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Harris: Struggling Aaron Rodgers Presents Texans Biggest Challenge Yet

By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610
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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – For the life of him, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can’t comprehend the notion Green Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is struggling.

When Philips views the reigning NFL MVP all he sees is success.

“They talk about the quarterback struggling and his quarterback rating is 97,” said Phillips, whose team is coming off a big 23-17 win over the New York Jets and their struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez on Monday night. “He’s hitting almost 70 percent of his passes. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

“He’s struggling by last year’s standards where he threw 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions. The year before when he won the Super Bowl he was a key member of their team that helped win the Super Bowl.

“Him struggling and them struggling is not like other teams,” he continued. “The Jets were struggling last week when we went in there, but these guys aren’t struggling like that.”

Phillips and the rest of the Texans defense seem to understand the 2-3 Packers and Rodgers struggles aren’t really the struggles they seem. A play here or there and Green Bay could easily be 4-1 coming into the Sunday Night showdown against the 5-0 Texans at Reliant Stadium.

Rodgers is still one of the elite and most dangerous quarterbacks in the league, which gives the Packers a chance to upset the Texans as they hit the national stage for a second straight game.

“He’s an awesome quarterback,” said defensive end Antonio Smith. “He can throw the ball real good. He’s one of those quarterbacks that can fit it in tight spaces so you always got to be prepared for that because he can make passes that most quarterbacks can’t make.”

The problem for Rodgers and the Packers to this point has been timing and now it could be untimely injuries. They come into Reliant Stadium without top rusher Cedric Benson (foot injury) and with Lufkin native and former UT standout Jermichael Finley questionable with a shoulder injury.

But Rodgers still has a receiving corp that is by far better than any the Texans have faced this season.

The Jets receivers caused cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning to have their worst performances since arriving a week ago. The Packers three-some of James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are capable of doing even more damage, especially with a real upgrade at quarterback this week.

“They’re an explosive offense,” Joseph said. “Aaron can put the ball any place on the field, any given time. Strong arm. They’ve got great weapons, skilled positions so it’ll be a good test for us.”

The key for the Texans will be getting pressure up front with defensive end J.J. Watt & Co. giving Rodgers as time as possible to find open receivers. Teams have had success getting to him this season, sacking Rodgers 21 times in the first five games. Remember the Seattle Seahawks sacked him eight times in the first half of their 14-12 win in Week 3.

“They’ve been sacked more than they would want,” Phillips said. “He’s been sacked throughout the years, he still holds on the ball some to make the big plays. He’s not like some guys that never get sacked. He’s one of those guys that he gets sacked some, but he also makes a lot of big plays.”

The Texans will have to apply pressure without a key component of their front-seven with inside linebacker Brian Cushing now lost for the season due to an ACL injury suffered Monday night. But with outside linebacker Connor Barwin, Smith and Watt leading the way, the Texans seem confident they continue the trend of getting to Rodgers often.

“It starts with the guys up front applying pressure to him and he can extend plays with his legs as well,” Joseph said.  “So it’ll be a big challenge for us with the receiving group they have. The things that we do on defense, we’ll be up for the task.”

Making it a little easier for the Texans is the Packers come in fairly one-dimensional with Benson out for the season with the season-ending football injury. Rodgers is now the Packers’ active-leading rushers with 108 yards and a 5.4 per carry average.

“You have to be disciplined in your rush,” Kubiak said. “If your contained rusher and you lose contain and he gets out, and not only is he going to make a play, but he makes huge plays when he moves. This guy can throw the ball 70-75 yards down the field off their boot game and some of those things that they do. The big play is a scare going into this game and keeping him in the pocket is the best chance you have of keeping that down hopefully.”

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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