Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys preview: 5 things to watch : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys preview: 5 things to watch

November 6, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 6, 2010 ~ by Jason Wilde

~THE BASICS

 The teams: The Green Bay Packers (3-3) vs. the Minnesota Vikings (2-3).

 The time: 7:20 p.m. CT, Sunday.

 The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.

 The TV coverage:  NBC – WMTJ (Ch. 4) in Milwaukee and WMTV (Ch. 15) in Madison. 

The announcers: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the booth and Andrea Kremer reporting from the sidelines. 

Chad Clifton did a great job keeping Jared Allen away from Rodgers. He faces a much tougher test this week against DeMarcus Ware. Ware will also flip over to his left side at times to go against the rookie OT Bryan Bulaga. If Bulaga doesn't get a chip from a RB or TE, we may see a few of these posters again Sunday night.

The coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy is 44-31 (including 1-2 in the postseason) in his fifth season as the Packers’ coach and as an NFL head coach. Dallas’ Wade Phillips is 35-23 (1-2 postseason) in his fourth season as the Cowboys’ coach after going 38-29 (0-3 postseason) as coach of the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. The two have faced each other three times as head coaches, and Phillips holds a 2-1 advantage. 

The series: The Cowboys lead the all-time regular-season series, 12-11, and they hold a 4-2 advantage in postseason games. The Packers won the most recent meeting between the teams, 17-7 on Nov. 15, 2009.

 The rankings: The Packers’ 16th-ranked offense is No. 22 in rushing and is No. 10 in passing. Their 18th-ranked defense is No. 25 against the run and No. 17 against the pass. The Cowboys’ fourth-ranked offense is No. 31 in rushing and No. 3 in passing. Their 14th-ranked defense is No. 24 against the run and No. 10 against the pass. 

The injury report: Packers – WR Donald Driver (quadriceps) and CB Pat Lee (ankle) are out. DE/NT Ryan Pickett (ankle), TE Andrew Quarless (shoulder) and RT Mark Tauscher (shoulder) are questionable. LT Chad Clifton (hamstring/knee), LG Daryn Colledge (back), S Nick Collins (knee), DE Cullen Jenkins (calf), OLB Clay Matthews (shin), RB Dimitri Nance (ankle), QB Aaron Rodgers (ankle) and CB Charles Woodson (toe) are probable.

 Cowboys – DE Jason Hatcher (groin), G Montrae Holland (groin), S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (ankle) and QB Tony Romo (left shoulder) are out. T Marc Columbo (back), LB Bradie James (knee), RB Felix Jones (ankle), LG Kyle Kosier (ankle) and CB Terence Newman (ribs) are probable. 

The line: The Packers are favored by 7 ½ points.

Last year in Lambeau Field, Tony Romo overthrew Miles Austin on a potential big play touchdown early in the game. Two years ago, Austin caught a pair of 50+ yard bombs to propel the Cowboys over the Packers in primetime Lambeau Field. He beat Tramon Williams like a drum that night. Williams has been playing great this year, but with Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant, Dallas is sure to get some matches Jon Kitna will try to take advantage of.

 THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

 Two ships, passing in the standings: The Packers and Cowboys are headed in opposite directions. After back-to-back three-point overtime losses dropped the Packers to .500 at 3-3, they responded with a colossal win over the archrival Minnesota Vikings and an upset – at least in most people’s estimation – of an elite AFC team in the New York Jets. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have lost four straight, the latest being a 35-17 embarrassment at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. While the Packers have salvaged their season and are looking to be 6-3 entering their bye week, the Cowboys’ hopes of playing Super Bowl XLV in their home stadium are history. As a result, some of Packer Nation is worried about coach Mike McCarthy’s crew taking the struggling Cowboys lightly in a so-called “trap” game. 

“How fast it turns,” McCarthy said. “This is no trap game. Last week we had no chance to win it and now it is a trap game? There is none of that, I can promise you that. We are playing a very talented football team. The same message that I gave the team last Wednesday was ‘trust the film’ when we were preparing for the Jets and ‘trust your preparation.’ It’s no different this week. There is a lot of productivity on the Dallas Cowboys’ film. There are a lot of good players. Things may not have gone the right way if you want to point to their record, but we’re looking for a knockdown, drag-out game here on Sunday night. The bye is something we have been looking at. We want to get to 6-3, get to the bye and get healthy. So we are approaching it (as) we’re got a five-day season.” 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came out during the week and said coach Wade Phillips will remain the team’s coach for the rest of the season, despite the team’s poor play. Phillips, in turn had something of a “back-to-training-camp” approach during the week in an effort to push the reset button on the season.

 “I just think fundamentally we’re not as sound as we were and have been in the past. We’ve got to go back to some of those things that got us to where we were the previous years,” Phillips explained. “We’ve got to do it right now. It’s fundamentals of the game that you have to be able to run, block, tackle, catch the ball, cover, throw the ball. We’re just not fundamentally sound in my opinion.

 “We have a good group, a real quality group. We wouldn’t have won the most games in the NFC the last three seasons if we didn’t have those kind of people. I really believe those guys will keep fighting and they’ll try to get better and try to win games.” 

