Here are 5 things to watch as the Green Bay Packers face the Dallas Cowboys
GREEN BAY – Here are five things to watch as the Green Bay Packers face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Cowboys’ dynamic duo vs. Packers’ dynamic duo could be story of the game
In this corner, it’s Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys running back duo that ranks fourth in the NFL in combined rushing yards with 949. In the other corner, it’s Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the Packers running back duo that ranks second in the NFL in combined rushing yards with 989. The Packers defense ranks 26th in the league against the run and the Cowboys rank 24th, so this could look a lot like a meeting of the 1960s Packers and Cowboys. Elliott, who missed the Cowboys’ last game against Chicago on Oct. 30 with a knee injury, has been limited in practice this week but should play. Jones, who left the Detroit game Sunday with a knee injury, has been limited in practice this week but should play. Both team will seek to establish the run. “When Zeke was healthy, they have what we have with AJ and Aaron as far as a big power back and then more of an outside guy,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Pollard has proved he can be a do-it-all back. It’s a good run scheme, it’s a very good running team.”
The Packers better keep all eyes on Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons
It’s a good thing for the Packers that they will likely have left tackle David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins in the lineup. Otherwise, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons would have his choice of where to rush without much consideration for who he was going to face. The Packers’ two veteran linemen might not hold down Parsons completely, but they can put up a pretty good fight. Parsons, who ranks fifth in the league with eight sacks and will be a candidate for defensive player of the year, can line up on the edge, at middle linebacker or as a free rusher, and identifying where he might be coming from will be a challenge. When he and end DeMarcus Lawrence (four sacks) get it going, the NFL’s leading sack unit can be overwhelming. “You better put a specific plan together for where he’s at all the time," offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said of Parsons. "And the thing is, they have DeMarcus Lawrence. That’s a challenge for us.”
Does Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy have a secret plan for Aaron Rodgers?
There probably isn’t a person on the planet who knows more about Aaron Rodgers’ game than former Packers coach Mike McCarthy. It was McCarthy who helped design much of Rodgers’ favorite plays and checks at the line of scrimmage. He knows what kind of pressure Rodgers hates the most and what coverages he loves to face. Of course, McCarthy doesn’t call defensive plays, but you know he was in coordinator Dan Quinn’s room early in the week to tell him everything he knows about Rodgers. It’s not unlike what Mike Holmgren did in helping defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur identify ways to frustrate the San Francisco 49ers offense back in the ‘90s. McCarthy isn’t the only former Packer on the Cowboys staff. Among those who coached or played with Rodgers are cornerbacks coach Al Harris, offensive assistant Scott Tolzien, linebackers coach Scott McCurley, offensive line coach Joe Philbin, and defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt. Together, they should have a good plan.
Replacing outside linebacker Rashan Gary won’t be done with one player
The Packers don’t have anyone who can come close to replacing Rashan Gary, their star outside linebacker who suffered a torn ACL against Detroit. Not only is Gary their top pass rusher, but when not taking chances, Gary can be a force in the run game. Rookie Kingsley Enagbare has given the Packers good pass rush help with two sacks in his past four games (a third was wiped out by a penalty), averaging a sack every 77 snaps (51 if you count the nullified one). Gary was averaging a sack every 63 snaps. Enagbare hasn’t pressured the quarterback at the same rate and doesn’t play the run as well, so the Packers must figure out if they can affect the passer and play the run in some other way. Jonathan Garvin is an option, but he offers very little pass rush. Barry could consider playing three defensive linemen in nickel situations or use inside linebacker Quay Walker as a pass rusher on third downs, either blitzing up the middle or lining up on the edge. “We're going to miss Rashan’s production, there's no doubt about it,” Barry said. “You hope that you don't have to lose a player like that, but you have to adjust.”
Packers have been motionless on offense
Once a team that employed a heavy amount of motion in their offense, the Packers have become more and more stagnant as the season goes. Rodgers isn’t a big fan of all the motion coach Matt LaFleur prefers and it appears that LaFleur has given in to his want. LaFleur said this week that a big part of the reason motion hasn’t been employed lately is that the Packers have been behind and used quicker tempo to try to get the passing game going. “I would say a lot of it is a byproduct of getting down in games and then doing our muddle huddle, 2-minute type tempo,” LaFleur said. “I would say the majority of teams when you get into more of a hurry-up type situation, there's going to be less movement and, unfortunately, we've been down and into many games this year where we've had to resort to that.” The prospects of getting ahead early aren’t very good this week. Opponents have scored 15 points against the Cowboys in the first quarter and in six of eight games no more than a touchdown in the second quarter.