Packers' defense finds its mojo amidst injuries

Jamaal Williams, Billy Turner step up in spot starts

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Green Bay Packers LB Za'Darius Smith tackles Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

Coming off a forgettable day in Tampa, the Packers' defense knew it needed a bounce-back performance Sunday against the Houston Texans.

It just wasn't going to have all its usual pieces available with starting cornerback Kevin King, safety Darnell Savage and defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster out with injuries.

Despite having to weather a few more departures against the Texans, including starting linebacker Krys Barnes, the Packers dug deep to hold Deshaun Watson and Co. in check in a largely one-sided 35-20 victory at NRG Stadium.

Many of the longstanding hallmarks of Green Bay's defense were present against the Texans. Pro Bowl linebacker Za'Darius Smith had two quarterback hits and a key sack in the second quarter to disrupt Houston's series, while Preston Smith stopped Watson on a key fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

Most importantly, the Packers didn't allow a point in the first half – forcing punts on the Texans' first three drives – to take a 21-0 lead at halftime.

"Everybody has their role, and then when things happen, people go down, people have to step up," safety Adrian Amos said. "They may have had a couple things on a couple of the drives, but I think for the most part everybody that came in played well."

Third-year cornerback Jaire Alexander continued to play lights-out against talented receivers (this time Will Fuller) and Green Bay was stingy in the red zone, containing the Texans to two late field goals to help seal the team's fifth win of the season.

Amos was involved in two stops down the stretch with his sack of Watson for a 12-yard loss on third-and-goal at the start of the fourth quarter. He also corralled a fumble late after practice-squad call-up Henry Black forced David Johnson to cough it up moments after the Texans recovered a late onside kick.

"Those guys deserve a lot of credit," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the defense. "It's such a tall task to task to have timely stops, but there's a lot of guys playing really good football on that side of the ball, maybe nobody as good as '23.' I think he deserves a lot of respect and appreciation for the way that he's played against some really talented receivers the last few weeks."

Defensive communication was stressed with two box defenders in the starting lineup, Barnes and safety Raven Greene, leaving with injuries. Barnes, who injured his shoulder on the first play of the second half, still finished with a team-high eight tackles and a sack.

In his place, second-year inside linebacker Ty Summers and rookie Kamal Martin split every-down linebacker duties. Martin, activated off injured reserve Saturday, recorded six tackles in his NFL debut.

Watson put up some points and passing yards late, but David and Duke Johnson were held to just 41 yards on 15 carries. All told, it was a step in the right direction following last week's loss to the Buccaneers.

"We just didn't like our performance last week so we just took it one day at a time," Amos said. "We left last week last week and we went in and tried to prepare each and every practice like it was a game situation. Everybody holding each other accountable. No slacking, no loafing. Everyone on their assignments, their keys. That's how we have to prepare each and every week."

The Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans faced off in a Week 7 matchup on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.

Jamaal's time: The Packers have long considered Jamaal Williams a starting running back, and with Aaron Jones out with a calf injury Sunday, the fourth-year veteran showed why.

Williams produced 114 total yards and a touchdown on 23 touches against the Texans, providing the stable and reliable backfield presence Green Bay needed without Jones.

"Jamaal is a starter in our mind," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Jamaal does so much not only as a runner but in the passing game, whether it's going out of the backfield catching the ball, and in protection. He's always consistent and we know we can always count on him."

Turning to Turner: For only the seventh time in seven-plus seasons, the Packers were without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who didn't make the trip due to a chest injury.

In his place, the Packers slid starting right tackle Billy Turner over to the left side. While Turner was an FCS All-American left tackle at North Dakota State, Sunday was only the second time he started there in the NFL and first since October 2016.

The domino effect saw veteran Rick Wagner fill in at right tackle on an offensive line that didn't allow a sack of Rodgers.

"I'm really happy the way those guys played," Rodgers said. "Obviously J.J. (Watt) is such a talented player, we didn't want let him get going and be able to kind of tee off. (We did) a nice job getting those guys help but there were multiple time where there was one-on-ones, five across the line, five guys blocking and those guys held up. … It was a nice clean day up front."

Through six games this year, Rodgers has only been sacked seven times.

First impressions: With Rodgers' 3-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams, the Packers remain the only team in the NFL that's scored on all six of their first offensive possessions this season.

"There's a lot of time that goes in throughout the course of a week in everything we do. Putting the openers together is a tedious process," LaFleur said. "It's really a credit to our players because it doesn't really matter what you call, it's their ability to go out there and execute the play that was called. Not everything happens the way you draw it up. We're lucky and fortunate that we have a lot of great players that are able to make plays when they present themselves."

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