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Packers vs. Cowboys: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

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Packers vs. Cowboys: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

The Green Bay Packers (12-4) will welcome the Dallas Cowboys (12-4) to Lambeau Field for a NFC Divisional Round matchup Sunday afternoon in Green Bay. The winner between the two division champions will advance to the conference title game, which will be played in either Seattle or Green Bay next weekend. 

Here’s five things to watch and a prediction:

 

1. Gimpy Rodgers

The national uproar over the “slight tear” and “substantial strain” in Rodgers’ calf was comical. It wasn’t news. He’s had a “slight tear/substantial strain” in one part of his calf since Tampa Bay, and he suffered another “slight tear/substantial strain” against the Lions in the season finale. The question here isn’t about tears and strains; instead, it’s how the already established injuries will affect his mobility after kickoff Sunday. It’s certainly possible he’ll be once again limited to playing mostly from the pocket, with the Packers running more of the pistol formation. One thing is for certain: the Packers need a rightfully celebrated offensive line to keep Rodgers clean. They mostly dominated Detroit’s four front after Rodgers came back to the game in Week 17, and the Dallas front coming to Green Bay is nowhere near as talented or disruptive. An injured but protected Rodgers in the pocket is still lethal. 

 

2. Same Test, New Front

A year ago, the Cowboys pushed around and mauled the interior of the Packers defensive line, especially in the run game. Dallas has since added right guard Zack Martin, a rookie All-Pro. But the Packers are now a much different front in 2014, both in terms of personnel and philosophy. So much of what Green Bay wants to accomplish Sunday will be first based in how the interior defensive line holds up against the Cowboys’ No. 2 ranked rushing offense. If rushing champion DeMarco Murray starts busting off big gains, Dom Capers will need to contribute more bodies to the cause—opening up opportunities down the field for pass-catchers such as Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The likely grinding inside certainly feels like it will appeal to Mike Daniels’ game. Datone Jones and Josh Boyd will also be important, while Green Bay’s outside linebackers will be expected to set the edge against a heavy stretch-run outfit. 

 

3. New Plan for Dez

Bryant caught 11 passes for 153 yards in last year’s meeting. He was fantastic, but the Packers also gave him uncontested catch after uncontested catch. Either Green Bay played some odd coverages or the Cowboys game planned Bryant into a number of wide open looks. Communication breakdowns were also a common sight in Green Bay in 2013. Bryant’s big day was probably a combination of all factors. Clearly, the Packers need a better effort Sunday. Capers’ defense will likely attempt to stop the run with numbers, putting the cornerbacks on an island—with a rookie single-high safety playing his first playoff game as the final line of defense. Like the Packers, the Cowboys are a pick-your-poison offense. Bryant will get opportunities and almost certainly make a big play or two. Green Bay just can’t afford No. 88 to go full Michael Irvin (or Julio Jones) and blow up the game. 

 

4. Upset Ingredients

The Packers haven’t lost at Lambeau Field this season, winning by an average of almost 20 points. Green Bay also hasn’t trailed at home since Week 2. Want to negate an obvious home-field advantage in the postseason? Commit turnovers and play sloppy special teams (see: vs. New York Giants, Jan. 2012). Green Bay should be good to go protecting the football, as the offense has just five giveaways—including one Matt Flynn interception—over eight home games in 2014. However, the special teams remain a box of chocolates. Head coach Mike McCarthy seemed confident that the off week gave the Packers adequate time to make adjustments in protections. Green Bay didn’t lose when it allowed a blocked kick this season, but that stroke of luck could change very quickly in the postseason. The absence of mistakes will far outweigh any presence of big plays for the Packers special teams. Protect the football and play error-free during the transitional aspect of the game and Green Bay will feel good about advancing. 

 

5. Fresh Lacy

Rodgers has his injury, Murray is the rushing champ and Tony Romo is coming home. Lacy, one of the NFL’s most productive running backs over the last two months of the season, feels a little bit like the forgotten man. Last December, Lacy averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored five times despite playing on a bum ankle. This time around, he’s healthy, rested and ready to impart some punishment on a Dallas run defense that ranked eighth against the run but still allowed 4.2 yards per carry and 18 rushing touchdowns. As much as the Cowboys want to keep the Packers offense off the field, Green Bay would also rather see Romo, Murray, Bryant and Witten standing in the cold on the sideline. Lacy—still the only running back to rush for 100 yards against the Lions’ No. 1 run defense this year—is the hammer no player with a star on his helmet will want to tackle, even if the temperature is comfortably in the 20s. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s the focal point of Mike McCarthy’s game plan. In fact, he probably should be. 

