While the outside continues dissecting what went wrong for the Green Bay Packers in Tampa Bay, Matt LaFleur’s team has turned the page and refocused attention on the challenge ahead.
Up next for LaFleur and the Packers is a trip to Houston to play the Texans, who are a talented bunch despite a 1-5 start.
“We’re focused on the Houston Texans. Another really good challenge,” LaFleur said Wednesday. “You look at a team that has been in front in four of the six games they’ve played. You look at the schedule they played, it’s been a pretty rough schedule for any team in this league. I don’t think their record is any indication of what kind of team this is. We have to play our best football or we won’t get the desired outcome we so want.”
The Texans took an early lead in Kansas City in the season opener, led the Pittsburgh Steelers deep into the second half and then blew a late lead last week in Tennessee. All three are likely playoff teams in the AFC.
In fact, the Texans have played all four of the AFC’s top teams by record so far this season. The combined record of the Texans’ first six opponents: 22-12.
The Texans, despite a lone win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and a loss to the 1-5 Minnesota Vikings, have faced as many difficult challenges as any team in football to start the 2020 season, so hosting the Packers won’t phase Romeo Crennel’s group.
Leading the Texans offense is star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has thrown 13 touchdown passes and averaged an NFL-best 8.9 yards per attempt through the first six weeks.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) plays against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Watson has four-straight games with a passer rating over 100.0, including a 138.9 passer rating during Sunday’s loss in Tennessee. He leads the NFL with 27 completions of at least 20 yards, and he’s completed at least 70 percent of his passes in three of the last four games.
Oh, and he can escape pressure and extend plays as well as any quarterback in the game.
LaFleur explained the challenge of facing one of the game’s bright young passers.
“His ability to create and extend plays. Our pass-rush is gonna be critical to keeping him in the pocket which is a tough task for any team. We’ll have to be very disciplined in our rush lanes and we’ll have to be sticky on the backend to not allow those big explosive plays. I want to say the Houston offense is No. 1 in the National Football League right now with explosive pass plays. We know we’re going up against an explosive bunch.”
The Texans are deep at the skill positions, with David Johnson and Duke Johnson handling the running back snaps and Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills giving Watson an explosive group of pass-catchers in the passing game.
LaFleur was especially complimentary of Fuller, who caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. A deep threat with terrific speed, Fuller has a touchdown catch in each of the last four games.
“I think he’s a legitimate No. 1 receiver,” LaFleur said. “I’m a big Will Fuller fan.”
The Texans rank third in the NFL in yards per play and are the sixth-highest graded offense overall at Pro Football Focus. The much-maligned Packers defense will have their hands full with Watson and his weapons on Sunday.
On defense, the Texans are led by the pass-rushers, specifically J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Houston is giving up 30.3 points per game this season, but Crennel is a creative defensive mind and the group can be disruptive when the pass-rush is on.
Watt will be a focus of the Packers on Sunday. LaFleur sees no slowdown in the Wisconsin native.
“I see a big, explosive, disruptive player that if given the opportunity will wreck the game,” LaFleur said.
The Texans are giving up 6.1 yards per play and rank dead last in the NFL against the run, allowing 5.4 yards per carry and 155.5 rushing yards per game. The group has only one interception and has struggled on third down. The Packers offense, still licking their wounds from the debacle in Tampa Bay, could have an opportunity at a get-right game in Houston.
LaFleur’s team just can’t bank on the Texans rolling over and handing the Packers the game on Sunday. Not on the road, and not with Watson under center.
The Texans might be 1-5, but they rank 15th in overall team grade at Pro Football Focus and 15th in DVOA at Football Outsiders, painting the picture less of a tanking team and more of a talented club that has faced a daunting schedule.
For more on the Packers and Texans, check out our 10 things to know series.