The signature of the Houston Texans' defense is the blitz. Since Wade Phillips took over last year as defensive coordinator up until this past week, they have blitzed more than just about anyone and they have done it well.
On the other side of the Sunday night game, the signature of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has been athleticism that allows him to handle pressure and find receivers downfield. No one has said it explicitly, but this really means that his signature is handling the blitz.
This is a battle of blitzing's bests on both sides of the ball. (Try saying that three times fast.) So when you watch them on Sunday night, it stands to reason that whoever can prevail in this aspect of the game will claim a significant advantage. Here are a few keys to watch for.
First, the Texans blitz on close to half of all pass plays. When they blitz, they are either going to force a quick pass before pressure arrives or they will get to the quarterback quickly. Whereas some teams force a quick pass out of the blitz and leave receivers open -- often because they are concerned about getting burned deep if they can't get to the quarterback -- the Texans do cover all their bases well. When they force a quick pass because the quarterback is skittish, the Texans are fourth in the league in defensive expected points added (EPA) (explained in more detail here). When their blitz actually puts the quarterback under duress, the Texans are 3rd in the league in defensive EPA. All in all, the Texans are second to the Ravens when blitzing and second in limiting time in the pocket.
Also, to reassure doubters who note that the Texans have faced a parade of limping quarterbacks in 2012, these stats are over the past year plus that Phillips has been there.
On the other side of the ball, however, Rodgers uses the power of the blitz against defenses. His QBR against the blitz has been a gaudy 82 and the Packers as a team have been much better than any other in the league against a blitz. If Rodgers gets the ball out early to beat getting hit, he is the best in the league (Tom Brady is second, not surprisingly). If he has to hang in a little longer until he feels the pressure, Rodgers only drops to third behind Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger (so this is where Big Ben's reputation of keeping a play alive comes from!).
So who will win this battle? In general, a good quarterback beats a good defense, and we think that could be the case Sunday.