HOUSTON – The Packers stopped the run, harassed the quarterback and got some turnovers.
No team had really done that all season to the Texans, and a complete defensive performance like that was a big part of the Packers’ 42-24 win on Sunday night.
Arian Foster was the league’s second-leading rusher, but the Packers held him to just 29 yards on 17 carries, or a measly 1.7 per rush. The Texans had allowed just three sacks through five games, best in the league, and the Packers doubled that total. Ditto for the turnovers, with the Texans throwing three interceptions.
“I think it spoke for itself,” Clay Matthews said of the defense’s showing. “That’s exactly what we wanted to do coming in here.”
Matthews set the tone early, getting into the backfield to cut down Foster on some early runs. C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy both had sacks in the first quarter, with A.J. Hawk adding another sack in the second half.
That’s when the interceptions came, with Casey Hayward and Sam Shields both picking off quarterback Matt Schaub. Hayward added a second pick of backup QB T.J. Yates, giving the Packers rookie three interceptions in the last two weeks.
“That was one missing part of our formula for success,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the turnovers. The Packers got more than one in a game for just the second time this season.
The combination of stifling Foster early while the Packers’ offense was scoring points effectively took Houston out of its game plan. The Texans managed drives of 80 and 65 yards for TDs, but both came with the Packers up three scores.
“It’s what we can do,” Matthews said of controlling a game on both sides of the ball. “That’s what’s disappointing about a few of our losses this year. It’s not the way in which we lost, but the fact that we even put ourselves in that position.”
Banged up: The only downside to the defensive effort was the injuries the unit sustained. After the game, a knee injury to inside linebacker D.J. Smith was termed “significant.”
Outside linebacker Nick Perry also left the game with a knee injury, and Shields went out late with a shin injury, but no further information was given.
The other “significant” injury was to backup running back and special teamer Brandon Saine, who also hurt his knee.
Making the move: It’s not the first time an opponent has mocked Aaron Rodgers’ “belt” celebration after sacking the Packers’ quarterback, but Rodgers said he was joking during a TV timeout with Houston’s J.J. Watt after the Texans’ star got his first of two sacks.
“I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got your own move. Why are you messing with mine?’” Rodgers said. “I know he does the salute.”
Watt did that, too. Rodgers tried to get his revenge with a demonstrative “belt” – also known as the “discount double-check” from his State Farm Insurance commercials – when he scrambled for a touchdown in the third quarter, but it was all for naught because the run was called back on a holding penalty.
“I made myself look kind of silly,” admitted Rodgers, who drew laughter from the media contingent at his postgame press conference.
Sticking with it: Running back Alex Green’s numbers don’t look all that impressive from his first NFL start – 22 carries for 65 yards, an average of 3.0 with a long run of 10.
But Green’s work on the ground was important. Rodgers commented on how valuable it was for the Packers to run the ball, even if it wasn’t all that successful, to keep Houston’s defensive front honest. Watt’s two sacks were the Texans’ only sacks on Rodgers’ 41 dropbacks. McCarthy credited Rodgers for keeping the offense in “clean plays” at the line of scrimmage with the run calls.
Green was most productive in the first half, before the game got out of hand and the Texans stacked the box to stop him while the Packers were trying to run the clock. He carried nine times for 36 yards in the first two quarters, a solid 4.0 average, including an 8-yard run that started a seven-play, 78-yard TD drive, the Packers’ longest scoring drive of the first half.
“It was a good step in the right direction for our run game,” McCarthy said.
James Starks also saw his first action of the season, with five carries for 11 yards in the fourth quarter when Green’s night was done.
Additional coverage - Oct. 14