Green and Bold: It Begins and Ends with Run Defense

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 onto the NFC Championship Game.   

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:

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. 

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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Comments (53)

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Lphill's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:06 am

If the Packers at least hold them to 100 yards rushing then we should be ok providing the Packers can put up points which they should be able to do even without Jordy, give Michael more carries that kid is a burst of energy .

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:22 am

For the defense they have to find a way to contain Elliott. He is a special RB, and he is running behind probably the best OL in the league.

I think one of the keys to help stopping him and playing against the Cowboys OL is to play more with 3 DL. I'd like to see them use Lowry more as the 5 technique.

The problem with going with a lot of base is when the Cowboys use 3 WR's. And the 1 WR the Packers defense struggled with the last time was Beasley. They have struggled defending those small quick/fast WR's. Beasley is one of the key players the Packers have to find a way to stop.
Capers may need to mix up his schemes a little more. Getting more 3 DL on the field as well as having 3 CB's.

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Razer's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:41 am

Thinking much the same way. It will be a pick your poison day. I got no problem with forcing them to beat us with Dak's arm. Dropping or stopping a pass will save more time for our offense than watching Elliott carry the offense.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:18 am

Yeah, I think the key is to stopping/containing the run game. If they slow down the run game, and the packers offense does what it has been doing, it will force Dak to have to beat us. Can he do it? Possibly. But he hasn't had to much.

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chugwater's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:05 am

Could they use Datone and Peppers interchangeably as down linemen or edge rushers? Then you could use Burnett and Hyde as either run support or in coverage.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:21 am

I have wondered this a bit. I would still like to get Lowry and Clark on the field more though, with 3 true DL. Against that OL, I think they need more girth.
Perhaps they go to a 4 DL look with Guion, Daniels, Lowry and Peppers/Jones, with Mathews at ILB/OLB and 1 ILB, or Burnett coming down to ILB.

The flexibility of Burnett being able to come down and play in the box really gives the defense options.

All i can say is Capers has his work cut out for him in this game. Like him or hate him, we really need him to come up with a great game plan in this one.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 11:28 am

My thought was a front of Daniels, Clark and Guion, with Lowry spelling them.

LBs: Perry, CM3 (inside), Ryan and Datone

CBs Gunter (man v Dez), Randall (man v Beasley), HHCD deep and Burnett in run support or following Witten.

That's not a bad run stopping unit. The only concern there would be Williams....

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 11, 2017 at 02:41 pm

Sub Datone for Thomas (slightly better pass coverage group) or Hyde (much better pass coverage group), maybe?

- The 3 DLs still cover run support and inside push
- Thomas/Hyde provide a much better run/pass balance (key word)
- Burnett could then come down and be LB #4
- HHCD single high
- Clay could be put on the edge in favor of Burnett (or Thomas) from time-to-time (pairing Jake & Burnett or Thomas)

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Robinant2's picture

January 11, 2017 at 04:37 pm

I was thinking that exact same thing

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ironman3169's picture

January 11, 2017 at 06:14 pm

Peppers?

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:10 pm

Against this team - the threat of Option would scare me. Unless you meant Peppers as one of the 3 DLs. I'd like that.

Maybe:

Peppers
Guion/Clark
Daniels

?

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:48 pm

At this point in his career, Pep is just not a run stopper. He's a pass rush specialist, and not an every down one at that.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 11, 2017 at 09:22 pm

I agree. I was giving the best possible balanced group(s).

The last thing the Pack want to do is get caught up with 3 run stuffers with only 2 pass rush specialists on the field at any given time. I'm assuming Dallas will be in Shotgun w/3 WRs on the field virtually the entire game.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 11, 2017 at 09:48 pm

I agree, Bearmeat, on Peppers. I don't see him as good against the run. I haven't seen Datone as a good run stopper when he is used as a DE, but he was very good against the run in a recent game, both as a DE & particularly on the edge as an OLB. Perry returning to form would really help. I don't really know what he can do as long as he has to wear a club.

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Razer's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:36 am

Early season stats against poor offensively lines and injured and/or second-string running backs, gave us a false read on this defense. Recent success against Seattle or the Giants falls into the same category. We will be lucky to keep Elliott under 120. And, that is fine as long as we force the Cowboys into a lot of long 3rd down conversions.

Michelle's main point is the bottom-line for this victory. If Elliott is gaining 6-7 yards per carry and giving Dak Prescott favorable down and distance we will get play-actioned to death.