Getting defensive: Phillips is in the second year of coordinating the defense in addition to serving as head coach, but the unit is playing horribly. Last year, Dallas led the NFC in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all year. Entering Sunday night’s game, they’re giving up 26.7 points a game and have allowed a 100-yard rusher four times in the last five games. “I’m distraught, to say the least,” Phillips said after the loss to the Jaguars. “I’ve got talented players, and I’m not getting them to play well enough.”

 That said, the Cowboys have plenty of talent on defense, led by DeMarcus Ware, their sack-specializing outside linebacker who is tied for second in the NFL – behind the Packers’ Clay Matthews (9.5) – in sacks with eight. He will challenge tackles Chad Clifton and rookie Bryan Bulaga, who’ll be making his fourth straight start at right tackle. 

“He’s a very, very good football player,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Obviously, he’s got that exceptional quickness. He’s relentless. He plays very hard. He’s got really good balance. He can give you the speed rush, he’s got enough power that he can push you back if you’re not playing low enough and if you don’t get a good enough punch, he’s got some slipperiness to him, he can spin on you. He’s kind of got the full complement of moves. He’s a real challenge.” 

No mo’ Romo: Things weren’t going well before star quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken collarbone against the New York Giants on Oct. 25. Now, after two more losses, only the lowly Buffalo Bills (0-7) have a worse record than the Cowboys (1-6). Without the Burlington, Wis. native, who is 2-1 against his home-state team, the Cowboys lose star-power of significant wattage. 

That said, his replacement, 38-year-old journeyman Jon Kitna, threw for 379 yards and four interceptions against Jacksonville and has the confidence of the Cowboys’ skill position players according to veteran tight end Jason Witten. Only one of Kitna’s interceptions was his fault.

 “I think they both are very familiar with this system,” Witten said. “Tony always has that ability to create when there’s nothing there. I think he has that ‘Wow’ factor that we know he can bail us out at times, whereas Jon is more systematic throughout the process of, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking, communication’s clear and we all have the game plan.’ He’s a 14-year veteran. I think he understands the challenges. We had a good game plan and I thought he played well last week. We just weren’t able to execute — a lot of tipped balls that ended up as interceptions.” 

Searching for answers: Green Bay’s offense is a dysfunctional mess, but the team is winning in spite of the issues. 

The Packers rank 13th in scoring (22.0 points per game), 16th in total yards per game (335.9), 22nd in rushing yards per game (97.0) and 26th in third-down efficiency (35.1 percent). As big as the team’s 9-0 win over the Jets was, the offense struggled, converting just 2 of 14 third-down situations, quarterback Aaron Rodgers managing his lowest quarterback rating (59.7) ever in a Packers victory and the running game managing just 81 yards on 26 carries, with 27 of those yards coming on a meaningless run by Brandon Jackson at the end of the first half.

 Rodgers certainly hasn’t been himself, having thrown more interceptions (nine) than he threw all of last season (seven) and ranking in the middle of the pack in passer rating (85.3). 

“It’s below the standards that I’ve set for myself. Obviously, I think I’m capable of playing better,” Rodgers said. “I point to my preparation and it’s been the same; I prepare hard every week. It’s just my performance hasn’t been as good as the kind of standard I’ve set for my 40 games starting. Obviously, I need to play better.

 “I don’t think I can point to one area. Obviously, we need to do a better job as a whole on third downs. That’s been the one thing that’s kind of held us back from more points and more plays and more production. So third down is maybe one place you can look.” 

Asked if the offense is close to putting it all together, Rodgers replied, “I’d like to say we’re close. But it’s going to take, I really think it’s going to take a couple back-to-back performances where we’re playing the way we feel we’re capable of playing until I can say we’re there. In our view, we’re not where we want to be. I like where we’re at as far as 5-3 (and) in the division, that’s important. We’re making enough plays to win games. But there’s been a standard that’s been set here with the kind of points we scored last season, the kidn of production we put up. And if you compare this year to last year, obviously we’re below our standards.”

 Searching for consistency: With veteran wideout Donald Driver having been ruled out with a quadriceps injury, inconsistent James Jones will get another chance to prove himself. He caught four passes for 107 yards in the Packers’ prime-time Oct. 24 win over Minnesota; but he also failed to catch a pass against Miami on Oct. 17 and again against the Jets last Sunday, when he also dropped what likely would have been a 72-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

 “I think James Jones is no different than some of the other players,” McCarthy said. “They have had some really good games and they have had some games that they wish they could have done a little better job.” 

Jones isn’t the only player the Packers will need to rise to the occasion. With rookie tight end Andrew Quarless also questionable, the offense will need Jones, fellow wideout Jordy Nelson and tight ends Donald Lee and Tom Crabtree – the only two tight ends who are completely healthy – to all pick up the slack. 

“(Driver) has been a reliable guy, a dependable guy, a productive player. All those qualities are things that you really like about him, respect about him. There’s definitely a comfort level when he’s in there,” Philbin said. “(But) we’ve been kind of rolling guys in more. We’ve attempted to do a better job of keeping our guys fresher than we have in the past. When we put three receivers out on the field on Sunday, it’s going to be guys that have got a lot of reps and a lot of training. We should be in good shape.”

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