Lambeau Field has been a difficult puzzle for teams to figure out but the Dallas Cowboys may have the answer if they are successful in this key spot.
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Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) reacts during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
Last week, the Dallas Cowboys faced what many said was their toughest challenge of the new season when the Cincinnati Bengals came to town. After a dominating 28-14 win that was never as close as the score sounds, the new biggest challenge is on the horizon.
Today, the Cowboys take their 4-1 record on the road to one of the most iconic venues in the entire NFL. Facing the Green Bay Packers, there are several reasons to label this game the biggest hurdle of the season (so far).
For one, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. He is unanimously thought of as one of the three best quarterbacks in the league, if not the best. For another, the Packers have been almost unbeatable at home, posting a record of 41-8-1 since 2010. Three of those losses and the tie were without Rodgers at the helm. Lastly, it appears that they have a defense to go along with their offense in 2016.
Green Bay has the best run defense in the NFL, allowing just 42.8 yards per game. They are also ninth in stopping opponents on third down (35.7%) and sixth in keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns in the red zone (44.4%).
Appearances can sometimes be deceiving though.
While the numbers say that Green Bay has been stout against the run, what they don’t say is that Detroit has the best rushing offense of any team they have played. Currently the Lions are 23rd in yards per game on the ground at 89.8. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has 97 more yards by himself than the Lions do as a team.
The numbers say that Green Bay gets off the field a lot on third down. What they don’t say is that the Packers have played only one team that moves the chains on that down more than 40% of the time. That team, again, is the 2-3 Detroit Lions.
The Dallas Cowboys convert on exactly half of their third down attempts which just so happens to lead the league.
The numbers say that the Packers do a good job of stopping teams once they get inside the red zone. The have allowed four touchdowns in nine red zone visits by the opposition. What those numbers don’t tell you is that the Packers have yet to face an offense as potent as the Cowboys.
October 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and players celebrate after a defensive stop during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
So, while the Cowboys are facing their stiffest test of the 2016 campaign, at least offensively, so are the Packers.
That leads us to the biggest key to this week’s matchup for Dallas in order to come away with a victory.
If the Dallas Cowboys are to be just the ninth team this decade to win in Lambeau Field, they must get the lead early in the game.
Green Bay has owned the lead in every one of their three victories this year for all but 5:39 of the three games. They have stayed ahead of teams and never really been tested in any of their wins. Somehow, even with all that, they have only won by three, seven and seven.
Dallas, meanwhile, has been impressive early putting up points, racking up yards and eating up the clock in all of their games. This has translated into three of their four wins ending with a double-digit margin.
Here is a breakdown of the points scored, yards gained and time of possession in each of the five games this year:
Week 1 vs. New York: 9 points scored, 190 total yards, time of possession – 22:04 Week 2 at Washington: 13 points scored, 232 total yards, time of possession – 18:15 Week 3 vs. Chicago: 24 points scored, 264 total yards, time of possession – 21:47 Week 4 at San Francisco: 14 points scored, 194 total yards, time of possession – 19:13 Week 5 vs. Cincinnati: 21 points scored, 259 total yards, time of possession – 14:46
Dallas has either been tied or leading at halftime in every game besides week one against the Giants. They have out gained all of their opponents going into the break. The Cowboys have also held the ball longer than every team except the Bengals.
Aug 19, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrate Presscott
If the Dallas Cowboys can maintain these productive starts, it will put the Packers in a position that they are unfamiliar with this season.
We know that Elliott, running behind this offensive line will be a problem for Green Bay. None of the previous four teams they have faced employ a running back that has had a 100-yard game. Elliott has three straight.
Another advantage that the Cowboys having going in their favor is quarterback Dak Prescott’s ability to protect the football.
In two of the Packers’ three wins, they have won the turnover battle. If the trend continues, it will be difficult for them to make that three out of four.
Lastly, there could be a revenge factor in play. Over the last two weeks, receiver Dez Bryant has sat out due to a knee injury. While he still hasn’t fully practiced, he has been more active in his participation this past week.
If he’s able to go, I’m certain he has some personal unfinished business he’d like to address. With two starters in the Packers secondary likely out, Bryant could make his presence felt if he’s able to play.