There was no R-E-L-A-X or post-game “Shhh” from Aaron Rodgers, but coming off one of the worst games of his career and an ugly loss for the Green Bay Packers, a 35-20 win in Houston looked awfully familiar. In fact, Rodgers’ first-half stats, with three touchdowns and a 144 passer rating nearly mirrored his historic performance in Houston back in 2012. Green Bay paired Rodgers’ rebound performance with a buoyant defensive effort to help the Packers avoid the first back-to-back losses of Matt LaFleur’s young coaching career.
As Rodgers pointed out this week, the Houston Texans came in an unusual 1-5 squad, losing multiple games at the final gun against some of the best teams in football. With Deshaun Watson and an explosive offense, Houston presents myriad problems for opposing defenses, not to mention one that would be without three starters, including two crucial secondary pieces.
Mike Pettine’s maligned defense held the Texans to a goose egg in the first half, with three Rodgers touchdown tosses staking the Packers to a 21-0 halftime lead. Not only did the offense find a grove after a sloppy performance against Tampa Bay, but the Green Bay defense came alive in ways we hadn’t seen this season, rushing Watson and tackling consistently. What’s more, Pettine’s defense, down Kevin King and Darnell Savage to injury, didn’t allow the Houston to enter the red zone in the first half. Even though this Texans team came in 1-5, shutting down this offense for much of the game hints at a team capable of playing championship level defense.
The Packers scored their second touchdown before the Texans managed their second first down, a credit to both sides of the ball. For the sixth time this season, Rodgers led the team down to first-possession points, a drive helped by two Houston penalties a week after the often-penalized Buccaneers didn’t commit a single accepted infraction. By the end of the first half, Green Bay eclipsed its entire Week 6 offensive output thanks to the connection between Rodgers and Davante Adams, who finished the first two quarters with 8 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. The second half didn’t change much, as Adams lit up the box score with a career-high 196 yards and two scores, setting a Packers record with multiple road games this season over 150 yards.
Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur told the Fox broadcast team their squad practiced much better coming off what just about everyone in the organization called an ass-kicking at the hands of the Buccaneers. Still, the Packers inactive list looked more like its starting depth chart, down six first-team players and the team’s first-round pick. On offense, LaFleur found ways to scheme players open and play with balance against a defense ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category.
While Adams shouldered the lion’s share of the burden, key playcalls sprung Jace Sternberger and Malik Taylor for short touchdowns. LaFleur also found solutions to account for the loss of Tyler Ervin’s pre-snap motion, using Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon together as well as Darrius Shepherd as the motion man. Williams in particular picked up the slack with Aaron Jones dealing with a minor calf injury, running with his signature powerful slashing style to the tune of 77 yards and a score on 19 totes. He started his day dancing in pregame and finished it dancing in the end zone.
Defensively, the Packers pass rush showed up in ways we hadn’t seen much of the season thanks to Kenny Clark’s return and improved play from Preston Smith. In the second half, Pettine stayed aggressive, sending slot blitzes, twists, and stunts at the Texans. A seven-man pressure turned a third-and-short in the red zone into a field goal thanks to a sack. In the fourth quarter, a terrific play by Preston Smith on fourth down found a way to contain Watson and all but end any plans of a Texans comeback.
Green Bay’s plan not to give up anything deep and force the Texans to drive 10+ plays stymied an explosive offense and his guys tackled well underneath, not allowing five yards to turn into 15 off broken tackles. With the front winning it matchup upfront, the back seven tackled as well as we’ve seen them perform in a long time.
That approach works more effectively still when the offense can build a lead as they did Sunday. It helps Rodgers own Texas, moving to 6-0 there as a starting quarterback and lighting up opposing defenses in the longhorn state. If only Green Bay could fly South after any loss to get back on track.
This kind of win doesn’t prove the Packers can match up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it’s evidence they’re not fundamentally flawed. If there were an obvious blueprint on how to attack them, presumably the Texans would have used it.
Predicting a bounceback offensive performance didn’t take a crystal ball given the state of the Houston defense, but putting together such a balanced performance speaks to the mettle and quality of this Packers team. Sometimes the game is as easy as “Just play better.” Don’t let the Texans’ record fool you, this is a quality football team and Green Bay dominated them on both sides of the ball. A version of this team that plays offense like the 2020 team and defense like the 2019 team just might be the best team in football.