Sunday, October 14, 2012

Packers vs. Texans: who lassoes who?

Prior to the start of the 2012 NFL season, both the Green Bay Packers and the Houston Texans were projected to be the likely winners of their respective divisions. At 5-0 coming into tonight's game, the Texans certainly look like they are on their way. The Packers? Not so much right now.

Sitting at a mediocre 2-3, and while referees of both replacement and regular stripes have certainly done them no favors overall, the Packers have to look in the mirror and blame themselves for their sorry state. They are two games behind Da Bearz and the ViQueens...the 'Queens, for gosh sakes!

Whatever the reasons there are for their failures -- including a collapse of Biblical portions in the second half of last Sunday's game versus the so-so Colts -- it's up to the players to execute, regardless of who is on the field. Yes, not having WR Greg Jennings impacts the offense in any number of ways but it doesn't explain the one touchdown to date by WR Jordy Nelson or his drops in key situations. As to the seemingly emerging malcontent TE Jermichael Finley, he should do less talking about everyone else and do his job: catch the ball! The loss of RB Cedric Benson for at least 8 weeks if not the season -- just as he was starting to get rolling as a key element of the offense -- isn't something the Packers needed. They finally had a running game that defenses had to respect. Now, unless Alex Green (who gets the start today) or James Starks or Brandon Saine can keep defenses honest the already-beleaugered Packers' offensive line is going to appear to be even more of sieve than it has through the first five games. Today, going up against what is arguably one of the best defensive lines in the NFL will be a real challenge for this offensive line. Does the name J.J. Watt ring a bell? Let's just hope he's not ringing Aaron Rodgers' bell today. Time for the line and the receivers and the running backs to step up.

On defense, communication -- particularly in the defensive backfield -- supposedly continues to be an issue. How and why this isn't resolved by this point in the season is certainly a question that needs addressing. With B.J. Raji still questionable for today's game, stopping the Texans potent offense is going to be a challenge. They have a very good passing game and strong running attack. The Packers' defense needs to bring its "A" game all day long. In fact, that would be a good motto for the Pack in today's game: play a full four quarters! That's something they really have yet to do.

What, if anything, should we say about special teams? Some brilliant play on "trickeration" as the saying goes. But K Mason Crosby had better get back to being his reliable self after his own personal collapse in last week's loss. The wild shank to the left on his final field goal attempt to send the game to overtime was something you expect to see out of a high school or college kicker, not the kicker for the Green Bay Packers. Let's just hope it doesn't come down to a field goal again today.

It's possible, of course, that this team -- players, not coaches -- felt they could step on the playing field and win on last year's reputation. Not going to happen. Teams have had plenty of time to scheme how to handle the Packers' receivers...and they are. That begins the domino effect: QB Aaron Rodgers goes through his progressions, sees everyone covered, and by that time is either running for his life because of the pass rush or is getting sacked for having held onto the ball too long rather than throwing it away.

Things are still out of sync on both sides of the ball. But tonight's game would be a great time for them to finally come together. Head coach Mike McCarthy has a good history of rallying the troops when their backs are against the wall. And, they basically are. But with Chicago having their bye week and Minnesota at Washington, the Packers could pick up a game on both with a win. That would be critical as things start to get close to the half-way point of the season. Falling three games behind in the division wouldn't necessarily end the Packers playoffs hope at this stage, but it certainly makes the hill to climb much higher. Most of the Packers' division games come in the latter part of the season, so ground can be made up there. But that doesn't leave much room for errors...especially the kind of errors we've seen on display so far and far too much this season.

What's the call then?
What's the take on this week's game? Depends upon who you read or listen to, of course. SI's Peter King says this: "File this in desperate-team-plays-better-especially-against-team-coming-off-short-week category. The Texans have to adjust to the loss of inside 'backer and signal-caller Brian Cushing, out for the season with a torn ACL suffered Monday night, and that will provide a hiccup or two to overcome. I say the Pack will have an easier time overcoming the Cedric Benson loss -- as long as Aaron Rodgers can evade a terrific rush." King calls it 23-20 in favor of the Pack.

Interestingly, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Packers guru, Bob McGinn, says the Pack will upset the Texans (who are favored by 4 points with the over-under pegged at 46.5 points), although McGinn never predicts a score. Three of his fellow writers, however, all give the win to the Texans by anywhere from 1 to 17 points...ouch! Check out their analysis and comments here.

So, what's the take of yours truly after all the above? I hate to say it, Packer fans, and I truly hope that I am wrong, but not even my green 'n' gold-colored glasses have me seeing a win for the Pack tonight. Maybe, just maybe, this is what the team needs to gel. But given what we have seen so far this season, we are looking at what is at this moment a mediocre team, and one playing on the road at the home of a very good team.

I'm calling this one in favor of the Texans, 31-24. I hope I'm wrong. I really do. The Packers need this game as much as they've needed any game in recent years.

But I can still say this and keep my fingers, toes and eyes crossed for a win: Go Pack Go!!!