Early Bird Breakdown Divisional Round: Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

Hello all! Welcome to the Divisional Round edition of Early Bird Breakdown! Let’s begin with the recap:

The Recap:

The moment when every Packer fan collectively held their breath

Two weeks ago when Green Bay last took the field, they secured their NFC North title as well as a first round bye beating Detroit 30-20 in Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers had a gutty performance against the Lions, at one point collapsing while connecting to Cobb on a touchdown pass. However, he only missed one series and was able to return and lead Green Bay to the victory. Eddie Lacy, who ran for 100 yards was critical for keeping drives going and third downs manageable. The defense also showed up big again this week with key stops throughout the game.

As for Dallas, they also are coming off of a victory against the Lions at home. Dallas faced Detroit and fell down early 14-0 but rallied back and won 24-20. Ultimately, Detroit had the opportunities to both win late and lock out Dallas but failed to shut the door, and it sets up the Ice Bowl II.

The Breakdown:
Packers’ Offense vs. Cowboys’ Defense:
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense needs to be the driving force this week to get the job done, when an equally talented offense will be facing the Green Bay defense. Fortunately for the Packers, they are a juggernaut on offense at home. The offense and Aaron Rodgers play completely in sync and have the highest scoring offense in the league fully on display when they are at Lambeau.

Ultimately, the big question is the health of Aaron Rodgers calf going into the game. Reports are that there may be a slight tear in the calf. While Rodgers is fully expected to start and play the game, what does this mean for his overall durability as well as how much will he be able to move around and extend plays in this game? The calf will certainly be a question, but Rodgers will his mobility be affected is the concern.

Helping Rodgers out is an offensive line that has gelled and been fantastic down the stretch at not only giving Rodgers time but clearing room for Eddie Lacy. Lacy will have plenty of opportunities himself this week to churn out first downs, and frankly the Packers cannot win in this post season without the balanced offense being in full swing.

Both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb should have big games against a poor secondary for the Dallas Cowboys. Cobb, who has proven to be a matchup problem for teams in the slot, will have multiple chances in one-on-one coverage to make a play and Rodgers will capitalize.

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Nelson will also have looks where Rodgers will get the chance to hit him deep for big plays. Dallas is not a lock down defense by any stretch, look for Green Bay’s dynamic duo to get the chances to Lambeau leap Sunday.

Dallas’s defense is much improved over last year’s unit which was historically awful. Having said that, overall they are just a an average defense at best that is buoyed by a strong offense that keeps them off the field. If Green Bay can get the ground game going, this is the defense more likely to break and fall than the Packers’ defense. 

Packers’ Defense vs. Cowboys’ Offense:
This is the best offense Green Bay’s defense has played all season, and this will be quite the test. Dallas features the dynamic Demarco Murray, who lead the league in rushing yards. They have Dez Bryant, who led the NFL with 16 receiving touchdowns. Finally, they have Tony Romo who led the league in passer rating with 113.2. Yes, Romo had a slightly higher rating this season than Aaron Rodgers, who finished with 112.2. What this means is, Dallas has a quarterback playing at as an elite of a level as anyone armed with weapons all over the place, and they also happen to have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

So how does Green Bay combat all those weapons? They need to take away the run, as they have in the last month of the season. Utilizing Clay Matthews in the middle to slow down Dallas’ running game to not let Romo capitalize on play action will be key. They also cannot let Dez Bryant beat them. Bryant must command two people all game. Dallas will put up points in this game, so Green Bay cannot give them free points on big plays to Bryant.

Just a little space and Bryant can beat you, in more ways than one.

Outside of Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, the other receivers Dallas offers, such as Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley should not be an issue for the Packers deep secondary to man up against. While Dallas likes to spread the ball around, they are not nearly as deep as options as Green Bay is, although Witten and Bryant are both matchup issues for the Packers. While still a reliable receiver, Witten is not the athletic specimen at tight end that has been problematic for the Packers over the years (such as 49ers Vernon Davis, Saints Jimmy Graham, or Patriots Rob Gronkowski). Look for occasional coverage by Peppers or Matthews periodically throughout the game while Burnett should be able to do a well enough job on him since he does not have the speed to beat him deep, merely the size to box him out for small-medium gains. Third down they will need to most likely have help in coverage for Witten as he is even more likely to be looked at by Romo as his safety blanket.

Dallas has traveled extremely well this season, going 8-0 on the road. However, Green Bay has played so well at home, they have had arguably the second best home field advantage behind Seattle. The best defense the Packers can play is on the offensive side, keeping drives going to limit Romo’s opportunities. If the Packers can come up with enough stops to limit Dallas’s chances early in the game, they will be able to hold off this offense.

The Weather Factor:
The expected weather for the game is 21
o at kickoff with some scattered clouds, light wind, and no precipitation. They were running the heaters the night before, so the ground should not be frozen.

The Game:
Dallas brings into Lambeau field a team that has not lost on the road yet this season and an amazingly balanced offense. Green Bay boasts an undefeated team at home with an amazingly balanced offense. As one infamous former Cowboys receiver once said, “get your popcorn ready.” This one should be a fun game, with Dallas and Green Bay both being similarly built teams elevated by great quarterback play. The game will come down to a few keys.

First, how healthy is Rodgers really and will his calf cause any of the playbook to be cut? Head coach Mike McCarthy last week and in Tampa had to remove sections of the playbook that required Rodgers to move, including most of the play action packages. Those are some of the most critical to the Packers explosive success and will certainly be a huge loss for the Packers if removed.

Second, which defense steps up? While Dallas’s defense recently was able to step up in the fourth quarter against Detroit and may have some momentum coming in, my money is on the Packers. Down the stretch, the argument could and rightly be made this unit played better than the offense did for three of the final five regular season games. They really began heating up and if they can slow the running game down for Dallas early they can get some critical stops to let the offense get a big lead, something Dallas has let happen a few times this season.

Third, will Dallas let Green Bay capitalize early and be able to come back? Dallas let Detroit get up 14-0 last week. On the road this season they were down 21-0 in St. Louis, down 10-0 in Seattle, and down 21-10 in New York. They managed to come back and win all those games, showing grit in the process. While no lead is safe, they have also shown a propensity to start slow. Can Green Bay capitalize on this and build an early lead then defend it? Usually in Lambeau once Green Bay builds that early lead only the Falcons were able to rally, and that was due to Julio Jones.

Lastly, what is the game plan for Dez Bryant? Speaking of Julio Jones, remember when defensive coordinator Dom Capers called a second half game plan of rotating one-on-one coverage for Julio Jones and he nearly by himself erased a 31-7 halftime lead? Well, that play calling has to go this week. They cannot leave Bryant alone for a minute. Two high safeties or double coverage is a must this week, as Bryant is a matchup nightmare for this secondary who does not contain a true shutdown corner in its arsenal. While the Packers do have a number of talented defensive backs, they cannot have success covering Bryant one-on-one.

Overall, my gut feeling is Dallas is a little slow out of the gate. Eddie Lacy gets running early and often while on the other side Matthews makes one great tackle on DeMarco Murray to get the defense and the crowd into it. Rodgers is healthy enough that the playbook is not an issue and Dallas suddenly faces a deficit again. Romo will put up points in his return home to Wisconsin (he grew up in Burlington). So will Rodgers, who gets unbelievable if he begins the game on the right foot when at home. Ultimately, the fact Green Bay is at home proves too much for the best road team in the NFL, with the Packers winning 37-30.

As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University