The Packers defense will be tested by one of the best offensive schemes in the game on Sunday night, when they try to do something none of the first five teams on the Houston Texans' schedule has been able to do: Stop the Texans.
"They play-action pass and they run the ball," Packers Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac said on Friday. "How many sacks do they have, three? There's a reason for that. If you play the pass too much, that's when a big run comes out of there."
A play-action-pass, run-the-ball scheme isn't new to the NFL. It's old-school football, but the Texans accomplish it with a new-age twist, as perfected by the Denver Broncos during the John Elway-Terrell Davis era. The Texans make defensive lines run sideways to play the run, instead of up the field to rush the passer.
"We watched Baltimore, Pittsburgh, everyone similar to us and they hit runs on them. They busted one out, but they didn't panic on it," Trgovac said. "They look for the guy that's tired of getting cut, tired of being disciplined."
Running back Arian Foster is the player the Packers have targeted to stop. He's the league's second-leading rusher with 532 yards and five touchdowns on the league's No. 3 scoring offense. The Texans have scored 30 or more points in three of their first five games.
The Texans' offensive scheme sends Foster wide on what's called a "stretch play." It's a zone-blocking play the Packers also employ in which the offensive line moves laterally as a human wall. The intent is to force defenses to run laterally. The back then cuts back behind that movement. Foster would seem to have a special feel for finding that cutback lane.
"He's going to stretch until he sees space and then he's going to plant his foot," Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. "Their linemen test your discipline. If you're out of your gap, they're going to exploit it.
"We've played a team similar to that," Capers added, referring to the Seahawks and their star running back, Marshawn Lynch. "They have a quarterback that's been with them for a while."
Therein lies the difference between the Seahawks and the Texans. Matt Schaub is a veteran quarterback renowned for his pocket courage and quick-think ability. He's a master at reading defenses, a quarterback known for guile, not mobility.
"Because of their run game, you can't get over-aggressive with your rush," Capers said, alluding to the fact that an up-the-field charge plays right into the hands of the Texans' stretch play.
Trgovac's particular problem for this game would seem to be the iffy status of nose tackle B.J. Raji, the Packers' best run-defender. Raji has not practiced this week and his chances for playing on Sunday were announced on Friday as "questionable."
Meanwhile, Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements' unit will be trying to recover from a sluggish second half in Indianapolis that allowed the Colts to rally from a 21-3 halftime deficit to a 30-27 upset win. The Packers offense will be up against a Texans defense that is No. 3 overall, though it'll be without linebacker Brian Cushing for the rest of the season. Cushing sustained a torn ACL on Monday night. Additional coverage - Oct. 12