As I sit down to write this on Friday afternoon, there is reason to believe the following Packers will miss the Texans game: David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Kevin King, Darnell Savage, Robert Tonyan and Preston Smith. Already ruled out are the Tylers: Ervin and Lancaster. Doubtful are Bakhtiari, King and Savage.
For a Packers team looking to rebound from its first clunker of the year, that’s a load of talent missing for a game against a 1-5 Texans team that appears to have found its footing after jettisoning the in-over-his-head Bill O’Brien.
The recipe for this one seemed like a heavy dose of Jones, who would no doubt feast on a Houston team that is a league worst 32nd against the run. They give up 5.4 yards per rush and an astounding 6.7 yards on first down. Fortunately, it’s the Pack’s deepest position and Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon would undoubtedly fill in capably. But neither is likely to provide the explosive opportunities that Jones gives you as a runner and a receiver.
Which brings us to Bakhtiari: by all reports, his chest injury does not appear to be a long-term thing: Matt LaFleur says he’ll give him up until pre-game warmups to make the call on whether he can go. But that could also be subterfuge and he could very well be on the shelf for a while.
Ricky Wagner struggled mightily when pressed into service against the talented Bucs. Maybe with a week of practice, the coaches feel he can handle dealing with the Texans’ talented pass rushers like JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Maybe Billy Turner swings over to the left side and Wagner plays RT. Or maybe Elgton Jenkins slides over and the Pack inserts Lucas Patrick at LG. Playing without #69 is never ideal, and coming off a game where the line was dominated makes things a little dicey. If the Pack can run the ball like they should, it should put Rodgers in comfortable second and third down situations, meaning the defense can’t just tee off.
Even without those two studs, and even if Tonyan can’t play, the Pack should have no trouble dropping 30 points on this defense.
The problem is, the Texans should have no trouble dropping 30 on the Pack either. In the two games since firing O’Brien, Houston has looked looser and freer, dropping 30 on the Jags and 36 on a good Titans defense. They had Tennessee beat on the road last week, till Derrick Henry and Ryan Taneyhill put on a show in the closing seconds of regulation.
Deshaun Watson will be a problem: the first mobile QB the Pack has faced and one who has a group of wide receivers that Aaron Rodgers would love to sling the rock to. He’s developed a lot of chemistry in recent weeks with the much traveled Brandin Cooks. Will Fuller, when healthy, is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the game and then there’s Randall Cobb, ah, Randall Cobb. Their fourth guy, Kenny Stills, would be the Pack’s second best healthy receiver.
With King and Savage likely out, the secondary will be hard-pressed to keep the Texans from moving the ball through the air. This would be a great week for the suddenly benign Packers pass rush to re-appear. But with Watson’s scrambling ability, Krys Barnes and his fellow linebackers will be counted on to keep Watson from killing the Pack with his legs.
The Packers have won their last six games in Texas, which doesn’t mean a lot, except they seem to be comfortable playing down there. With all of the injuries, the playing field has been leveled a bit and I see an old-fashioned shootout. After his clunker in Tampa, I’m betting Rodgers gets the last laugh.
Packers 37 Texans 34