On Sunday night, the Packers will gear up to play one of their toughest games of the season against one of the toughest defenses they'll see all year. The Houston Texans look like a very complete team, and despite losing linebacker Brian Cushing for the season, their defense is still scary. Let's take a look at some key Texans to keep an eye on this Sunday.
DE J.J. Watt
Let's get Watt out of the way immediately. He's been a beast so far, and has a ridiculous 7.5 sacks in five games from a 3-4 end/tackle position. That's absurd. Plus, he's the best in the league at knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage and he's also recovered two fumbles. In our season preview, I mentioned Watt as a dark horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. I wanted to think he could be this good, but I didn't think it would happen so early in his career. The best part about Watt is his determination, energy, and character; he's the kind of player you dream about building a defense around. It seems likely that Watt will make Aaron Rodgers' day very difficult.
ILB Bradie James
James came over from the Cowboys this offseason and was slated to start next to Brian Cushing at inside linebacker. Now with Cushing out, James will likely take over linebacker duties in the dime package, and will be responsible for covering receivers out of the backfield when the Packers spread out their formations. A knowledgeable Texans fan dropped by yesterday to discuss why their fans are so concerned about this; specifically, they expect Mike McCarthy to use Randall Cobb out of the backfield in these types of sets, which would put James at a distinct disadvantage. Attacking James will be a key part of the Packers' game plan.
CB Brice McCain
McCain is the Texans' slot corner, a position which will no doubt be tested consistently this week. Obviously, Cobb will be taking many of his snaps out of the slot, and he'll look to exploit a matchup against McCain, who has been struggling according to Pro Football Focus. Much like the week 1 game against San Francisco, the Texans have two very good corners on the outside who like to play press man coverage. If Jordy Nelson and James Jones can't break free of the press, the slot receiver will be leaned on greatly against McCain.
RT Derek Newton
Newton is having a worse season than even Bryan Bulaga, according to PFF's preview linked above. With Nick Perry showing some more burst last week and Erik Walden looking much improved over last year, they will have a great opportunity to take advantage of a struggling tackle. Duane Brown, the Texans' left tackle, has put together a stellar start to the season, so the Packers will absolutely need some more pressure from the left side of the defense.
TE Owen Daniels
It's former Badgers galore for Houston! I brought up Daniels' success yesterday in my fantasy post, but it bears repeating that he leads the Texans in every major receiving category: targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. While not possessing ridiculous size or speed, Daniels is a smart tight end with great hands who's equally adept blocking and receiving. With the Packers' challenges defending against that position so far this year, expect him to get at least 6 or 7 passes thrown his way on Sunday.
What other Texans will you be keeping a close eye on this Sunday night?
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