The Packers grabbed a 1.5 game lead over the Minnesota Vikings for first place in the NFC North with a mostly dominating win over the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys. Beating up on a 4-9 team may not mean too much, but the Packers needed to find some consistency and confidence, and they got that yesterday.
Eddie Lacy and James Starks
The running game provided some much-missed stability and rhythm for the offense yesterday. It was the backbone of the offensive attack. While the blocking of the offensive line is to be commended, Lacy and Starks are not replaceable backs. When these two are on their game, there may not be a better RB tandem in the league. Lacy was running hard last night, bowling through guys and not going down until second or third contact. And Starks is just a naturally gifted runner. He has fantastic vision and is so decisive through holes. Expect the offense to ride these two workhouses as far as they’ll go this offseason.
Mike McCarthy Taking Back Playcalling
It was only a matter of time before McCarthy took the reins from Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements. When he finally did last night, you could see the difference that it made for the offense. In a way, I feel bad for Clements. In years past, Clements as a play-caller may have worked, but this offense is one lacking in its usual potency. It’s been neutered of its usual firepower due to injuries and youth at the wide receiver position. In 2014, the Clements experiment may have worked well. But this offense, and the challenges that it poses for a play-caller, demanded that the Packers give it back over to the guru.
There were added wrinkles last night. A fake end-around to Cobb followed by a short pass on third down stands out. Even the play action pass on 3rd and 1 to Kuhn sounds interesting on paper. Most importantly, however, there was a commitment to a running game that was working, something which Clements did not do enough of. The success of Lacy and Starks was attributable to McCarthy going with the strength of the offense and what the defense was giving, rather than woodenly throwing deep passes into a locked down, 2 Man defensive secondary.
There are still a lot of moments that make me scratch my head. When you run 3 successful running plays in a row and are sitting at 1st down with defenders creeping into the box, that would be a good time to dial up some play action. All too often McCarthy and Clements seem to lean on the running game for just one too many plays in a row, resulting in predictably stuffed runs. But, all in all, the offense is definitely moving in the right direction under McCarthy.
Maybe I’m reacting against those other writers who have put Hyde in their bad columns, but I thought that Hyde played hard and contributed to the overall effectiveness of the defense. He did not have a perfect game, but for a guy who struggles in coverage, he mostly kept Dallas tight end Jason Witten from getting going. Some completions were given up, but Hyde also kept Witten from moving the chains on a number of third down plays. Clearly Cassel was looking toward Witten as a security blanket, and Hyde mostly held him in check and kept him from becoming a major factor in the game. Witten was clearly a big part of the game plan and he was held to just 40 yards.
When Sam Shields went down early in the game I was a bit worried about Dez Bryant. Outside of a few drops, however, Bryant was bottled up by the secondary, mostly due to the great play of Damarious Randall. Randall stepped up and filled Shields’ place admirably. Randall has real potential to be a top-tier corner in the NFL.
It remains to be seen whether Janis will ever do anything in the NFL as a wide receiver, but even if he doesn’t, he appears to be a key special teams player for this team for years to come. Jarrett Bush used to be the special teams juggernaut, failing to do much of anything on defense, but contributing as the star of the kick-off and punt-return coverage teams. I would say that Janis is the new Jarrett Bush, but Janis is much, much better.
While the Packers wisely resigned Mike Daniels to a 4-year deal, the defensive line as a unit put up an unusually poor performance against Dallas. They were slashed for 171 rushing yards. The line will have to tighten things up with the post-season approaching.
I’m not sure if this sausage should go to Peppers or the defensive coaches who continue to leave Peppers in for the vast majority of the game. Peppers has become pretty hit-or-miss at this point in his career, and at 35, that’s just going to happen. He had only 1 tackle yesterday and provided little to no pressure on Cassel. Meanwhile, Jayrone Elliott came in for only 3 plays and yet almost singlehandedly ended a drive late in the 4th quarter, sacking Cassel on 2nd down and batting down a pass on 3rd down. Peppers is still a playmaker. We saw that against Detroit two weeks ago when he forced Stafford to fumble the ball deep in the Lions’ own territory, but those plays are becoming few and far between.
It’s time for Elliott to get more snaps. Not only does it give Peppers a breather, but it gives opportunities to Elliott, who has been maximizing the limited opportunities that he has been given thus far. I’d like to see what he can do in an expanded role, and I’d like to see how different Peppers looks if he’s only, say, playing two out of every three drives.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.