|The Packers need to shore up their running game. Unfortunately, one of their key backs, Cedric Benson, may be lost for the remainder of the season due to injury. (US Presswire)|
This isn't the way Green Bay wanted to travel to Houston for its Week 6 matchup with the undefeated Texans. The Packers are sitting at 2-3 and coming off a bad loss to the Colts, to whom they relinquished a 21-3 halftime lead and watched an inept offense and a helpless defense get utterly outplayed. They're also beset by injuries to several key players, including RB Cedric Benson, WR Greg Jennings, TE Jermichael Finley and DT B.J. Raji. Benson and Jennings won't play, and Finley and Raji may be held out as well.
The Packers are an underdog for the first time since 2010. If they are going to leave earsplitting Reliant Stadium with a win, they're going to have to do more than just coast on their talent. They're not playing like the 15-1 team they were last year and they may never get anywhere close to that team this season. They'll have to play harder and commit to the run game -- on offense and defense -- more than they've seemed willing to do so far.
Here are three keys to a win over the Texans:
1. Run, run and run some more: Benson (foot) is injured and possibly out for the season. The Texans have one of the stingiest rush defenses in the league. It doesn't seem like a good recipe for running the ball on Sunday. But the Packers have to do it. They need the offensive balance that the running game provides. Coach Mike McCarthy and QB Aaron Rodgers have both acknowledged that fact in recent weeks. Last week, they let the Colts back in the game in the second half because they stubbornly refused to run the ball and work the clock. After the game, a couple of offensive linemen complained about the lack of running plays. When the Packers pass on more than two-thirds of their plays, they're 6-10 since 2010 -- and 0-3 this year. But when they pass less than two-thirds of the time, they're 25-1 over than same span, including 2-0 this year. That's as cut-and-dried as it gets. Houston lost talented ILB Brian Cushing for the season last week, so Green Bay must establish the run early and stick with it the entire game. Alex Green was unremarkable his first eight carries last week, but he then broke off a 41-yarder. The second-year back has big-play potential, and the Packers have to feed him.
2. Force some turnovers: Last season the Packers had the worst pass defense in the history of the NFL, but they were able to mitigate the damage because they led the league in interceptions (31) and tied for the most takeaways (38). This season they haven't made those big plays. They've only forced five turnovers through five games and are an uncharacteristic minus-one in turnover differential. The Texans are not a careless offense; they've only given the ball away three times and have a plus-eight turnover margin. Charles Woodson, a veteran ballhawk, needs to make some plays from his safety and slot corner positions. S Morgan Burnett hasn't played poorly but he's yet to register a takeaway. Green Bay is unaccustomed to being the less-talented underdog, but they might be that against Houston. The defense will have to come up with some game-changing big plays.
3. Many happy returns: Or at least one. On the road against a Texans team ranked third in total defense, and without WR Greg Jennings and RB Cedric Benson (and possibly TE Jermichael Finley), the Packers' inconsistent offense may struggle yet again. If it does, they'll need a spark from the defense (perhaps an interception or two?) or special teams. Second-year WR Randall Cobb is a dynamic and always-dangerous returner with three return scores in the past two seasons. He took a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against the 49ers in a game when the offense needed help. If he takes one to the house on Sunday at Houston, it could be huge because the Packers will need all the help putting up points that they can get.