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Packers Prepare for Act II Against Ezekiel Elliott, High-Octane Cowboys

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Packers Prepare for Act II Against Ezekiel Elliott, High-Octane Cowboys

Long before he was leading the NFL in rushing yards and being selected as a First-team All-Pro running back in his rookie season, the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott was a weekly highlight at Ohio State.

In just three seasons as a Buckeye, he left his mark on the record books with the second-most rushing yards in school history, as well as second and third-most rushing yards in a single season. It was one of the many reasons why the tailback was taken so early in the 2016 NFL Draft — more specifically, as the fourth overall pick.

What do you get when you take Elliott and give him the unanimous best run-blocking offensive line out of 32 teams? 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns all on the ground as well as a nod in the Most Valuable Player conversation. While it's unlikely Elliott walks away with the award for two reasons: the first being that his Cowboys may have a game to prepare for the next day. (The NFL Honors fall on the night before the Super Bowl.) The second reason is simply because there have been others that define the concept of "valuable" and have filled their stat sheets with ungodly numbers. Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the candidates spearheading the race for the award.

His season nonetheless, has been nothing short of impressive. A lot of his success has been attributed to the Dallas offensive line, and while they were a key contributor to the 72 "big rushing plays" or in other words, runs that go further than 10 yards, it's a tough task to understate what Elliott has accomplished. 

The Cowboys rushing attack as a whole —  consisting of Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and for a brief stint, Lance Dunbar — accounted for the most rushing attempts of any team in the league. Yet, they had one of the lowest percentages of stuffed runs with just 8.0. They had the sixth-fewest amount of runs bottled up by the opposing defense.

When he went up against one of the top run defenses in football in week six, being contained was far from the theme of the evening.

Elliott brutalized the Packers defensive front on a day that former team quarterback and renowned Gunslinger Brett Favre was in town to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring. The 157 rushing yards he encompassed on the ground was the most he had recorded against any team until week 15 where he galloped his way to 159 against the Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football.

Head coach Mike McCarthy is no slouch. He and his coaching staff all know that hefty preparation has to be in full-effect in preparation for the second meeting with Elliott and co. However, history isn't exactly on his side.

Since taking over as the Packers head coach in 2006, McCarthy is 4-8 in the playoffs against teams he's faced in the regular season. That includes the most recent victory over the Giants on Sunday, whom the Packers faced back in October.

"It always starts up front," McCarthy said on Monday. "The running back is special. He's proven that time and time again and he's been very consistent, especially for a first-year player."

The Cowboys are ranked second in rushing first downs per game, and the margin between them and the third-placed team isn't close. They average 8.9 first downs per game, accumulating in success with their 142 total first downs via the ground game. The next-closest team is the 49ers with 116. 

"That really jumps off of film to me," McCarthy continued in clear admiration. "They've been running the ball there very well for a number of years. They have that to build off of. I just think Scott Linehan does an incredible job."

The Dallas thundering ground assault doesn't falter regardless of the statistic. They're second in the league in rushing yards per game, averaging 149.8. In accordance with Elliott's individual dominance, he helped bolster the 4.60 rushing yards per attempt the Cowboys were averaging in 2015 to 4.80 this season. A clear testament to the stellar play of their offensive line above all else.

With every consistently sensational running game comes the threat of play action, which meshes perfectly into fellow rookie quarterback Dak Prescott's abilities as well.

"(Linehan) is one of the best coordinators in this league. He utilizes people very well. Not only do they run very well, but the action passing game first into movements coming off of that. The quarterback is athletic and can throw on the run — he can make all of the throws."

"When you look into the offense and how they play and especially where they're playing this week, they hit all the quadrants and that's what you have to do."

The Cowboys are 15-0 this season when Elliott rushes for more than 80 yards, so the Packers front seven pinning their ears back and finding a way to contain the dynamic force of a tailback in Jerry's World will be a tall task.

"They're an outstanding football team, they've put together a great regular season. But, this is about the playoffs. We're fully focused to do everything we need to do to go to Dallas and win the game."

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (41) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

TommyG's picture

I rewatched the game from earlier this year. The cowboys looked very human. The loss was mostly due to our own self distruction; in particular the inability to score from inside the 20 yard line. We couldn't capitalize on their mistakes and allowed Dallas to dictate the pace of the game. I believe that this version of the packers offense will be able to get up on the scoreboard and force Dallas out of their running game. When that happens (and I think it will) I expect the packers to walk away with the game much like they did against the giants.

Nick Perry's picture

Exactly!!! The Packers were 1-4 in the red zone, 0-1 in goal to goal situations, and had 4 TO's. The TOP was actually a few seconds in the Packers favor. This is an ENTIRELY different Packers team offensively.

Is THIS Dallas team that much different from the team we played in Lambeau in the 2014 playoffs? Murray ran for MORE yardage during the regular season than Elliot has this year and Romo was one of the best QB's in the NFL in 2014.

