After putting up 38 points against the hottest defense in the NFC, Rodgers and the Pack will now travel to Dallas to take on the #1 seeded Cowboys, where they’ll have to contend with the greatest rookie duo in NFL history.
Behind the league’s most dominant offensive line, QB Dak Prescott managed an impressive 23-4 TD:INT ratio in 2016, while likely OROY Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a ridiculous 1,631 yards and 15 TDs.
Elliott will now need to serve double duty this week as Dallas’ best defense against Aaron Rodgers, who has 2,380 yards, 22 TDs, and 0 INTs over his past eight games.
The primary reason Dallas’ defense allowed just 19.1 points/game this year is they were third in the NFL in Time of Possession, thanks to their ability to control the clock with the NFC’s top rushing attack.
Considering Rodgers just led his offense to 400+ yards and 38 points in essentially 2.5 quarters against the league’s top secondary (without his #1 receiver), perhaps the only way to stop Rodgers right now is to literally keep the ball out of his hands.
When these two teams met back in week 6 the time of possession was almost even, but the Packers were doomed by four offensive turnovers (three via fumbles) and a slumping Arod, as well as Elliott breaking loose for 157 yards en route to a 30-16 Cowboys win.
In Dallas’ two legitimate losses this season (both against the Giants), Zeke was limited to 51 yards in Week 1 and “just” 107 in week 14. When Zeke gets going early, it has the added benefit of opening up the play-action game for Prescott, which is when he is most dangerous.
In order to contain Zeke this week, Green Bay will need an encore of last week’s performance from ILB Jake Ryan, who had the best game of his career. The Packers also got some good news regarding his counterpart Blake Martinez, who is okay after exiting last week with a knee injury. Burnett and Clinton-Dix will both be needed often in run support as well.
As for the pass game, Dez Bryant is obviously Prescott’s #1 weapon and will likely draw shadow coverage from unsung hero Ladarius Gunter. The real mismatch may actually be in the slot, where Cole Beasley was 4th in the NFL with 24 chain-moving catches on 3rd down. He’s the type of quick-twitch receiver that typically gives Hyde and the nickel corners fits.
Supported by a ball-dominating offense that rarely leaves the field, Dallas’ defense is well coached but isn’t particularly exceptional at anything. According to DVOA they rank 15th overall and 18th against the pass, and are actually one of the worst pass defenses on a per-play basis.
Dallas is 2nd-worst in the NFL in Completion Rate allowed (67.1%), 24th in opponent QB rating (94.1), and 27th in interceptions (9). Aside from a slumping Arod and an injured Stafford, Dallas has faced just two top-10 QBs this season. Big Ben posted 408 yards/3 TDs in week 9, and Kirk Cousins put up 449 yards/3 TDs in week 11 (the second time he faced them).
Now they get the hottest QB in the NFL.
Arod will likely have to continue scorching the Earth without his #1 option this week however, as Jordy is doubtful with broken ribs. A healthy Randall Cobb stepped up in his absence and combined with Davante Adams for 249 yards and 4 TDs, and the pair will need to come up huge again this week.
They won’t be alone, however. Before DRC got hurt for New York and left an exploitable void in the secondary, it was evident early on that Jared Cook was going to be a focal point of the offense.
He finished with 5 catches and 59 yards, but he had All-Pro Landon Collins beat on a wheel route that A-rod narrowly missed for a big gain on their first drive. Like New York, Dallas struggles mightily against TE’s, ranking 30th in the NFL per DVOA. Expect Cook to help Rodgers get rolling early once again.
With Nelson out, UDFA Allison will continue his stunning ascension this season and enter the lineup as a starter in 3-wide sets. No one will be expecting him to replicate Jordy’s success, but one area he may be able to contribute like Nelson is in the end zone.
In very limited action, he’s displayed good instincts and snagged both of his touchdowns on Rodgers scramble drills in the red zone. As a result, he’s earned Rodgers’ trust and should make a big play or two on Sunday as a full time player.
Irving actually broke out against Green Bay back in Week 6, notching his first sack of the season and forcing three fumbles. He went quiet for much of the season after that until reemerging recently with 3 sacks in his last three regular season games.
With Demarcus Lawrence dealing with a back injury and Randy Gregory suspended once again, Irving and fellow DL Benson Mayowa (6 sacks) are Dallas’ only hope of disrupting Rodgers in the pocket.
The Cowboys have gotten to this point thanks to an offense that has only been solved by one or two defenses all year, but the solution for the Packers is clear.
Green Bay needs to start quicker on offense than they did last week, put early points on the board, and force Dallas to be as one-dimensional as possible.
It might be counter-intuitive to think Green Bay can start out faster on the road than they did at home, but consider this: In 4 career postseason dome games, Rodgers has completed 66% of his passes for 1,354 yards (8.4 YPA), 12 TDs, & 2 INTs for a QB rating of 112.
A shootout would play directly into the hands of Rodgers, who would have a distinct advantage over Prescott. Dak is still a rookie, after all, and has already shown he is prone to ball security issues (9 total fumbles on the year). Meanwhile Rodgers hasn’t turned the ball over in over a month.
In a tight postseason game, the first QB to blink could be the difference.
Go. Pack. Go.
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