I expect to see more base defense with 3 down linemen. I also hope that we don't keep Clay Matthews split wide on LT Tyron Smith all day. Keep their best lineman busy with Fackrell or Jayrone Elliott and use our playmaker more strategically. Either way, stopping the run will dictate whether Rodgers is on the field to do his magic or watching from the sidelines.

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dobber's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:43 am

"Keep their best lineman busy with Fackrell or Jayrone Elliott and use our playmaker more strategically. "

I don't know what his "metrics" say, but I think you don't want Kyler Fackrell on the edge very much--at least on run downs.

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croatpackfan's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:17 am

I believe that Packers coaches will prepare good game plan, which will be doable, still they will not pay attention on someone's career days. I say gave to Elliot 200 yards if we would be able to keep them in 15-20 points range...
Similar to that, Stop Elliot and leave Beasley to have 200 yards day, but no more points than 15-20.
And that is that... Packers win!
EDIT: If you think it is not possible to win with that yardage of one player or one specificway of playing, look at Houston and/or Seattle game - lot of ground yards, very little points (13, 10!)

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:28 am

I don't want to see them giving up huge games to anyone. But that being said the points is the biggest thing. If they hold Dallas under 20 points, i think the Packers win.

Bend but don't break, can save games. Like the start of the Giants game. They bent but didn't break. Yeah part of it was due to drops by the Giants WR's, but regardless they still only allowed 6 points. It would have been a different game if they were down 14 points.

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dobber's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:46 am

I tend to agree: the Packers need to play with a lead in this one an force the Doughboys out of their play-calling comfort zone. Put that added playoff pressure squarely on Prescott's shoulders. I think this game will come down to limiting big plays. I'm not suggesting that the Packers play any kind of prevent defense, but I think the defense that gives up fewer big plays will lay the groundwork for a win.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 02:07 pm

I don't think there's any way GB holds Dallas under 20. I think Zeke will get over 120 yards and Dak will get over 200 yards passing. I'd bet Dallas gets over 30 points too. If GB can just get a couple stops and/or turn overs, that's going to save the day.

I don't care what PFF rank Dallas' defense has. That unit is below average. They can't rush the QB, their secondary has only faced 2 offenses all year that can actually throw the ball, and their run defense is a complete mirage. When you're up 21, it's really easy to play run D. ARod is going to SHRED them, even without Jordy, and we WILL have a running game.

First team to 35 wins. I think that's going to be us. Getting up early will be a BIG help.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 11, 2017 at 04:21 pm

I agree. I don't think Dallas' defense is more than average. It is hard to judge Dallas' WRs on their numbers - running as well as they do suggests that their WRs gross numbers might be lower than they otherwise would be. All of them have very healthy yards per catch averages.

To win, my over/under is forcing 3 punts. Force Dallas to punt more than 3 times (net turnovers count as well) and I think we win.

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ironman3169's picture

January 11, 2017 at 06:17 pm

I concur

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4zone's picture

January 11, 2017 at 04:38 pm

If either of them get 200 yards they will be scoring 35-45 points, not 15-20.

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Handsback's picture

January 11, 2017 at 09:08 am

Capers will earn his salary this year if the Packers beat the Cowboys. The game of strength vs. weakness, bend don't break, and FGs vs. TDs make this a very enjoyable game to watch. It seems that it's a game that was made for Pennel, but he was released. Probably for good reasons, but still could have used him this week.

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 11, 2017 at 10:44 am

Defenses have evolved to defend the pass, with base defense being the exception, not the rule. So the Cowboys are ahead of the curve because they are so strong on the run. Throw in the fact that Prescott and Bryant give the Cowboys a decent passing attack against a banged up and depleted Packers secondary, and this game looks impossible. At best, you have to hope that the Packers offense gets into a rhythum, chews clock (something it really doesn't do well), and scores nearly every time they touch the ball. The Packers have to score at least 30 to win this game.

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dobber's picture

January 11, 2017 at 10:45 am

I tend to agree, until you get to the part about chewing clock. The Packers are a top 5 team in TOP this season. They eat clock by churning out first downs, just not in the traditional "3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" way.

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 11, 2017 at 01:18 pm

I stand corrected. 51.98% doesn't feel like much of an advantage, but you're right, it is tied for 5th in the NFL this year. Time per drive at 2.84 minutes ranks them 4th. This just does not feel like a possession team to me. Apparently there aren't really many in the NFL this year.

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dobber's picture

January 11, 2017 at 02:05 pm

True, but I think their numbers are benefitting from huge TOP advantages against Chicago and Philly...