The big difference is the Packers are playing at a whole other level than week 6. The Cowboys aren't facing week 6 Rodgers or even the 2014 Rodgers with a bad calf. The Cowboys are facing a version of Rodgers that is in the middle of the best stretch of football he's played in his entire career IMO.

Can Dak and Zeke win a shootout against the Packers without making a huge mistake. I know what they've done in the regular season, but this isn't the regular season, this is the Playoffs. I agree with TommyG, a game like last week just might be in the cards.

Nick Perry's picture

RC brought up something yesterday in a comment that I think is worth mentioning again. Dak and Zeke haven't played in a few weeks. The 2011 Packers sat Rodgers, Matthews, and several other starters for week 17, had the bye and then looked like they hadn't played in almost a month against the Giants. I think the passing of Joe Philbin's son was big in that game, but I think sitting for 3 weeks isn't always the best thing either. If the Cowboys start slowly against THIS offense, the Packers would put them in a position they haven't really been in. Playing from behind.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really think its worth watching to see how the Cowboys come out and play.
Also in the last 4 games they were 2-2. Yeah, they probably lost the last game due to resting players, but there record is their record.

Something else to keep in mind that the Cowboys 2 primary players are rookies, playing in their first playoffs. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Spock's picture

edit: I meant to reply to Nick Perry's post.

Spock's picture

Philbin's son's passing and also (people forget) one of the OL lineman's (Lang, I think) FATHER also passed away and many of the Packer's players attended both funerals. The team came out flat, clearly not with their heads in the game, and the offense inexplicitly turned the ball over multiple times (I believe Ahmad Green had his first fumble of the season). It just wasn't meant to be.

Tundraboy's picture

Based on statistics we don't have a chance! Stats dont win games. We need to control the pace as much as possible, bend but not break, and make sure Farve is not in Dallas.

Nick Perry's picture

LOL....Excellent point TB. Make sure Favre isn't within 100 miles of AT&T Stadium Sunday. He didn't beat the Cowboys in the 90's at Texas Stadium and he seemed to bring his "Luck" to Lambeau in week 6, 4 Turnovers?? Very Favre like.

I heard something interesting on Mike & Mike this morning. In week 6 the Cowboys defense played a lot of 3-2-6 (3 linemen, 2 linebackers, and 6 defensive backs). I doubt Rodgers would hesitate a bit to run at that defense as long as they play it. Lacy was injured and shouldn't have even played against Dallas. Michaels and Montgomery are mostly healthy and Michaels gets to play against another team that cut him. I really liked the way Michaels ran last Sunday and could be huge on Sunday. OMG... A running game to go with Rodgers!!!

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks NP. Now I'm really pumped. Until now didnt take run the table too seriously, meaning winning it all, but if we beat Dallas, it IS like 2010. And if we beat Dallas in Dallas, this year of all years, and after taking it to the Giants, part of me would be happy with that alone. Win it all and I can even forget 2014. GPG, GPG.

chugwater's picture

Stats show GB has averaged 35 points in the last five weeks vs some of the top defenses in the league. That includes one where we didn't have Jordy for most of it. The DAL defense isn't nearly as good as, say, NYG or SEA.

We have the ability. And yes, someone post a Favre watch outside the stadium.

RCPackerFan's picture

In the 7 game winning streak the Packers have faced the #2 (Giants), #3 (Seahawks), and #6 (Vikings) ranked scoring defenses. They put up 38 points against each one of them.

Dallas is ranked 5th in scoring defense.

Spud Rapids's picture

Dallas has only played a few prolific offenses all season look at their schedule below and the points rankings of those teams. The average point ranking of their opponent was 20th and the Packers and Steelers were the only top 10 offenses they played. Their schedule was a cake walk as the average wins their opponents had was 7.4 and only 3 teams they played won 10 games (Giants, Packers, Steelers).

I think they are in for a rude awakening when Rodgers and that offense comes in their this weekend with his foot on the gas pedal. Their defense is going to be in shock.

Giants - 26th (twice) 11-5 Record
Redskins - 12th (twice) 8-7-1 Record
Bears - 28th 3-13 Record
49ers - 27th 2-14 Record
Bengals - 24th 6-9-1 Record
Packers - 4th (not at the time) 10-6 Record
Eagles -16th (twice) 7-9 Record
Browns - 31st 1-15 Record
Steelers - 10th 11-5 Record
Ravens - 21st 8-8 Record
Vikings - 23rd 8-8 Record
Buccaneers - 18th 9-7 Record
Lions - 20th 9-7 Record

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

LET them think they're going to stop us. We are the ones that are going to be getting the last laugh when our passing game shreds them for 300+ yards and 30+ points.

First team to 35 wins boys.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Excellent post, Spud. I appreciate the information.

chugwater's picture

I live in the DFW metroplex so I'm probably suffering from a little Stockholm Syndrome, but I'm really concerned about this one. I think ATL and SEA would be much easier if we can get past Sunday afternoon with a win.

