Keys to the game: Avoid the trap

In sports, the most dangerous game of all is the so-called trap game. And that's no doubt a worry for Packers coach Mike Sherman heading into Sunday's prime-time, nationally televised game at the Houston Texans.

The Packers own the league's longest winning streak outside of Pittsburgh, with four straight victories. Arguably, the Packers have emerged as the No. 1 threat to 8-1 Philadelphia for NFC supremacy.

The Texans, meanwhile, have lost two straight games. Both in blowout fashion. Last week in Indianapolis, the Texans yielded five Peyton Manning touchdown passes in a 49-14 pummeling.

If that's not a big enough contrast, then consider this little obstacle. The Packers are coming off an emotional victory over their No. 1 nemesis, Minnesota. Next week is a Monday night clash with St. Louis, a team the Packers are battling for NFC playoff positioning.

The Texans, on the other hand, are certain to be revved up. This will be their second prime-time game in franchise history. And coming off two ugly losses and teetering on the brink of playoff elimination, the Texans will be motivated.

In a nutshell, the Packers are outplaying the Texans by a wide margin and on paper should win easily. But the intangibles are all pointing in Houston's direction.

Thus, the trap is set for the Packers to suffer a devastating loss. With four defeats already, the Packers can't afford to drop more than a couple games the rest of the way.

With that said, here are the five keys to Sunday night's game.

1. Continue playing at a fevered pitch

You name the statistical category, and the Packers are better than the Texans. Total offense? Green Bay is fourth, Houston is ninth. Total defense? Green Bay is 22nd, Houston is 27th. The Packers are better in rushing offense and passing offense, as well as rushing defense and passing defense. And so it goes with most other categories.

Turnovers, however, are where Houston has a chance. The Packers have 19 giveaways to nine takeaways for a minus-10 ratio. If the Packers continue to be sloppy with the ball, the Texans have the offense to take advantage.

"We're back to where we wanted to be," Packers guard Marco Rivera said. "But we really haven't done anything yet ... We've just got to keep plugging away and keep doing what we've done the past couple of weeks and keep winning games."

2. Crashing into Carr

Third-year quarterback David Carr is starting to live up to his first-pick-in-the-draft billing. He has struggled the last two weeks, however, as his pass protection has broken down. Carr has been sacked 25 times this season, including nine in the last two games. If given time, Carr should be able to exploit Green Bay's young cornerbacks. If pressured, Carr will lose the accuracy that is so vital in the Texans' offensive scheme, which calls for the receivers to be hit on the run so they can make something happen.

Last week, Colts defensive end Robert Mathis collected three sacks of Carr. That's good news for Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who had his best game of the season last week with two sacks.

3. Third-down dominance

A major reason for Green Bay's rise in the standings is its dominance on third down. The Packers' offense ranks first in the league by converting 52.1 percent of its third-down plays, and the defense has shot up to eighth by allowing opponents to convert on only 32.3 percent of third downs.

The Packers' top-ranked third-down offense has a huge advantage against Houston's defense, which is allowing a league-worst 48.2 percent conversion rate on third down.

Taking care of business on third down is particularly important on the road to keep the crowd under wraps. If the Packers can keep the chains moving, they will take the crowd out of the game quickly.

4. Secondary a primary concern

It can be argued that "Monday Night Football" analyst John Madden hasn't said anything of importance in a decade. He, however, was the first to emphasize YAC, or yards after the catch.

This is area where the Texans' receivers excel, making tackling a primary concern for Green Bay's secondary. Texans star wideout Andre Johnson, with his powerful physique and big-time speed, is a budding Terrell Owens. He ranks second in the league in YAC, with 316 of his 752 yards coming after the catch. In fact, Houston ranks third in YAC with 1,054 of its 2,377 receiving yards coming after the catch.

"I guess people just aren't tackling," deduced safety Bhawoh Jue, who has started the last two games for Darren Sharper.

With Houston's running game stuck in the mud — Dominick Davis topped 1,000 yards as a rookie last year but is averaging just 3.0 yards per rush this season — the Texans are counting on their receivers to make something happen to give the offense a chance to put points on the board.

5. Come out firing

The Texans figure to be supercharged, with a rare prime-time game coupled with back-to-back blowout losses providing plenty of motivation. To silence some of the loudest fans in the league, the Packers must survive what should be a strong opening flurry.

In Green Bay's four-game winning streak, they've fought to a 20-20 draw in the first quarter but dominated the second period by a 58-13 margin. The Packers would be wise to follow that formula not only because of last week's late-game meltdown but because Houston's crowd is a potential game-changing factor.


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