HOUSTON (MCT) — The Green Bay Packers, anything but dominating in their first five games, were precisely that Sunday night at Reliant Stadium.
A defense that heretofore leaked yards on the ground and big plays in the air erected a stone wall that running back Arian Foster and quarterback Matt Schaub didn’t come close to penetrating.
Meanwhile, an offense that was hit or miss both running and passing annihilated what was supposed to be one of the National Football League’s premier defenses.
It added up to a 42-24 stomping of the Houston Texans, who had been one of the NFL’s last two unbeaten teams.
“Congratulations to Green Bay,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Boy, they came in here and got after us pretty good. They played great. We got our butts kicked.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers tied Matt Flynn’s franchise record for most touchdown passes in a game with six, including three to Jordy Nelson and two to James Jones.
“This guy can throw it around and light it up,” said Kubiak. “We got there quite a few times free, and he made people miss. He’s a great player and he put on a show tonight.”
Down four starters because of injury, the Packers started fast and took the crowd of 71,702 out of commission early. The Texans (5-1) hurt their cause with a string of early penalties and mistakes that, by Kubiak’s judgment, gave Green Bay three additional possessions.
“That is not a football team you want to get down early against,” Kubiak said. “We played poorly as a football team. It’s very disappointing.”
The Clay Matthews-led defense was aroused from start to finish. The Texans went nowhere on the ground with their zone scheme and, as a result, Schaub could find no rhythm with his trademark play-action pass game.
After being upset in Indianapolis a week ago, the Packers were 2-3 and tied for the 11th-best record in the NFC. At 3-3, they’re now tied for eighth in the conference and 1½ games behind Chicago in the NFC North Division.
The Packers, a 3½-point underdog, still have never lost in Houston. They’re 2-0 against the Texans and were 3-0 against the Oilers here before that franchise moved to Tennessee. The Packers might have played their finest half of the season, outgaining the Texans, 239-141, and taking a 21-10 lead.
“We functioned pretty well,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “We came into a hostile environment and held our own. We played physical. We ran the ball a little better. We did a good job against their running attack.”
In the first five games, the Packers had been forced to punt on their first possession every time and totaled just five first downs. This time, coach Mike McCarthy used a no-huddle offense to go 67 yards in seven plays for a touchdown.
The score came when Nelson beat press coverage by Johnathan Joseph. Nelson made the catch at the 6 and fell head-long just inside the pylon to complete the 41-yard strike.
“Good field awareness to stay in-bounds,” Thompson said. “Good reach to get it over the pylon.”
Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense was a step or two ahead of the Texans all night long. Its dominance began on the first play when Schaub ran into a sack by C.J. Wilson.
On the Texans’ second possession, Matthews pressured Schaub into an incompletion before stopping Foster after a 4-yard gain. When Jerel Worthy beat guard Antoine Caldwell with a sudden move inside for a sack, the Texans had to punt again.
“Worthy showed some quickness,” said Thompson. “I thought our defensive line was productive.”
When Houston took over for a third time Matthews continued his explosive play and the Texans had to punt again.
This time, Matthews came off a block by tight end Owen Daniels to tackle Foster for 2 yards. He defeated a block by left tackle Duane Brown and tackled Foster for minus-2, then moved down just before the snap and knocked down Schaub in an A-gap blitz on a third-down incompletion.
“He made a lot of quick-twitch plays,” Thompson said. “His timing and his instincts have always been remarkable.”
Throwing almost exclusively from shotgun formation, Rodgers established early that Nelson could have his way with Joseph. He also made good use of Randall Cobb from the slot.
The Packers moved 56 yards to take a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. The drive started when Rodgers spun out of the grasp of Connor Barwin and zipped a 24-yard pass to Cobb.
“He can save plays with his feet,” said Thompson. “That’s a valuable asset of his. It always has been.”
The touchdown came when Rodgers moved right and threw in the right corner to James Jones, who went low and secured the ball near the ground.
Said Thompson: “Really good catch. He clearly caught it above the ground, and that’s not that easy. Based on the fact his hands were going down like that.”
The Packers effectively ran the ball from their spread sets behind Alex Green, making his first start for injured Cedric Benson. They ran inside, the sector vacated when Pro Bowl inside linebacker Brian Cushing blew out his knee last week.
“Obviously, Brian adds a lot to their defense — in every aspect,” Thompson said. “Rushing the passer. Playing pass defense. Against the run. But injuries are injuries.”
After a series of early penalties and just bad football, Houston pieced together an 80-yard drive culminated by Foster’s 1-yard touchdown run. A 37-yard penalty for pass interference against Sam Shields against Kevin Walter was the key play.
With the crowd warming to the occasion, the Packers proceeded to go 78 yards in seven plays for a 21-7 lead.
“You want to try to answer back, especially when you’re playing away from home and in a hostile environment against a team that’s undefeated and has got confidence,” said Thompson.
The touchdown came on Nelson’s 21-yard post pattern against dime back Alan Ball.
“Pretty good route,” Thompson said. “Really good protection because that takes a while. It’s hard to defend because Jordy’s a big guy.”
The Packers opened the second half as they did the first, covering 80 yards in 15 plays on a drive capped by Nelson’s 1-yard reception. Previously, the Packers had one field goal, two punts, an interception and a lost fumble on their first drives of the second half.
With the Texans’ offense in mothballs, Rodgers kept the offense in high gear.
Just three plays after the Texans closed to 28-17, Rodgers spotted tight end Tom Crabtree wide open in the secondary after a crisp play-action fake on third and 1. Crabtree turned it into a 48-yard touchdown.
After an interception by Shields, one of three by the Packers in the second half, Jones beat cornerback Kareem Jackson and Rodgers laid it on his fingertips for an 18-yard touchdown.
Not even the Texans’ blocked punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter could put a crimp in the Packers’ showing.
The NFL record of seven touchdown passes is held by five players: Sid Luckman (1943), Adrian Burk (1954), George Blanda (1961), Y.A. Tittle (1962) and Joe Kapp (1969).