15

December

Packers vs. Cowboys: Keys to the Game

Tony Romo

This guy needs to be on the Packers defense’s most wanted list this Sunday

The Green Bay Packers return to the site of their most recent Super Bowl victory this Sunday: Dallas, Texas and AT&T Stadium (Texas Stadium).  This Packers team looks quite a bit different than the one from three years ago, the biggest difference being that Aaron Rodgers won’t be at quarterback for the Packers.

It was announced on Friday that Rodgers has been ruled out for this week’s game.  Matt Flynn will get another start for the Packers.

As much success as Green Bay has had, as a franchise, over the past two decades, this is a venue that has brought a lot of pain and heartbreak.  The last time the Packers beat the Cowboys in Dallas, Brett Favre was still in college.  So was Emmitt Smith.  It was December 24, 1989, Troy Aikman’s rookie season.

Since then, Green Bay has lost nine straight in Dallas.  Favre never won in Dallas in a Packers uniform.  Rodgers has only played in and appeared in one such game, in late 2007.  Rodgers came in for Favre, who was hurt and played nearly the entire second half.  It was Rodgers’ “coming out” party and even though the Packers didn’t win, they saw what they had in their young backup.  Less than a year later, Favre was a New York Jet and Rodgers was Green Bay’s starting quarterback.

While these are vastly different teams that travel to Texas, I have to wonder how much the mystique of such a long losing streak has on a team.  Just look at the Detroit Lions when it comes to playing at Lambeau Field.  And that’s a divisional matchup to boot!

Somehow, and despite not winning five of their last six games, the Packers are still very much alive in the race to win the NFC North.  With just three games left and a half game between themselves and the Lions and Chicago Bears, Green Bay can’t likely afford many more losses.  I’m speaking purely from a mathematical standpoint there.  In theory, they need to win all three from a record and a confidence point of view.

With Rodgers out, the Pack face another uphill battle to get a tough road win.  Let’s look at the areas that likely factor into this week’s outcome.

Eddie Lacy’s effectiveness

Without Rodgers, the Packers are down one engine.  If Lacy can’t go, they’re a virtual paper airplane.  As of Friday afternoon, things were looking good for #27 and he was listed as probable on the team’s injury report.  He said that he felt good after the team’s practice and expects to play.

Lacy sprained his ankle on a run late in the first half of last week’s win against the Atlanta Falcons.  By late, I mean with :04 seconds left and little to no chance of anything happening on any play.  Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called a run and, to the surprise of no one (including Murphy and his Law), Lacy sprained his ankle on that very play.  Lacy did return to the game but was in a “rehab phase” earlier this week to nurse the injury.

McCarthy, of course, stood beside his decision.  Would we expect anything else?  McCarthy’s comments, according to Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette:  “Frankly, there’s a reason why you run the ball at the end of the half,” McCarthy said. “I’m comfortable with the call. I don’t call plays based on trying to get anybody hurt or not hurt.”

Thankfully for Packers fans and McCarthy, Lacy is a very durable and resilient back and he wants to be out there.  For all of the question marks about Lacy heading into this past draft, he has proven to be the team’s best pick from the 2013 crop.  They will need Lacy to play like it again this weekend.

With a more questionable passing game, any success that Lacy can have on the ground is a huge plus.  Dallas ranks 28th in run defense, giving up just over 128 yards/game.  I doubt Lacy reaches that total, unless he breaks a long run, but anything close to 100 yards bodes very well for the Packers.

Even more key is Lacy’s effectiveness in the red zone.  Prior to Lacy’s arrival, the bane of Packers fans’ existence was the ol’ first-and-goal from the one yard line.  Two Kuhn dive attempts and a failed pass later, out came the field goal unit.  Lacy has seven touchdown runs this season and most of those have come inside of 10 yards.  To see Green Bay converting on those opportunities is a welcome change.  When the Packers get down to the goal line, they have to be just as likely and dangerous to run it in as they are to throw.

While Lacy may suit up, a sprained ankle is likely to hamper him, if only slightly.  Expect to see a bit more James Starks to mix it up out there on Sunday.  Still and even on less than two fully healthy legs, I’ll take my chances with Lacy and his determined spirit.

Packers Pass Defense

Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, Miles Austin.  Those are the Cowboys’ top receivers on the year.  Running back DeMarco Murray also has 41 catches on the season.

Green Bay’s pass defense has had a down year.  Safety Morgan Burnett has not lived up to his lucrative contract extension, they cut last year’s fourth round safety Jerron McMillian last week, and last week they benched their other starting safety in M.D. Jennings.  They turned to recently-returned Sean Richardson to fill in and he was just cleared after missing most of this season with a major neck injury.

Issues on the back end of the pass defense isn’t a good thing against a passing attack that can get vertical.  Bryant leads the team with 10 touchdowns and is exactly the type of receiver that gives the Packers fits.  Speedy, tall and physical.  Expect to see Packers cornerback Sam Shields blanketing Bryant, but Green Bay will need to roll help over the top.

