On a warm, rainy December afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers relied heavily on their running backs to lead the team past the Dallas Cowboys.
Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and the Packers’ rushing attack delivered, racking up a combined 230 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
It was Lacy who led the way a week after seeing his snap count limited for missing curfew. He translated 24 carries into a season-high 124 yards and a score. Starks was more than adequate as well, racking up 71 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. It was the first time Green Bay eclipsed 200 yards rushing since the 2003 season, and if the running game remains consistent it would be a huge boost to the Packers’ chances moving forward.
Green Bay started flat, going just 18 yards on the opening drive of the game. After the Dallas Cowboys moved quickly down the field, thanks in large part to a 50-yard run by running back Darren McFadden, cornerback Sam Shields picked off Matt Cassel in the end zone to end the Cowboys’ scoring threat.
The Packers responded by marching all the way to the Dallas 1-yard line, and after a would-be rushing touchdown for Starks was reversed, Green Bay turned the ball over on downs. But the Packers’ defense, as it has for most of the season, buckled down and forced a three-and-out to get the ball back. Going 48 yards in nine plays, quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Starks out of the backfield for a 13-yard touchdown pass and the first point of the game.
After another short Dallas possession, Green Bay continued to move the ball with ease. Using a healthy mix of five runs and six passes, the Packers put together an 81-yard drive that was capped off with a touchdown by last Thursday’s hero, Richard Rodgers. It was the seventh score of the season for the second year tight end, and it gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead heading into the half.
The Cowboys scored on their second possession of the third quarter, gashing the Packers on the ground for 80 yards on four rushing plays and cutting the Packers’ deficit in half. Green Bay, on the other hand, emerged from halftime with little energy, as the team failed to put together a drive that lasted more than six plays and did not score in the quarter.
But in the fourth quarter, the Green Bay rushing attack took over. On a 12-play, 84-yard drive, Starks, Lacy, and Rodgers combined for 68 yards on the ground which Starks capped off with a 30-yard touchdown run.
After the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs on their own 38-yard line, it was Lacy’s turn to find the end zone. Lacy carried the team all 38 yards on just four plays to give the Packers a 21-point advantage and put the game away for the Packers.
While the ground game set the tone for Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers enjoyed another relatively efficient performance. He completed 63 percent of his passes (22/35) for 218 yards and two scores, bringing his season totals to 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Randall Cobb led the Packers’ receiving corps with eight receptions for 81 yards.
The Cowboys found success with their own running game, totaling 171 yards on just 20 attempts. McFadden led Dallas with 111 of those yards while Robert Turbin rushed for 51 yards and the Cowboys’ only score of the game.
But Cassel and the passing attack were too ineffective to overcome the deficit. The Dallas quarterback finished the game just 13/29 for 114 yards and an interception. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was a complete non-factor in the game, managing just a single reception for nine yards. After Sam Shields left the game with a concussion, it was rookie Damarious Randall who kept the Cowboys’ star receiver in check.
Green Bay enjoyed its first dominating performance in quite some time. The Packers outgained Dallas 435-270 and held a 37:48-22:12 advantage in time of possession. The Packers also converted 50 percent of their third downs (7/14) while allowing the Cowboys to convert just one of their 11 third down attempts.
Most importantly, the Packers seemed to have found real balance on the offensive side of the football. Green Bay took over sole possession of first place in the NFC North with a 9-4 record thanks to relatively equal contributions from both the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers and the rushing attack of Lacy and Starks.
As the Packers prepare for their final push to the postseason, it is essential that the team maintains such balance to give all three Green Bay units the best chance to succeed. The Packers travel to Oakland next week for a matchup with the Raiders, who are coming off a 15-12 upset of the Denver Broncos.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .