Welcome to Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Dallas Cowboys. At 6-2, the Cowboys are the first ‘real’ team that the Packers have to beat if they are going to be taken seriously by anyone this year. If it were up to me, Dallas would lose on account of the commercialization (read, bastardization) of the team and its players (BAL’s Jim Harbaugh agrees with me). But, since it’s not, let’s take a look at what the Packers are facing in this Week 10 grudge match.
Coming into this game, the Cowboys are…supremely confident, ruling the NFC East after a 20-16 Sunday night beatdown of the Philadelphia Eagles. With the win, the Cowboys move to 3-1 on the road as they head to Lambeau this Sunday. Not only that, but they shake off the residual shame from the 44-6 hammering they took from the Eagles at the bookend of the 2008 season.
The fans at home are…thinking that Tony Romo is finally turning into “more of a star than a tease.” Midseason reports find little to criticize, and many are looking ahead. The theme all over the league seems to be that the “hot” Cowboys are taking on the “cold” Packers, and the result should be, funnily enough, explosive.
Something to chew on…Only a short season ago, all the talk was of Jerry Jones firing HC Wade Phillips and installing OC Jason Garrett as his heir. When that didn’t pan out, and all Garrett got was a larger paycheck, some of the talk cooled off. Well, it’s at the point in the season where people are talking about extensions, and Jerry Jones is keeping his mouth shut about Phillips. You’re already paying your OC more than your HC…all I can think is "this can't end well."
When looking at the Packers on film…folks are preparing for lots of flags- the Packers and Cowboys lead the league in penalties. LB Keith Brooking sees the Packers as a desperate team. HC Wade Phillips is also not as concerned about Aaron Rodgers’ vulnerability to pressure as he is about Green Bay’s offense putting up 26.9 points a game. That said, they’re looking forward to “sacking the Pack.” Finally, considering that they put up 217 yards on the ground in last year’s matchup, the Cowboys also expect some success in the running game on Sunday.
What we’re up against: I’m gonna be honest here, there aren’t too many places where the Cowboys aren’t good. Say what you want about him, say that he’s due for a letdown, say that playing to a hometown crowd will rattle him, but Tony Romo has been on fire. In the 3 games since the bye, Romo has thrown for 874 yards and 7 TDs, against 1 INT. He was nearly perfect (141.6) against the Falcons, and led a textbook drive to win that game. Let’s not forget – in 14 career games in November, he’s averaged a QB rating of 115.9 and 2.6 TDs. Oh, and he hasn’t lost yet. And, just when you think “our DL can get pressure,” think again. Dallas boasts the top-rated OL with mainstays C Andre Gurode, LT Flozell Adams, and RT Marc Colombo protecting #9.
Heck, just look at the talent in Romo's targets. Where there was T.O., there’s now Miles Austin, who Packer fans may remember from last year’s lamentable showing. Ex-Lion Roy Williams might be the #1 on the depth chart, but teams have figured out that Austin is Romo’s go-to guy. He’s caught 27 passes for 612 yards and 7 TDs thus far in 2009, and he’s hard to catch. Consider that the Eagles kept him quiet until the 4th quarter last Sunday, only to have him catch and run 49 yards to paydirt against multiple DBs. Even when Austin is covered, there’s always Williams, Patrick Crayton…oh, and...Jason Witten. I’d also like to draw attention to WR Kevin Ogletree, a rookie free agent who impressed with his speed on bubble screens against Philadelphia.
And if Romo doesn’t feel like throwing, watch out for the league-best three-headed monster that is the Cowboys run game. Marion Barber (rated #6 DVOA per FO) has gained a reputation as “The Closer,” and he’s definitely one of those run-you-over kind of guys. Meanwhile, Felix Jones has a staggering 7.3 yd average, with breakaway speed that can hurt badly. What makes Dallas special in 2009 has been the emergence of yet another starting-caliber RB, Tashard Choice, who not only keeps a blog, but has also done extremely well in relief of the injured starters.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, yes, we know that the secondary is suspect (#22 pass defense). Dallas’s safeties aren’t Pro-Bowl-bound, but that doesn’t really matter. How is Aaron Rodgers going to threaten the secondary when he’s running for his life? The lights-out play of the Dallas defensive line has successfully compensated for weakness in the secondary, to the tune of 15 sacks in the last 4 games. NT Jay Ratliff talked about how OLB DeMarcus Ware (who just signed a 6-yr extension) is such a threat that the linemen can take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups. Here’s another tidbit – Ratliff was annoyed that the DL allowed PHI 70 yards rushing in the first half last Sunday. Once adjustments were made at halftime, PHI managed only 19 yards the rest of the game.
Lastly, it is impossible not to consider the special teams phase of the game. While GB languishes in the basement, 5th-rated Dallas has been dangerous in returns and coverage. Expect to see Crayton to have a huge impact on DAL field position. As for injuries, Dallas is fairly healthy. Gurode and S Ken Hamlin were held out of Wednesday’s practice, but each is likely to suit up on Sunday. (Although, if Gurode doesn’t go, we might get to see ex-Packer Duke Preston…)
Of course, you should always check out Pete Dougherty’s scouting report (his sidebar article is also a must-read), Brandon at APC's game preview, and Bob McGinn’s take on the upcoming game (sub req’d). Boil it down, and the way to win is to rattle Romo. Get him out of rhythm, and the Packers have a chance. Let him play within Garrett’s scheme, though, and watch out. (Updated to add the Dallas fan preview - definitely worth checking out, though they can't spell our QB's name.)
- Apparently this Dallas-Green Bay rivalry has some history to it…if you’re in the mood to relive the heartbreak of the 1990s, NFL Network is showing the 1995 NFC Championship game on Friday at 1p (CDT), and the 1994 Thanksgiving game on Saturday at 2p (CDT).
- Jerry Jones’s shrine of a stadium hopes to play host to the next Super Bowl, and the planners are already busy polishing the brand new facility.
- While she’s lived there longer than I did, both Sports Bubbler’s SportsBlonde (also now of ESPNMilwaukee. com) and I hail from Romo’s hometown of Burlington, WI. Believe it – there will be many more Packers jerseys than Cowboys #9 on display on Sunday.
Some may say that this is the perfect opportunity for the Packers to “come to Jesus.” When I look at this matchup, though, I just see their strengths matching up against our weaknesses to the point where I can’t be confident about the outcome of the game. Would I love for Rodgers to lob that perfect spiral to Jennings down the seam? Of course I would. Would I love for CM3 to have another statement game and keep ex-teammate Brian Cushing from being the shoo-in for rookie of the year? No doubt. Do I think it’s going to happen? Well…it would certainly go a long way in the Packers proving they are playoff-worthy if they pull it out. Home field counts for something, without question. Does it, and desperation, count for enough?
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