The Dallas Cowboys will face an old playoff rival in the Green Bay Packers this weekend. Here are some thoughts prior to the big game.
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Oct 16, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) stiff arms Green Bay Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter (36) during the third quarter at Lambeau Field. The Cowboys won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Cowboys are heading into their first playoff game incredibly rested. The team will also be the healthiest they have been possibly all season long as they will see the return of cornerback Morris Claiborne and pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. Several other players will also be returning from less severe injuries so Dallas should beready for a fight against Green Bay.
This is a storied playoff rivalry that will add a new chapter this weekend as both teams will fight for their playoff lives.
Thought #1 – Air Versus Ground
The Cowboys have multiple strengths on the offensive side of the ball but the Packers are perfect in the passing game. Green Bay legend, Aaron Rodgers has been terrific in the last seven games and continues to be a tough task for opposing defenses. His Hail Mary against the Giants was incredible and showed just how much of a playmaker he can be.
The main difficulty the Packers will have is the loss of a playmaker that stretches the field. Nelson is the best talent in that wide receiving corps and also Rodgers most trusted target. Without him, the Packers will still be dangerous but Dallas will be happy that weapon is holstered.
The Cowboys can take advantage of single coverage especially now that wide receiver Dez Bryant is healthy and back in the mix. It is going to be hard for Green Bay to stop Dez as he will be driven to make big plays throughout this ballgame. Dallas will likely lean on the ground attack and attempt to control the clock as the Packers must prove they can shut down rookie running back sensation Ezekiel Elliott.
A rested Elliott will pose a big challenge for a Packers run defense that allowed him to gain 157 yards and average 5.6 yards per carry. The Cowboys star running back did not get into the end zone the last time these two teams faced off, expect that to change in this contest.
Jan 1, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) leaps inside the tunnel during introductions before game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Thought #2 – Matchups To Examine This Weekend
The Green Bay Packers secondary has been decimated with injuries all season long. It is possible they will be without cornerback Quinten Rollins after he suffered a concussion against the New York Giants.
The interesting note about the Cowboys offense versus this secondary is that the first time these two teams faced off in 2016 Dallas was without Dez Bryant and the Packers were healthier at the cornerback position. Bryant should be looking for some payback after the 2014 playoff “incident” in which I will get into a bit more later.
Historically Terrance Williams has been one of the more productive receivers against the Packers secondary and the addition of a healthy and rested Bryant only adds to his upside. The Packers will likely double Bryant on the outside however this will bring up an interesting situation with how they handle the Cowboys running attack.
The Dallas offense really can hurt you in both areas the ground and air attack. If the Packers double Dez with a safety it is just one player not focused on MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott. Another interesting matchup will be the Cowboys secondary versus the Packers wide receiving corps.
With Packers, star wide out Jordy Nelson likely out after suffering broken ribs and a collapsed lung the Dallas defensive backfield will have to key in on two productive wide receivers. Packers productive receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb have been on fire as of late but opposing defenses have been focused on the finally healthy Nelson.
With him out of the lineup Green Bay will have to work twice as hard to get points through the air. Both teams have had their struggles rushing the opposing quarterback however it appears that Dallas has finally found some consistency on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys defense has been fantastic in a couple of areas in recent history and are now healthy enough to really be leaned on when the moment comes. This game will be nothing like the regular season matchup but the return of star pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence even in a limited basis could do wonders for defensive end David Irving.
Irving easily had the biggest game of his career against the Packers offensive line and could have some favorable one on one matchups in this contest as well. He recorded three forced fumbles in that contest and the Dallas pass rush could prove to be the key factor in this game.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Packers have a healthy Clay Matthews who has been very disruptive and seems to be in playoff form. The Cowboys offensive line is the best in the NFL and will have to stop the Packers from attacking Prescott in or out of the pocket.
Oct 16, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) shake hands after thier game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Thought #3 – Dak Prescott’s History With The Packers
Cowboys rookie sensation, Dak Prescott has been an incredible player for the franchise this season. In fact if you compare Prescott and Rodgers numbers they are not really that different and both have slight edges over the other in different categories. The Cowboys first round bye effects the numbers slightly but it is still fairly close.
The biggest discrepancy comes in passing touchdowns however we all know that the Cowboys score in multiple ways. The number one rushing attack in the NFL will most likely not have the quarterback with the most touchdowns, but if you combine Dak’s rushing scores with those he acquired in the passing game he ends up with 29 touchdowns to Rodger’s 40.
Prescott also has three less interceptions that the Green Bay legend and is edging him out in overall quarterback rating by .7 (Rodgers 104.2/Prescott 104.9). The Cowboys quarterback actually had one of his better games of the season against the Packers in 2016.
The rookie recorded 18 completions on 27 passing attempts, averaged a 66.7 completion percentage, 247 passing yards in which he averaged 9.1 yards per throw, three passing touchdowns and one interception.
He averaged a quarterback rating of 117.4 and found effective ways to move the ball down field all day long. Dak has been through a ton of different experiences this season and considering how familiar he is with the Packers this should prove to be a good test for his first playoff contest.