Witten stands to do more damage as he will likely see favorable matchups most of the day.  Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones aren’t known for their pass coverage and we already covered the debacle at the safety position.  Even in nickel, Green Bay’s defenders don’t have the size to corral Witten all day long.  Not even last week’s hero, Jarrett Bush.

Witten is my single biggest key for the Packers defense.  He’s good enough to get open and beat solid coverage, even in his 11th NFL season.  Lst week, the Packers gave up several catches and a touchdown to another elder tight end in the league in Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.  We have seen it all year long:  the one guy the Packers have to stop usually still makes his plays.  Witten down the middle of the Packers defense is an image I can’t seem to get out of my mind.

Romo’s Pocket Time

As maligned as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is, he has quietly had a good season for the Cowboys.  He has just seven interception in 460 pass attempts this year.  He has been sacked 30 times so it is possible to generate pressure.

Nick Perry continues to get back from his broken foot injury and hopefully he can make more of an impact from the left side.  Clay Matthews could use a big game to showcase his healed broken thumb.  However the Packers generate pressure, they need to do it all day long.  Giving Romo time in the pocket will result in the Cowboys racking up a lot of yardage and points.

We keep waiting for the Green Bay defense to return to its early-season form but at this point, I don’t see it happening.  This is an average bunch who usually need their best effort each week in order to help the team win.  Since Rodgers went down, they have needed to be near perfect and have been anything but.

Whether you’re of the belief that it’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme or that the players are not up to par, the fact remains that the Packers have their hands full this week.  I am not one to suggest that a team abandon their overall strategy just to try something new.  My hope is more that Green Bay has studied what other teams who have had success against Dallas, have done.  How did they get to Romo and how many of those interceptions came under pressure?

None of us would mind seeing “bad Romo” this week, but the way he has been playing and especially at home, that likelihood is much lower.  Earlier this season inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones had more success in getting to the passer.  It could end up being the guys in the middle who stand out, if they are able to break through.  Hawk has finished better and been hitting harder this season but over the past month, has been quiet.  I’m trying to jinx him out of his shell with that statement.

Flynn’s Pocket Time

Earlier this week, Flynn admitted that many of the sacks he has taken were his fault.  Not entirely, though.  Those 300+ pound guys up front have a job to do and they’re not always getting it done.  But Flynn has spent too much time standing still in the pocket.

This was something Rodgers struggled with early in his career and still does to this day.  I’m not sure if it’s the system, coaching, or coincidence but Packers signal callers need to move around and get rid of the ball.  With a makeshift offensive line, that has not always been as easy at it sounds.  But the Packers should have all five of their starters healthy and ready up front this week.

Just a few days ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked about defensive end DeMarcus Ware and his declined production this season.  In short, Jones said he didn’t understand why Ware, who should be in the prime of his career, isn’t more effective.  Ware issued a challenge to his critics, asking them to see if they can block him.  Expect Ware to come into this week looking to prove something.  He knows that the Packers are under manned and like many other recent opponents, he is looking to capitalize on the mismatch.

The quick pass is key this week.  The Cowboys know it’s coming and the Packers have to convert anyway.  Hopefully Flynn has continued to get in better sync with his receivers in Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin.  The more Flynn has to “create”, the better the chances that something bad can happen with the ball, to the offense and even worse, to him.

Packers Health Advantage?

How often have we been able to say this during this season?  Some of you may already disagree by virtue of Rodgers’ absence alone but bedsides Rodgers, only defensive end C.J. Wilson has been ruled out for this week.

Dallas will be without starting linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.  Cornerback Morris Claiborne is questionable with a hamstring injury and is reportedly a stretch to play.

That gives the Packers a bit more of a chance, but with those Cowboys injuries being on the defensive side of the ball, it’s up to a Packers offense without Rodgers and receiver Randall Cobb to outscore the home team.  If this game turns into a shootout, it’s automatically advantage Cowboys and likely a long day for the Pack.

Last week, offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse was out due to an illness and we saw some Derek Sherrod.  With several guys dinged up, now is the time to see what the Packers have in guys like Sherrod, Richardson, Jerel Worthy and possibly even J.C. Tretter, if he gets on the active game day roster.

 

If the Packers can earn a win over Dallas and the Baltimore Ravens can find a way to get a win in Detroit, the Packers can win the NFC North by merely winning their last two games.  It’s a bit early to talk about that “what if” with this Dallas game anything but a sure win for Green Bay, but those are the facts.  It’s incredible to be talking about a division title and possible home playoff game after what these past six weeks have been!

 

 

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.com

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13 Responses to “Packers vs. Cowboys: Keys to the Game”

  1. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    McGinn put out a piece this morning that basically slammed TT’s talent acquisition on defense since March of 2011. Compared to Seattle, it certainly looks bad for GB.

    The article also said that if Dom ended up getting fired, he’d have his pick of several DC jobs around the NFL immediately. This, paired with yet another article saying that the players and the coaches (including MM) all love Dom and the scheme…I find it unlikely that Dom gets fired after the year. That means that the talent level needs to get much better on defense quickly for GB to compete. S, ILB, DL.

