NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Preview – Packers vs Cowboys

Packers vs Cowboys
When: Sunday, January 15th; 4:40pom
Where: AT&T Stadium; Dallas, Texas
Line: Cowboys -4
Total: 52

Showdown in Titletown! Well, not really Titletown (that’s Green Bay), but it is going to be quite a showdown nonetheless. A rematch of their Week 6 matchup, where the Cowboys beat Green Bay 30-16 in Lambeau. The Packers come into this game one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They have won their last 7 ball games and Aaron Rodgers is playing at a God-like level once again.  The Cowboys are 13-3 with the most exciting rookie combo at running back and quarterback the league has seen in quite sometime.  

This game is going to be fun.  

Green Bay was 4-6 at one point coming off a 4-game losing streak capped off by a  blowout loss on Sunday Night Football to the Washington [redacteds]. Aaron Rodgers came out and said publicly that his team needed to run the table. And run the table they have.  

Aaron Rodgers has certainly found his groove over the last 7 games.  He has thrown for 19 TDs with 0 interceptions over these last 7 games, and has thrown for 4 TDs in each of his last 3.  

The challenge for Rodgers and the Packers will be handling the loss of Jordy Nelson.  Nelson will not play against the Cowboys due to fracturing multiple ribs in the Packers’ Wild Card win over the Giants.  Over the final 6 games of the regular season, Nelson was targeted 56 times, bringing in 44, while gaining 594 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Losing that type of production could seriously hinder the Packers’ red-hot offense.  

The Cowboys number 1 goal is going to be shutting down Rodgers.  The Cowboys struggle shutting down opposing quarterbacks, having the 18th ranked DVOA pass defense.  But one sure fire way to not let Rodgers beat you, is to not let him have the ball.  

The Cowboys will lean on their dominant offensive line and standout rookie back, Ezekiel Elliot.  This worked well in their Week 6 matchup against Green Bay, where they gained 191 yards on the ground, with Elliot gaining 157 of those yards. 

The Packers had a historic rush defense coming into that game, but have struggled a bit since.  They rank 14th DVOA against the run, and the Cowboys will look to exploit that.  

Dallas is also returning a few key defensive starters.  Their top cornerback, former first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne who has not played since Week 8, will play.  They are also returning their depth along the defensive line. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is returning from injury as well as interior defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Terrell McClain.  

Jordy Nelson is not the only injury concern facing Green Bay.  They are banged up in the secondary. With Sam Shields being placed on IR earlier in the year and Quinten Rollins still questionable to return from a neck injury, the secondary is in bend but don’t break mode.  

Keys to the game: For the Packers to win this game, they will need to accomplish two things.  The first being, they need to shut down the Cowboys rushing attack and get off the field on defense as quick as possible.  They will also need to sustain drives on offense and keep their defense off of the field.  

The Packers will look to rely on Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and rookie Geronimo Allison in Jordy Nelson’s absence.  But one area they can certainly exploit the Cowboys, is the tight end position.  With Jared Cook finally healthy and producing – averaging 4.5 catches and 56 yards in his last 4 games – Rodgers can look to rely on him for a big game.  The Cowboys rank 30th DVOA in covering tight ends, allowing 9 catches and 75 yards per game to the oversized receivers.  If the Packers can exploit the mismatch they have there, they will have no problem moving the ball.  

For the Cowboys, the game plan is fairly simple.  Wear down the Green Bay defense, relying heavily on the run and converting 3rd downs in short yardage situations.  If the Cowboys string together first downs, eat up the clock, and score touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone, they will win.  

The Cowboys will have chances for big plays against the Packers’ secondary, particularly if they look to target Micah Hyde.  Hyde, naturally a safety, has had to play in the nickel more frequently with the secondary being banged up.  The Giants exploited their mismatch against Hyde in these situations in their Wild Card matchup last week, but could not execute with 2 dropped touchdown passes in the end zone.  

The Cowboys will need to force Green Bay to bring an extra man in the box, and create man coverage on their wideouts with minimal safety help.  If this happens, big play opportunities will be there for Dallas, and it will come down to execution on the part of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers.  

Prediction: The absence of Jordy Nelson will be too much to overcome for the Packers.  They get off to a slow start and allow Dallas to establish the tempo.  With the Packers selling out to stop Ezekiel Elliot, Dak Prescott will take advantage of man-to-man coverage matchups while using the play-action.  Ezekiel Elliot barely cracks 100 yards, but Prescott throws for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns, and runs for another.  Green Bay mounts a threat at the end of the game, but the Cowboys advance to the NFC Championship game.  Dallas wins, 24-20.