Stop Them In Their Tracks

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When the Packers defense takes the field Sunday night against the Houston Texans, they will be facing a challenge that is familiar to them in the sense that they see something like it every day in practice.

The Texans, much like the Packers, feature a trio of big-play threats at wide receiver in Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford. The Green Bay secondary will be getting a taste of what Packers' opponents face every week when they are forced to line up against Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson.

Much like the Packers, the Texans receiving corps is being paced this season by a young, emerging star having a breakout season. Johnson, a second-year player from the University of Miami, ranks second in the AFC in receiving yards 752 on 51 catches, including four touchdowns.

The third overall pick in the 2003 draft has nearly matched his impressive numbers from his rookie season, which saw him make 66 grabs for 976 yards. One part of his game that is especially dangerous - which is an ability possessed by all of the Houston wideouts - is his penchant for making big gains after the catch.

Johnson led the AFC with 445 yards after catch last season, and is working on a repeat performance. Much like Walker, Johnson uses his size - 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds - to make difficult catches and fight off tacklers.

Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman knows that his secondary must be sound in their tackling this week to limit the Texans' big plays.

"This team is a very explosive offensive football team," Sherman said. "They play very well at home offensively and (quarterback David Carr) has made some great decisions. He moves very well, throws the ball on the run outside the pocket and they are an explosive unit with Andre and Corey and Gaffney. They have some explosive-type players back there and they're also very good after the catch.

"We have to be good in our tackling. We have to be sound in that area. I think we're improving as tacklers. I wouldn't say we're where we need to be just yet, but I think the emphasis we put on it in practice where we have a tackling circuit, we practice hitting the big bag, which is a little slower than their guys, but we do practice our form fits and techniques."

Safety Darren Sharper said that he and the rest of the defensive backfield are going to have to be sure tacklers this week, an area in which he feels they have improved. He's confident in the ability of cornerbacks Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll to make big stops, and also in the group working together as a whole.

"I think we're tackling better than we did in the beginning of the season," said Sharper. "Ahmad is a good tackler on the perimeter. Al's a good tackler. We have guys that can bring down receivers and not allow them to get yards after the catch. The thing about that is hustling to the football helps with that, so if a guy misses, we have other teammates there to make up for that one miss. That's what need to have happen against this team because they have big, physical receivers who can run after the catch."

While Carroll will be making just the fifth start of his young career, he feels that he's already been well-tested.

"It seems like every week we're having the same conversation talking about a great receiver," the rookie said in the locker room earlier in the week.

Carroll is right and this week's set of pass-catchers is another in the long list of top groups that he and his mates will face this year, with dates against the potent St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles next on the docket.

But before he can look forward to having more conversations about great receivers in the locker room, the Packers are going to have to show their strength in Houston, both in coverage and as tacklers.

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