 

Prediction: Packers 37, Cowboys 31 (11-5)

Dallas is too talented and too balanced an offense to not score a bunch of points, especially against a Green Bay defense that still has its shaky moments. The real question to this game is how the Cowboys keep the Packers from lighting up the scoreboard. Rodgers’ injury is an important factor, but the Packers can and should move the football up and down the field even if he’s locked into the pocket. Green Bay jumps out to an early leads and holds on late, with Lacy rushing for over 150 yards. 

 

Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (20) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

SterlingSharpe's picture

Good stuff.
As I was on the field last year here in Dallas, I saw how DeMarco Murray just carved us up..... I saw Brad Jones and AJ Hawk just bounce off Murray.

Now we have Barrington in there instead, and Chris Borland the natural ILB.... wait, no we don't, it's Clay Matthews there.

We need to see some Mike Pennell tomorrow as he's a big body that can blow up Frederick on some plays.

By the way, last sentence #2- Same test new front, you have a typo of Danone Jones instead of Datone.... I suppose that could be intentional until that guy starts ACTING like a 1st round pick with now 2 years under his belt.

A shame he hasn't done anything close to JJ Watt....

Zach Kruse's picture

Thank you for the heads up!

NewNikeShoes's picture

Cow? My brother, is that you?

aj's picture

I'm pretty sure no player is JJ Watt, that's just unfair. That's like saying any quarterback that isn't as good as Rodgers is terrible.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I keep hearing/reading about a limited Rodgers -- but wasn't he limited against the Lions (and still dominated,btw)? This will be a "limited" Rodgers + 2 weeks of rest.

This might be something overlooked by some/most fans:
Think back to all of the games where Lacy could have easily had games over 100 yds,but MM (or Rodgers...whatever) decided to either take Lacy out or simply not run the ball. Lacy should be Zip Lock fresh. Starks should be even fresher!

Julius Peppers + Sam Shields are going to make plays. Big plays.

Edit:

Oh yea, RIP to whoever is manned up against Cobb that game. I'm expecting a HUGE game from Cobb.

NewNikeShoes's picture

Honestly, I'm expecting huge games from all of the receivers cause the Cowboy's lack of a pass rush.

White92's picture

Good point regarding Cobb. He did not play in Dallas last year. He should have a big game tomorrow.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Damn,I'm good.

calabasa's picture

For #2, don't forget Burnett's impressive run support as a huge key to complement our average D- line. He's been a big reason for the improvement.

Bearmeat's picture

Demarco will get yards. But ARod is going to light up the scoreboard against their crappy secondary and terrible pass rush. Eddie will be able to run at will too.

Dallas falls behind early and unlike DET, GB doesn't screw up the 2nd half.

Pack by more than 10.

packsmack's picture

52-28 Packers.

DrealynWilliams's picture

In that weather??

packsmack's picture

Didn't factor in bad refs keeping Dallas in the game with bogus PI calls and awful personal fouls.

FITZCORE1252's picture

45-27 You know.

jmac34's picture

Read the Dez part and all I could think about was MD Jennings getting beat play after play. Ugh

Mario Willis's picture

I watched Jermy Parnell and Zack Martin both make some bone head PROTECTION mistakes against Detroit.
The both seem unable to pick up the blitz though we don't blitz much a weak side overload or two might be in our best interest.
Dallas is going to try and take it slow and steady. Time of possession is important. If we score early and often we can take Murray out the game and force the COWBOYS, and by COWBOYS I mean Tony Romo, to throw the ball.
Tony Romo is know to try and put the ball into spots where he gets in trouble.
Excited, Nervous, and ready for GAMETIME!

4thand1's picture

This game is going to come down whoever scores the most points.

4thand1's picture

After watching the Ravens in the playoffs, Ted should have signed Owen Daniels.

DrealynWilliams's picture

He did look good, but I think it was more Flacco than Daniels. Flacco started off on fire.

4thand1's picture

The pick he threw at the end was just plain stupid. They had all day to go down and score and not leave Brady any time.

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