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chugwater's picture

January 11, 2017 at 01:41 pm

Many are banking on TOP to be the telltale sign of who will win, but it hasn't been that way for the Pack this year. Saw this on Twitter earlier today. It's GB record vs TOP.

5-0 <29 min
0-6 29-31 min
6-0 >31 min

I think turnover battle will be the more accurate indicator.

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EdsLaces's picture

January 11, 2017 at 10:41 am

Going to need all hands on deck for this one. Kinda feels like this will be another game where our D doesn't get home very often. Going to need a couple lucky breaks imo. Tipped ball int or something along those lines.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 11:30 am

Yeah, Dallas fans thinking they're going to get 35-40 min TOP are delusional.

GB is going to keep Zeke off the field just as much, if not more then they are going to do to us.

I really hope we get a big lead to start with.

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EdsLaces's picture

January 11, 2017 at 03:28 pm

I don't. I hate how we play with a lead at the beginning of the game. We play scared, and that's not how you win the big games.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:55 pm

I agree, but just THINK about being up 21 on Dallas. All of a sudden, play action isn't so scary. Zeke wouldn't even get 15 carries is this was the case.

In that scenario, we win every time.

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Bert's picture

January 11, 2017 at 11:59 am

Defense has to show up and just play good enough to win. Doesn't have to be dominating and we really don't have the personnel to be dominating anyway. Just play well and limit the damage from Zeke and coverage mistakes.

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Denver's picture

January 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

I think the Packers will have to score at least 32 points to win this one. And I'm not putting it past them to do it.

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Dzehren's picture

January 12, 2017 at 12:04 am

Agreed- AROD loves the DOME to

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Couch Cleats's picture

January 11, 2017 at 01:56 pm

I think the Packers have the ability to stun the Cowboys with an offensive performance vastly different than the one they showed them earlier in the year. I'm sure Garrett is warning them to forget about the previous game but thats easier said than done.

We cannot afford another first quarter like the one against the Giants though. A quick strike opening TD would do wonders to set the tone, quite the crowd and let some doubt creep in on the Cowboys. That combined with their 2 week layoff (which I always hated for the Packers) could make it hard for them to regain momentum.

Put the Cowboys in chase mode trying to catch up and I think our limping D can come up with a turn over or two. If we win the toss I think I would take the ball first this time.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 11, 2017 at 03:25 pm

Here's to hoping 3 weeks of rest does not benefit rookie Backs.

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 11, 2017 at 03:36 pm

Where is that rookie wall? They should have hit it after Thanksgiving.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:56 pm

... they kind of did... look at their last 4 games. It ain't so pretty.

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Tundraboy's picture

January 11, 2017 at 03:55 pm

Absolutely can not start like last week. We're not at home and need to score first and build a lead. Unlike many other games, no let up. Let them know they're in for a dog fight. Keep them on their heels, crowd out of it and force them to play a mistake free, pass heavy game to catch up,with a key turnover in second half to finish them off. We have had so many tipped passes one is bound to happen sooner or later. Hope it's this week. I think and believe MM will have the game plan of all game plans, and Arod will make it count. Shock the world, or at least Dallas

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4zone's picture

January 11, 2017 at 04:57 pm

I think this will be a shootout. I think we will need to score more than 30 points to win. I don't think we have the horses to shut Zeke down.

Crowd noise will probably effect us like at DET into some OFF penalties so I don't expect us at optimal there. I think two TOs are needed to even the playing field. If we can get a short field and take advantage of it at least once it could swing our way.

Dallas has the balanced offense we dream of having some day. If they execute like the can, it will be a long day, crowd will stay reved up and even as hot as our OFF is, it may not be enough.

Last week I called our blowout, but this week we hit probably the best team in the NFL at home and rested. We have a shot for sure, but it will take our best game on both sides of the ball and STs.

Its why you watch the game though. Maybe, just maybe we play the game for the ages. Ya just never know. I'm not gonna call this one. I'm just gonna sit back and watch it happen. Whatever happens from here, after sitting at 4-6, is just GRAVY.

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ironman3169's picture

January 11, 2017 at 06:26 pm

It's just a matter of matching them score for score and making one stop. I believe the packers can do this.

