quarterback."
2) Run better – As explosive as the passing attack was last Sunday, the run game struggled. The backfield of David Johnson and Duke Johnson teamed up for 66 yards on 23 carries. The former had a run of 11 yards, while the latter got loose for a 10-yarder. With those two runs subtracted, the duo averaged 2.1 yards per carry on the other 21 rushes. While it's been tough, numbers-wise, for David Johnson, Kelly isn't putting the lack of production solely on his back's shoulders.
"He's doing what we're asking him to do, and sometimes those aren't really favorable situations," Kelly said. "They're not favorable boxes. He's running hard. He's getting behind his pads. There's a couple different times where you look back to the Minnesota game where it was a third-and-one and there was an unblocked player there because again it was a short-yardage situation, and he ran through the tackle for five yards. He's doing a good job of running hard and doing what we're asking him to do."
The Packers are around the middle of the League in team rushing yards allowed, and they're giving up an average of 27.8 points per game in 2020.
3) Limit Rodgers – Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after his career finishes. Despite a tough outcome last Sunday in the loss at Tampa Bay, he's thrown 13 touchdowns in 2020, with just a pair of interceptions on the season. The last two times he faced Houston, he carved up the Texans with a combined eight touchdown passes in a pair of wins.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league," cornerback Bradley Roby said. "That's unquestioned. He can make every throw. Super strong arm. Smart. Everything you want at quarterback. So, I think it's a big challenge, for sure, going against him."
As strong an arm as Rodgers has, and as "fleet afoot" as he is, according to interim head coach Romeo Crennel, the mental aspect of Rodgers' game is equally impressive.
"He does a good job at the line of scrimmage, controlling the line of scrimmage, getting guys to jump offsides," Rodgers said. "He does a good job of recognizing the defense, knowing where he needs to go with the ball. He's experienced, so he can figure out what the double is, and then he can go somewhere else with the ball."
4) They can run, too – As splendid as Rogers is, he's also supported by an above-average rushing attack this season. Former UTEP Miner Aaron Jones has been good for 5.2 yards per carry in 2020, and has already run for five scores. The Buccaneers held him to 15 yards on 10 carries last Sunday, but otherwise, he's been a chore for opposing defenses.
"That's part of that stable they've got," Crennel said. "They all run hard, through arm tackles, through block tackles. He kind of helps the quarterback."
As a team, the Packers average an even five yards every time they run the ball. Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon have also been positive contributors in the run game, which has been a sore spot for the Texans in 2020. The solution to stopping the run, if you listen to defensive end J.J. Watt, isn't all too complicated.
"I don't think it's anything groundbreaking besides playing in our gaps and tackling," Watt said. "That's it. I don't think there's any magic potion we need to sprinkle on it. We need to do our jobs and we need to tackle. That's it."
5) More TO's, please – The Texans lost the turnover differential battle in each of their first four losses, and then were even in that category in their Week 5 victory. They actually tallied two takeaways and didn't turn the ball over in the loss at Tennessee. Keeping that up, and staying above water in that statistic is important.
On the season, the Texans are now minus-3 in turnover differential. The Packers are plus-1.
For the first time all season last Sunday, Rodgers was picked off. It happened twice, and he didn't throw a touchdown. Through the first four games, he'd thrown two or more scores and had a clean sheet on the interceptions ledger.