Coming off a bad loss in Indianapolis that included a blown 18-point halftime lead, the Packers responded to the adversity and made the 5-0 Houston Texans look like a team not even capable of hanging with Green Bay.
Five things we learned from the Packers’ 42-24 win:
1. The Packers have silenced their critics … for now.
Aaron Rodgers plays his best with a chip on his shoulder, and he found the perfect opportunity to turn justifiable questions over the past week into ammunition for this game. Heading into Week 6, the Packers were 2-3, Rodgers’ statistics weren’t MVP-like and the offense’s production was significantly down, so the football world started to wonder where the dominant Green Bay team of 2011 had gone. In typical Rodgers fashion, he used that perceived doubt to fuel a performance that was more impressive than anything last year’s Packers had done offensively. Scoring 42 points against a Texans defense that was ranked in the top 10 in nearly every category was just what Green Bay needed.
This wasn’t just an ordinary win, either. Yes, a victory over the Cleveland Browns would have counted just the same in the standings, but knocking off a previously undefeated team on the road is a reminder to the Packers — and the rest of the league — just how good they can be.
Like Rodgers said after the game, for those who don’t believe in this year’s team, “Shhhhh.”
2. The offense was back in 2011 form, and then some.
No Greg Jennings, no Cedric Benson, no problem. Even with a banged-up Jermichael Finley, who caught two passes for 12 yards one week after dislocating the AC joint in his right shoulder, the Packers still destroyed Houston’s defense. Entering this game, the Texans had given up a total of six touchdown passes in their first five games combined. Rodgers matched that number in Sunday night’s game, tying Green Bay’s franchise record in the process with six touchdown passes.
Rodgers didn’t begin the game very well, overthrowing a wide open James Jones on third down on the opening drive. But a defensive offside call on the ensuing punt gave the Packers an automatic first down, which Rodgers took full advantage of with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on the very next play.
Houston helped out Green Bay throughout the game with several costly penalties in key situations, but once the door was opened for Rodgers on that first drive, he never looked back.
3. Texans QB Matt Schaub was completely shut down.
Through five games this season, Schaub had eight touchdown passes, had thrown only two interceptions and was sacked just three times. While not allowing Schaub to throw a single touchdown pass, the Packers doubled his interception and sack season totals in one game. Defensive end C.J. Wilson got it started early, sacking Schaub on the first play of the game. Linebacker A.J. Hawk and rookie defensive lineman Jerel Worthy also picked up sacks. Sam Shields intercepted Schaub early in the fourth quarter and rookie cornerback Casey Hayward picked one off a few minutes later.
The Texans had been running the ball this season more than they had been throwing it, but forced to play from behind all night, Houston called 12 more passing plays than runs. Green Bay’s defense responded, turning the Texans’ dual-threat, well-balanced offense into a team searching for answers.
4. Playing without B.J. Raji, Packers run-stoppers had a major impact.
With Raji on the sideline due to an ankle injury, Texans running back Arian Foster should have had a career game. Foster was the league’s leading rusher entering Week 5 and, even with Raji on the field prior this game, the Packers’ rushing defense was in the bottom 10 in the NFL. But with veteran Ryan Pickett taking over Raji’s nose tackle duties, Green Bay held Foster to 29 yards on 17 carries (1.7 average). Foster did have two rushing touchdowns, but both came from the 1-yard line. The Packers’ defensive line deserves a lot of credit for making Foster look merely pedestrian, but linebackers Hawk and Clay Matthews were disruptive all game and each had a tackle for loss on him. With Green Bay able to stop the run so efficiently, it benefitted defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ play-calling, allowing him to force Schaub to pass while in preferred coverage packages.
5. Injuries are piling up and could become a big problem soon.
Already without Jennings, Benson, Raji and linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Packers added to their injury woes in this game. Inside linebacker D.J. Smith, who took over the starting job once Bishop was placed on injured reserve, left with a knee injury that appears to be potentially serious. This forced Brad Jones into that spot, despite him being an outside linebacker last season. If Smith is out for an extended period of time, Green Bay will have a difficult time getting by with its third-string inside linebacker in that critical position. First-round pick and starting outside linebacker Nick Perry left the game with a left knee injury. Perry walked off the field under his own power but was unable to return. However, the Packers have already been dependent on Erik Walden there due to Perry’s wrist injury and should be able to get by if the rookie has to miss much time. Running back Brandon Saine, who has been used entirely on special teams this season, had to be carted to the locker room with what looked like a significant knee injury. And, late in the game, with the Packers up by 25, Shields went down with what the team called a shin injury. Shields was writhing in pain on the ground immediately after the play. Considering how well Shields has played throughout most of this season, losing him now would be bad timing. But with Hayward playing so incredibly well and Davon House fully cleared to play, Green Bay might be able to get by without Shields for a while.
The Packers were able to win the Super Bowl two seasons ago with a double-digit number of players on injured reserve, but most teams can only survive so many injuries. Green Bay will get a true test of its roster depth in the coming weeks if several of these injured players are out.