    Oh, and as for the game, I hope I’m wrong, but I think GB’s season goes down in flames today.

    DAL – 38
    GB – 24

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    • JimR_in_DC says:

      If everyone on the team loves Capers and his scheme, that means the players &/or the assistant coaches suck. If it’s the players, that’s on TT. If it’s the assistant coaches, that’s on MM & Capers.

      I really hope the Packers win, but I’m bracing for a loss. :(

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    • Archie says:

      So McGinn has switched from his earlier position that losing AROD wouldn’t stop the Packer Express to we don’t have the talent on defense to win (my position). Interesting. DC t5alks like he likes all his players and has a hard time distinguishing anyone as being better than anyone else e.g., Richardson over Jennings is the latest example. I got to believe TT asks DC for his input on draft picks and contracts. So all of them are in this together. They are all ass-clowns when it comes to assessing defensive talent. That would explain DC’s failures wherever he goes. He gets there, and immediately succeeds with somebody else’s players, then as he gets his guys, he falls apart. Same as what we see in GB. This is bad. No SBs for GB till they can get this defense fixed and that won’t happen till they get lots of new talent and that won’t happen as long as these ass-clowns are in charge of picking their defensive players. TT never had success picking defensive players in SEA either. The year he left SEA picked 6 or 7 defensive players in FA and went to the SB.

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      • Stroh says:

        Look in the mirror. That’s where the AssClown is!

        Packers aren’t elite NFL talent on D but its getting better. We have some young players that are getting better and once they develop the D will be much improved. Datone, Worthy, Perry and Neal learning OLB. Get those players playing to their ability and the D will be vastly improved. Get a Safety and possibly ILB and the D will come together. We lost 2 huge playmakers in the secondary, those kinda guys are difficult to replace. Find one more playmaker and the D will be outstanding.

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        • Stroh says:

          Oh and forgot Hayward and possibly Richardson as young talent that needs to get on the field.

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  2. Since '61 says:

    While Rodgers and CJ Wilson are ruled out for this game the Packers are no where near being relatively healthy for this game. They are still missing Randall Cobb, who is a key to this offense and had had a huge impact on the play calling that many complain about. Also missing are JMike, Bulaga, D. Harris, all impact offensive performance. On the defense Hayward is gone. in a game like this, without Rodgers the Packers need all hands on deck. They have been without them most of the season and it has shown. In any case I am picking the Packers on a late or OT field goal 30-27. As a result, Jerry Jones signs Flynn to a big contract to challenge Romo in the offseason. Then after 3 preseason games Flynn is released due to arm troubles. Jones names himself offensive coordinator and backup QB, saying that neither move will affect HC Jarrett or QB Romo. Back in Green Bay TT signs Flynn for the third time and during his press conference, prior to the first game of the 2014 season, MM names Flynn as the starting QB, indicating that Rodgers collarbone is not quite ready. “It’s a medical decision. We’re hoping that Aaron is ready to go for the playoffs, if we get that far. He can throw the heck out of the football, but it’s a medical decision. It’s in the best interest of Aaron, the Packers, and the Mamby-Pamby Football League.” Thanks, Since ’61

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  3. WKUPackFan says:

    Dom will not be fired. Instead, he will retire (my worthless speculation). Dom is 63 and his contract is up. Unless he is a total idiot he’s got more than enough money to last the rest of his life. However, I expect he will end up as a special assistant/consultant somewhere other than GB.

    With respect to McGinn’s column, he’s without question an excellent writer and analyst with lots of sources. But let’s face it, his job is to sell papers. The controversial subjects sell more papers. Just like any other news or opinion story, the motivation behind writing it has to be taken into consideration.

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  4. Archie says:

    McGinn would disagree with you vehemently. I don’t think it’s a case of making up stuff to sell papers etc. It’s a case of he’s a pretty good analyst, as I believe I am, but all good analysts get it wrong a certain percentage of the time. The NFL is the most unpredictable major sport we have and is the equivalent of horse racing despite having only two possible outcomes (ignoring ties) to every contest. So, from one analyst to another, I can give McGinn a pass on his idiotic prediction that the Pack will continue on the same regardless of who goes down, even AROD. He was a little bit too in love with management and TT. From today’s article, it appears McGinn’s analysis is much more on the mark. It happens. I knew his prediction was crazy when I read it but I still read everything the guy says because he is a good analyst who is right far more often than he is wrong. This was perhaps his biggest goof ever. Didn’t he predict a SB in 2010 before the start of the season? I was prediction a 2011 SB prior to 2010 season. So he did a heck of a job that year. It’ not like he predicts a SB every year.

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    • WKUPackFan says:

      For the record, I did not, and never would, accuse Mr. McGinn of making stuff up. Again, I agree with you, he is a great analyst and writer.

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      • BubbaOne says:

        Archie,
        For the infrequent chance you say something worthwhile I find checking dislike instead of reading your dribble saves time. The replies to your postings speak volumes and as always are much more succinct.

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