A rematch of the Week 6 game between Dallas and Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys will meet in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs for the second time in three years on Sunday afternoon with yet another trip to the Conference Championship on the line. These two teams look very different than they did in 2014 – namely the Cowboys – but things have also changed since the last time they met in the regular season.
Back in Week 6, the Cowboys dominated the Packers in a 30-16 victory led by Ezekiel Elliott’s career day. Aaron Rodgers was being questioned by everyone and Dak Prescott proved he was worthy of keeping the full-time gig. Things figure to be much closer this time around, but what exactly has changed in the past three months? Well, a lot.
Dez Bryant is healthy
When the Cowboys and Packers met in Week 6, the injury report was a concerning one for Dallas. From Tony Romo to Orlando Scandrick to Lance Dunbar, several players were unable to go. The biggest name of all, though, was Dez Bryant. He was forced to miss the game due to a knee injury, leaving Dak Prescott without his best playmaker.
Bryant went into the game doubtful to play, having started just three games all season. He was averaging four catches for 50 yards in those games, catching just one touchdown pass. Since returning in Week 8, he’s caught seven touchdowns while averaging 72 yards per game. He’s returned to form and since gotten on the same page with Prescott, which is huge for Dallas.
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Ty Montgomery is a running back now
One of the biggest changes Green Bay made offensively was moving the guy who wears No. 88 and shifting him into the backfield … full-time. Ty Monrgomery began the year as a wide receiver, as he has every season since being drafted. In Week 6 against the Cowboys, Montgomery was involved offensively. He caught 10 passes for 98 yards, but he had two fumbles.
He also carried it just three times for six yards. That’s because Eddie Lacy was atop the depth chart, carrying it 17 times for 65 yards. The shift to Montgomery has made a world of difference for the Packers, and he’s someone the Cowboys now have to game plan for differently than they did 13 weeks ago. Not to mention, Christine Michael – a former Cowboy and Seahawk – is the Packers’ other running back.
USA TODAY SportsBenny Sieu
There’s no quarterback controversy anymore
Tony Romo was inactive against the Packers in Week 6, but he’s no longer recovering from a back injury. He’s completely healthy, as he showed two weeks ago against the Eagles. However, unlike the Cowboys’ first game against the Packers, there’s no quarterback controversy: Dak Prescott is the guy. Romo is lurking on the sidelines the way he couldn’t three months ago, but there’s even less reason for Prescott to be looking over his shoulder now, as contradictory as that sounds.
Prescott can now go out and not worry about losing his job to Romo should he make a few mistakes. The Cowboys will live and die with Prescott, and that’s the way it should be. He’s played remarkable football this season with 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions, averaging 229 yards per game. Against the Packers, he had 247 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble.
Aaron Rodgers is playing like an All-Pro
It’s not that Aaron Rodgers was a bad quarterback when these two teams first met, but he certainly wasn’t playing as well as he is right now. No one is, and it’s not even close. Against the Cowboys, Rodgers completed 31 of 42 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown with one interception and two fumbles (one lost). He was uncomfortable in the pocket, particularly late in the game, and wasn’t trusting his receivers.
Fast-forward three months and Rodgers is arguably the league’s best player (again). He’s thrown 22 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last eight games with a passer rating north of 120. Compare that to his first five games of the season when he threw 10 touchdown passes, four interceptions and had a passer rating of 88.4. He was also completing just 60.2 percent of his passes compared to 68.7 in his last eight games. There may not be a defense capable of stopping Rodgers with the way he’s playing.
Jared Cook is a weapon
Jared Cook being inactive in Week 6 seemed like an afterthought. He was seen as a decent tight end, but not one that could change the landscape of a game. That’s no longer the case as he’s developed into a real weapon for Rodgers since returning from injury. Cook is an athletic tight end with great speed in the middle of the field. He’ll draw Dallas’ best safety and tight end-eliminator, Byron Jones, which is a matchup that’s certain to go back and forth.
Jones is terrific against tight ends, but Cook has a rare combination of speed and size for a tight end. He can split out wide and open up the middle of the field for Green Bay’s running game, while also removing Jones from his centerfield position. If Rodgers can get him involved early, he could be a difference-maker.
USA TODAY SportsJerry Lai
Dallas’ defense – not Green Bay’s – is No. 1 against the run
Entering Week 6, the Packers boasted the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense. They had allowed 171 yards on 86 carries (1.99 per attempt), proving to be the league’s most dominant run defense. Heck, their 171 yards allowed were the second fewest in a team’s first four games in NFL history. Everything pointed to Ezekiel Elliott struggling and gaining little yardage, but that was hardly the case. He rushed for a then-career-high 157 yards on 28 carries, nearly matching the total Green Bay had allowed through four games.
Since then, the Cowboys have taken the top spot as the NFL’s best run defense. They allowed a league-low 1,336 yards this season, 179 fewer than the Packers. Dallas also surrendered just nine rushing touchdowns and 3.9 yards per carry, both of which ranked in the top-12. The Cowboys had no trouble running against the Packers’ defense last time around, and they probably won’t have much this weekend, either.
The Packers don’t turn the ball over
In the first five games of the season, the Packers turned the ball over nine times, including four against the Cowboys in Week 6. In the 12 games since then, they’ve committed just eight turnovers. That’s the biggest difference between the Packers then and now, and it’s largely thanks to the play of Rodgers. He threw an interception and fumbled it twice against the Cowboys as he was unable to hold onto the football.
He’s gotten much better in that department, as evidenced by the Packers’ one turnover in their last seven games. If they can continue to protect the football and avoid mistakes against a Cowboys defense that’s struggled in that department, Green Bay will be in good position to win this game. If Rodgers is careless again, the Cowboys will capitalize on his mistakes and turn them into points.