The Green Bay Packers have a chance to extend their half-game lead in the NFC North on Sunday when they take on the Dallas Cowboys. The last time these two teams met, the Cowboys were eliminated from the NFC playoffs on a Dez Bryant “no catch” that in result, sent the Packers to the NFC Championship game. With the Packers looking to extend their divisional lead, and the Cowboys looking to cling to the playoff race, Sunday’s matchup proves vital for both teams.
WHO: Dallas Cowboys (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)
WHAT: Week 14 of the NFL Regular Season
WHEN: Sunday, December 12, at 3:25 p.m. CDT
WHERE: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.
Packers look to find their niche
Since the Packers returned from their bye week, the Packers have struggled to find consistency; losing their last four of six, and seeing their vast lead in the NFC North diminish. Coming off of a win on last week’s miraculous last second heave against the Detroit Lions, the Packers look to get back to basics, and start their playoff run early.
Of late, the Packers’ rushing attach has subsided, accounting for only 21% of the team’s total offense in last week’s victory. The Packers’ lack of rush attack is partly in quesiton due to the recent downfall of Eddie Lacy and James Starks, both of whom, can revitalize the Packers’ offense to what it was in the Packers’ 6-0 start. Going up against the Cowboys’ average rush defense, that averages the 18th most rushing yards per game (104.1).
If the Packers can establish a rush game early, the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers and company may put the Cowboys’ defense on their heals. Rodgers faces a tough task against the Cowboys’ 5th ranked pass defense in the league, coupled with dropped passes and inconsistencies from his receivers. For the Packers, the ability to pass the ball against a tough pass defense, and a likely weather contested game, may cause offensive coordinator Tom Clements to depend on the Packers’ running backs.
Meanwhile, part of the Packers’ successes this season is their ability to score early in the game. In 8 of the 12 games this season, the Packers scored touchdowns in the opening quarter of the game. League wide, the Packers average the second most points in the first half this season (7.4), just behind the New Orleans Saints (7.5).
For the Packers, the game may depend on whether they can depend on various assets of their offense, in particular their rushing attack. Given the circumstances of predicted 100% chance of precipitation on Sunday, both offenses may have no other choice.
No Romo? No problem.
To date, the Cowboys’ season may be due to one player’s injuries. Quarterback Tony Romo is listed as out in Friday’s injury report (the only player listed on the Cowboys injury report for Sunday), as he will likely sit the remainder of the season due to a broken clavical sustained on Thanksgiving against the Carolina Panthers. Romo broke the same clavical earlier this season against the Philadelphia Eagles. This time around, Romo is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
“The reason we have not put him on IR is because of the timing of his injury,” head coach Jason Garrett said according to UPI.com. “We’re all behind Matt (Cassel) and what he’s going to do for our team, and we’ll see what happens if we get to that point.”
In games in which Romo was replaced by a Cowboys’ backup, the Cowboys are only 2-7 and struggling to survive in a depleted NFC East conference.
Despite the abscence of Romo, the Cowboys’ offense consists of several weapons the Packers will focus on. In particular, running back Darren McFadden has taken the realm of the Cowboys’ backfield after splitting carries with Joseph Randle earlier this season. With Randle gone, McFadden has strived when given the opportunity.
Meanwhile, last season’s playoff hopes were cut short for the Cowboys, after a ball that was nearly caught by wide receiver Dez Bryant, respectively against the Packers at Lambeau Field. While extending for the endzone, Bryant lost control and therefor did not possess the football throughout the process of the catch. Now, nearly one year later, and on the same field, Bryant has an opportunity for revenge.
Arguably one of the best receivers in the league, Bryant poses a threat to nearly any secondary. Struggling to stay healthy earlier this season, Bryant has re-energized the Cowboys’ offense. In the last four games, Bryant was targeted by Cowboys’ quarterbacks 36 times, the most on the team throughout this four-game span. On Sunday, Bryant will likely be blanketed by various coverages by the Packers, including coverage from Sam Shields and Damarious Randall.
Regardless of the weapons the Cowboy’s have on offense, the Packers haven’t lost to the Cowboys without Romo since now head coach, Jason Garrett did it in 1999.
Packers injury report
Probable: David Bahktiari (knee), Clay Matthews (ankle), Damarious Randall (hamstring), Josh Sitton (back)
Questionable: Bryan Bulaga (ankle), Ty Montgomery (ankle), Nick Perry (shoulder),
Doubtful: Corey Linsley (ankle)