The Packers boasted one of the league's top run defenses in the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, when they held their first four opponents to 50 or fewer yards gained on the ground. And now, as they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, the unit will need to once again return to dominant form if Green Bay is to have any hope of defeating the Cowboys to move on to the NFC Championship Game.
Despite its strong beginning, the front seven fractured and eventually faltered along the way as the season progressed, and its worst transgression was, unfortunately, in Week 6 against the Cowboys. In that meeting, the Packers gave up 191 total rushing yards, 157 of them to Elliott alone.
That was by far the Packers' biggest failure of the season when it comes to containing the run, though there were other games they'd rather forget: 154 rushing yards to the Tennessee Titans, 151 yards the following week to Washington, 123 yards to the Houston Texans, and allowing the Seattle Seahawks 136 yards in Week 14.
Since Week 14, however, Green Bay has tightened its front seven up again, holding all its subsequent opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards per game.
This isn't the same situation the Packers and Cowboys found themselves in back in that Week 6 matchup, when the Packers featured the league's top run defense and the Cowboys boasted the best rushing game in the NFL.
Now, Dom Capers' primary task has to be making sure the injured, young secondary, which will likely feature LaDarius Gunter and Damarious Randall starting on the outside, will not be left high and dry if he commits more bodies to stopping Elliott.
Safety Morgan Burnett has proven to be valuable against the run when playing near the box as a linebacker.
Mike Daniels was a run-stuffing machine in the Wild Card Round against the New York Giants. Just check out these results courtesy of Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke:
Mike Daniels had a 28.6% run stop percentage. He had 4 run stops on 14 run snaps. He was dominant against the run.
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) January 9, 2017
As Jahnke also pointed out, defensive back Micah Hyde was valuable and productive against the run versus the Giants. Because the Packers have Randall healthy in the lineup again, Capers will be able to allocate Hyde to defending the run, which will be necessary against Elliott.
Mike Daniels and Micah Hyde with 2 run stops each for the Packers.
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) January 8, 2017
Elliott rushed for fewer than 100 yards in eight games during the regular season. If the Packers can make that a ninth on the year, they'll give themselves the opportunity to control the game and render the Cowboys offense beatable.
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