Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is dealing with an injured hamstring and that leaves Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing feeling more optimistic about his defense's chances of stopping the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“There's no question it will definitely help out if he can sit in the pocket and doesn't really feel like running,” Cushing said, “because there's nothing more defeating than on third down covering everybody, having everyone doing your job and everything's set and then the quarterback runs right by everyone for the first down, because he's the guy you don't account for as far as numbers and matchups.
“If it limits him, obviously, that'll be a big plus for us. There's no question about that.”
There's also no question both teams need a victory. After back-to-back losses at Oakland and home against San Diego, the Texans are 6-5. A heavy favorite to win the AFC South entering the season, they are clinging to a half-game lead over Tennessee (6-6) and a one-game lead over Indianapolis (5-6).
The Packers were favored to win the NFC North but are clinging to faint playoff hopes. Green Bay (5-6) snapped a four-game losing streak at Philadelphia on Monday but is two games behind Detroit and one game behind Minnesota in the division standings.
“We're the Green Bay Packers, so we take that with a lot of pride,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who has guided the team to seven consecutive playoff berths. “We know our fans were upset with what's going on, but there's no one more upset than those men in the locker room. That's the reality of it.
“We all want to win. We're doing everything we can to win, I can promise you that. This group is committed, but, hell, we're 5-6.”
Both teams are dealing with mile-long injury reports.
Houston “wins” with quantity. It has a whopping 20 players on its injury report, though the only starter who did not participate at Wednesday's practice because of injury was linebacker John Simon (chest).
Green Bay listed 12 players on its report but “wins” with quality. Not only is Rodgers battling a hamstring injury that occurred during the third quarter of Monday's game, but linebacker Clay Matthews is nursing an injured shoulder sustained on a devastating blind-side block by lineman Allen Barbre during the opening series. Matthews, who has missed four games this season with an injured hamstring, got through the game with a pain-killing injection.
“I'm in some pain, no doubt about it,” Matthews said. “Some swelling, bruising. But we got an X-ray and nothing is broken, (so) that's good. We'll see moving forward as far as progress I'm make going into this game. It's ultimately the goal, but we have some work to do.”
Both teams have work to do if they're going to get into the postseason and make a run.
The Packers have work to do on defense, though their streak of four consecutive games with 30-plus points allowed — the team's worst stretch in six decades — ended with an impressive performance at Philadelphia.
With starting inside linebackers Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan inactive, Matthews moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker for that game. He spent the past season-and-a-half inside and made an immediate impact.
“We're just paper thin at the position,” Matthews said. “It's just natural after a year-and-a-half of having inside linebacker experience just go back there. It was very natural to switch.”
The Texans have a lot of work to do on offense. They rank 29th in the league in scoring at 17.6 points per game.
Houston signed quarterback Brock Osweiler away from the Broncos with a four-year, $72 million free-agent contract but has gotten little bang for its buck. Osweiler ranks 31st in passer rating and 32nd in yards per attempt and is tied for last with 13 interceptions.
“Obviously, the quarterback and the head coach take the most blame,” Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. “We understand that. That's part of the deal. But it takes a lot more than that to execute a play properly.
“I didn't think we had our best game at any position on offense against San Diego. So it's not one guy's fault. I think he's getting more and more comfortable in our offense.
“He played well against Oakland. We just have to make sure that we play better around him. Look, he's got to do his part — there's a lot of things he can improve upon — but I think we all need to improve.”