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Robinant2's picture

January 11, 2017 at 04:59 pm

I think the Packers Defense matches up better than people think with Tyrone Smith not at 100% with the MCL sprain and Doug Free vs Peppers GB all day. Gunter against Dez is a good match up cuz Dez isn't a burner and Gunter can be just as physical with him an he's taller at CB. Mike Daniels and having Matthews moving inside and outside will make a huge difference cuz it'll keep the offense offset. Burnett being able to help with run stopping will prove huge with locking up Witten. Beasley being the guy who makes big catches like Edleman but hitting him on his routes will help with that. Dak was shaky towards the end and as he did at Missippi State he is very prone to turnovers playing hero ball. Just look at Detroit and what a running back can do to the Dallas defense and Minnesota has athletic defenders an so do we and against good safety play Dak struggles an so does Elliot

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Dzehren's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:20 pm

Dallas beat the Vikings and Detroit

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Robinant2's picture

January 11, 2017 at 09:27 pm

The Vikings didn't have a quarterback as good as Rodgers cuz even with Bradford they had more first downs than Dallas and Dallas only converted on only one third down. Minnesota stuffed the run if you call it that they just could convert. And in the first meeting GB had tons of chances in the redzone to convert but didn't just once. And Detroit they got away from the run and became one dementional

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Dzehren's picture

January 11, 2017 at 11:43 pm

No one has as good as QB than Rodgers- MAYBE Bree's & Brady,. the Vikes had a much better overall Defense than GB statistically #3 overal vs GB #22 overall - Dal # 14 & DET #18. Source http://www.espn.com/nfl/statistics/team/_/stat/total/position/defense/se...

U R correct- Dallas's defense is the possible weaklink & are above average. If AROD stays hot like the past 7 weeks- GB can easily score 25-35 points in the dome on the road.

Detroit is Detroit. They have the 1958 Bobby Lane curse and lost there last 4 games NY Giants- Dal- GB- Seattle

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Since&#039;61's picture

January 11, 2017 at 07:29 pm

We need our front 7 to make plays in this game. Quick off the snap and gang tackle the ball carrier. We need to create 3rd and long and get our defense off the field. Even if we keep up with or gain a lead on the Cowpuffs our defense will get worn down if Dallas maintains time consuming drives. Rodgers may score at will but Dallas will come right back if our defense wears down. Our defense needs to make stops and get off the field. Then we can keep Eliott on the Dallas bench and take the crowd out of the game. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

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Samson's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:12 pm

This game will certainly define the season. -- Few expected the Pack to be where they are at this point. -- I don't believe the emphasis needs to be on stopping the run. --- This is the play offs. -- All you need to do is score more points. -- The stats are irrelevant.

AR is on fire. --- That might be enough.

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Dzehren's picture

January 11, 2017 at 08:16 pm

Capers may be inclined to bring the old Bliztburgh packages back on Sunday too contain Elliott. Blitzing the gaps would help in run support against Zeke & pressure rookie QB DAK in 1st playoff game. Target blitzes at both Prescott and Elliott (hit zeke even with out the ball in the backfield on pass plays) like the Patriots did to Marshall Faulk in the 2002 Super Bowl.

Cowboys really have 2 or 3 pass catchers- obviously Dez- double team when possible- plus slow & reliable Whitten who LB's & Hyde conceivably can cover & the average Williams who can be covered.

Dom can send linebacks up the middle & off the edge as well as several timed down & distances where CB/ SAftety blitzes are effective.

Let's make Prescott beat GB- not Elliott.
Run the table- in it to win it.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 11, 2017 at 11:15 pm

We've played against several offenses with an imbalance between their pass and run games. Dallas seems pretty balanced. Capers has several choices: 1) Stop the run (play schemes and personnel meant to stop the run); 2) Stop the pass (play nickel using players better at coverage); 3) some kind of balanced defensive scheme (many permutations possible here).

I've got no idea what Capers will opt to do. I've suggested playing more base defense and personnel to stop the run. I'm assuming we can do that, but it may be that we can't stop the run sufficiently even using base and run personnel. Make Dak play and see if Gunter (Dez), Randall (Beasley) and ? on Williams, and ? on Witten can hold up.

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Dzehren's picture

January 12, 2017 at 12:25 am

Agreed- a LB or Hyde can cover Whitten W/ safety help. Brice/Hyde on Williams - Brice is Improviimg weekly & getting decent position recently... Hawkins may be called upon with safety help.

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Nick Suess's picture

January 12, 2017 at 06:18 pm

I wrote this for us Packer fans.

"Run the Table"
----------------------------------------
From 4 and 6
The Pack Came Back

In Jordy's Rib
Was Found a Crack

Hail Mary Catch
Defined Attack

Then Packer D
Forced Strip and Sack

Now 7 Straight Wins
No Lie, A Fact

From Cold to Dallas
Green and Gold Pack

To Stuff Elliot
And Sack a Dak

Long Live Mason Crosby!

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