First Look: Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

The Dallas Cowboys scored a controversial 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions to secure a game at Lambeau Field next Sunday. Unfortunately for the Packers, this call and the Lions blowing the game did not allow them to have the NFL’s first ever double bye that the Carolina Panthers would have provided. Instead, the Seattle Seahawks have been afforded that luxury. Meanwhile, the Packers will face a true test in every sense of the word against Dallas.

Obviously, the overturned pass interference was absurd, but that is allowing something else big to get lost in the shuffle. WHY IS JIM CALDWELL PUNTING FOURTH-AND-1 FROM DALLAS’ SIDE OF THE FIELD WITH A CHANCE TO PUT THE GAME AWAY? That Detroit punt absolutely deserved to go the nine yards that it went. Meanwhile, on the ensuing possession Dallas went for it on fourth-and-6 and got it. Of course if you know anything about Caldwell’s history this did not surprise you in the least. Neither did Troy Aikman advocating it in the broadcast booth — as most of the announcers always will — which drives me insane. But, I digress.

Everybody who has watched the Packers this season would say their defense has improved pretty considerably, and now just how much will be put to the test. Dallas comes in here with essentially the perfect offense. They have a quarterback who can make all the throws, a huge and powerful offensive line, three playmaking wide receivers, a Hall of Fame tight end and a running back who led the league in rushing. That’s clearly a lot to deal with.

For the Packers this game starts with containing Demarco Murray. He embarrassed them in Dallas last year with 134 yards on 18 carries, which simply cannot happen again. Murray loves to stretch runs to the outside and the Packers have had trouble with containment on running backs at times this season.

Dallas has over 1,500 pounds of beef on that offensive line and average 318 across the board, while Green Bay only averages about 302 pounds on their front three of Datone Jones, Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels. That number goes down in the nickel package that they play the majority of the time. This was by design over the offseason with Mike McCarthy’s idea that these more athletic players would disrupt the running game more than the wide bodied players from last season. That will be put to the ultimate test in this matchup.

The Packers have moved up to 20th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 4.3, which may not seem great but is a sizable jump from where they were in the beginning of the season. Two keys to this have been the Packers trusting Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix in single-high safety coverage and Morgan Burnett has been stellar against the run recently. The second one being obvious is Clay Matthews’ move to inside linebacker. This has helped get another good run player on the field more in Nick Perry, and Barrington and Matthews have actually been making tackles that aren’t five yards down the field every play.

It will be interesting to see if the Packers continue this strategy of Clinton-Dix back there alone. With Dez Bryant on the field along with some good complimentary targets it’s a risk, but you kind of have to pick your poison. The Packers probably have little chance of containing Murray without playing Burnett in the box a ton.

Green Bay’s secondary has been very good at limiting big passing plays this season and stopping top receivers, with only Julio Jones and Brandon Marshall going over 100 yards against them all season. They have only allowed 10 passing plays of 35 or more yards this season, tying them for the best mark of the Capers era. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are going to have to be relied upon in coverage a lot of times by themselves to use resources against the run and to blitz, which is how Detroit contained Dallas yesterday.

The Lions harassed Tony Romo with six sacks by using a wide variety of blitzes, which is unusal for them. They clearly saw something on film that indicated Dallas would have trouble with blitzes. Romo seemed to be confused often pre-snap, and Detroit ended up with many unaccounted  rushers. Also, Dallas’ big offensive line had trouble with a lot of stunting plays, which can be a general problem for a bigger offensive line. The Lions went away with a lot of their blitzing in the second half for who knows what reasons.

The Washington Redskins employed a similar blitz happy scheme in their 20-17 upset of the Cowboys on Oct.27. According to Bob McGinn, Dom Capers has blitzed on 39.3 percent of plays this season, good for sixth most in the NFL. He should keep dialing it up in this matchup. A conventional pass rush is not the way to beat Dallas.

On the other side of the ball, if Aaron Rodgers is healthy and the Packers do not put up at least 30 points against this Dallas defense they should be embarrassed. Especially, when you consider Matt Flynn put up 37 on them last season on the road. Yes, Dallas had the worst defense in the NFL last year, but it’s not as improved as most think based on their record this year. Dallas ranked 22nd this season in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, which is a stat they use to measure efficiency. Their pass defense and run defense have been about the same ranked 22nd and 23rd respectively in DVOA.

Dallas has allowed 5.8 yards per play on defense this season, which ranks 26th in the NFL. For comparison’s sake, they allowed 6.1 yards per play last season, so not a ton better. If you look at their total yardage stats they’re not as bad because Dallas has had such a huge time of possession advantage, which is where stopping Murray comes into play. If the Packers stop him and get this Dallas defense on the field they should have a very good chance of winning.

Dallas’ defense is just simply not very talented. Jeremy Mincey leads their team in sacks with six. They did sack Matthew Stafford three times, but Green Bay’s offensive line is a big step up from Detroit’s. They have shut down pass rushing units much better than Dallas’ lately. Rolando McClain has been a revelation at middle linebacker, but he may have a concussion issue. If Brandon Carr is matched up with Jordy Nelson often without help it would be a huge mismatch in favor of Green Bay.

The Packers are gonna have to earn their way to the NFC Championship game now, but that’s what you have to do to win championships. Drawing Carolina would have been incredibly lucky. The Packers are the more talented team, completely healthy other than maybe Rodgers and are at home where they have not lost all season. In other words they have no excuses, they simply must get the job done.

 

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Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.

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