Question for those who lived thru the 90s: On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned were you when the Packers had to go to Irving in 94-95 to play the Cowboys in January? How concerned are you now?

Then: 9
Now: 7

Nick Perry's picture

2 things.... In Texas Stadium I think the Cowboys had a huge advantage against teams coming in there. There was that crazy "Crown" running down the middle of the field where it was higher in the center of the field than along the sidelines. Road teams would always throw high to their WR's in that stadium.

The 90's Cowboys had a nasty defense to do along with the "Triplets". They also had a veteran team, at least compared to this Dallas team.

But I hear you, I'm concerned too.

chugwater's picture

The other good news is WRs aren't able to push off as much as Michael Irvin did on a routine basis.

That was absurd.

Tundraboy's picture

The King of OPI.

The TKstinator's picture

That drove me crazy too!

The TKstinator's picture

Don't ALL fields have that crown feature? Or was Dallas's especially severe?

Ismael Ramirez's picture

You all packer fans are dilutional your about to get your quarterbacks head in a plate to take back home to green. Bay Go Cowboys

Christopher Gennaro's picture

ahh cute a troll!!!

Tundraboy's picture

And an illiterate one at that.

Zachary Jacobson's picture

We're very dilutional.

Spud Rapids's picture

Sad that you took the time to set up an account on here just to post a grammatically terrible, snooze of a post. Go back to your Cowboys sites

Since '61's picture

Not to mention that he can't spell or understand the meaning of the words that he thinks he is using. Back to the 3rd grade, maybe that will help but unlikely. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

Flow49's picture

Stay in school... or go back

The TKstinator's picture

I, for one, refuse to be diluted.

rajahking's picture

Good question from Chugwater. While its always tough to win on the road, when the Packers played the 90s Cowboys, I never felt like they had a chance, they were outgunned from the get go, it didn't feel fair almost.

The Pack has a punchers chance in this, but we are also going up against a very talented team - in many ways more athletic across the board than the Packers, and they are playing at home. In my opinion, its all about Rodgers: if he's just human, it'll be almost impossible to win. Luckily he's been ridiculous lately, so if he keeps that up, I think we can get a W.

chugwater's picture

I completely agree. Aaron just needs to maintain his MVP pace.

I will add that while we lose home field advantage, we gain a dome environment. Packer offense loves a track meet.

Robinant2's picture

Aaron isn't the only thing keeping up this current win streak the defense which is suppose to be the weak link of the team has been playing lights out. Gunter played horribly at the beginning of the season but has turned it around and yes Odell dropped some passes but Beasley is no Odell and they need to nuetralize him who is Dallas' leading pass catcher but they played him well. I think the pressure will get to Dak being blitzing pressure and this secondary gets picks at great times so I think the secondary is lot better then they're given credit for

Robinant2's picture

Oh and special teams was incredible field position will play a big part in a W going the Packers way

Since '61's picture

The Packers offense will be fine. The key is for our defense to get off the field. We'll need at least one if not 2 of our front 7 to take over the game and make some plays. We'll see what Capers can come up with. We also need to ready for Romo to step in if the Cowpuffs fall behind. Romo can move the team through the air more effectively than Prescott. He is another possibility that we need to be ready to defend against late in the game if we have a 2+ score lead. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

Dzehren's picture

If Romo is in he game- GB is either winning big or losing big (or DAK injury). Not worried about Romo at all. He's only won 1 playoff game in his entire career. Prescott & Elliott running the ball & short screens to Zeke are the key battles

Robinant2's picture

And another point is anyone forgetting Jeff Janis the dude is a really good receiver and special team player too.

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

If GB can get 4 stops or turnovers combined, that will win the game.

I firmly believe our offense will hang a 30-burger on this clown defense, and 40 is not outside the ream of possibility.

Remember Atlanta in 2010? This offense is hotter than that one. Granted the defense isn't as good. But the offense is better.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I read the other article first and wrote virtually the same thing. Over/under on punts (net turnovers count) is 3 for GB to have win.

Tundraboy's picture

I'm going with your swagger. Loved ARod's can't wait comment. I think the team will be more than up for this one. Like the Seattle game only better.

Dzehren's picture

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.

4thand1's picture

AR is the key. Like 2010-11 , MM said we have a championship QB and we're going to ride him. Do we really appreciate what we are seeing? There are teams would trade away their entire draft for the likes of Rodgers. When he's on he makes it look easy and its anything but. He seems to be playing with a chip again and is having fun. People were questioning him because his qb rating dipped below 100 for a time. Last year Adams was hurt, Cobb, and Jordy lost for the year. Finally he has a TE that demands attention, way over due. If the defense holds up enough and gives him the ball with a turn over or two, they win this weekend. They may win just because Dallas will have no answer for him. He has carried this team and we are the luckiest fans to witness it.

Dzehren's picture

This source has Dallas overall defense ranked
#14 & GB overall 22 - Dal really has an above average defense thanks to the running game.

Giants were #10 and Atlanta #25

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