Defense makes a stand

For a team still harboring Super Bowl aspirations, the Green Bay Packers did something encouraging Sunday night at Houston: defend.

During Green Bay's five-game winning streak, the Packers allowed 10 points against Detroit, 20 against Dallas, 14 against Washington, 31 against Minnesota and 13 against Houston. The Packers defense performed more than adequately in the first three games of that streak, but those teams shared one thing in common: bad offenses. Detroit's ranks 31st in the 32-team league, Dallas' checks in at 14th with a total padded by a lot of end-of-game garbage yards, and Washington's ranks 28th.

By beating Houston, however, the Packers made a statement against one of the league's better offenses. Houston entered the game ninth in the league in total offense but managed only 13 points, 251 yards and 33 percent efficiency on third downs. That bodes well heading into Monday night's home test against high-flying St. Louis, along with next week's game at Philadelphia and the Christmas Eve rematch with Minnesota.

The defense's performance against Houston was impressive on all fronts.

The Texans' running game, struggling all season but including 1,000-yard rusher Domanick Davis, was stymied. Houston rushed for 107 yards on 27 attempts for 4.0 yards per rush. Throw out quarterback David Carr's 24-yard scramble, and the numbers fall to 80 yards on 26 attempts for an average of 3.1 per carry.

The stout run defense continues a trend that basically coincides with the return of starter Grady Jackson to man the middle of the defensive line. Once the 31st-ranked run defense, Green Bay has shot up the rankings to 12th.

Cornerback Al Harris blanketed Houston's budding star receiver, Andre Johnson. Johnson did manage 107 yards on six catches, but 49 of those came when Harris collided with Michael Hawthorne. Four passes intended for Johnson were incomplete.

Green Bay's young cornerbacks also enjoyed a breakout game. Houston starter Jabar Gaffney, who was on pace to break 1,000 yards for the season, didn't catch a single pass and only two balls were thrown his way. In fact, other than six dump-offs to Davis, Carr was able to complete only one pass to a player other than Johnson. In passes thrown to Texans other than Johnson and Davis, Carr went 1 for 6.

"Ahmad Carroll played a heck of a game," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said of his rookie, who stuck to Gaffney for most of the game.

For the second consecutive game, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila provided two sacks, upping his season total to 6 1/2.

The Packers keep winning without standout safety Darren Sharper. In perhaps the more surprising development of the season, the much-maligned Bhawoh Jue — a bust at cornerback — has proven to be a more-than-competent safety in the last month.

Most important of all, however, the Packers showed they can win a game when the offense isn't firing on all cylinders. The defense kept Green Bay in the game in the first half and then dominated the second half. Houston punted on all six second-half possessions. After picking up 10 first downs in the first half, Houston gained only three in the second half and none on its final three possessions.

The key sequence of the game came in the third quarter with Houston still ahead 13-3. Starting with the ball at their own 46, a 9-yard run on a reverse by Gaffney and an 11-yard dash by Davis moved the ball to Green Bay's 34.

Closing in on at least a field goal that would have forced the Packers to score two touchdowns, Harris forced an incompletion to Johnson on first down. On perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game, Carroll stayed at home on a reverse and dropped Johnson for a 9-yard loss. On third-and-long, Gbaja-Biamila dropped Carr for an 11-yard loss with a sack.

"Our defense came out in the second half, and to be able to shut out an explosive offense like this, speaks volumes," Packers coach Mike Sherman said after the Houston game.

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