The Cowboys had two very different outcomes over the previous two weeks. Week 3 started ugly with the Cowboys pulling out a victory, while Week 4 started off gangbusters until Dallas fizzled to a disappointing loss. The Cowboys must get past this letdown immediately as they have the challenge of handling the best one-man-show in the NFL on Sunday.
This week’s opponent is Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. For the 2nd week in a row, the Cowboys are facing a team that has had 10 days off. Green Bay demolished the Bears without both of their starting tackles and their top two runners getting injured. Green Bay has been bitten hard by the injury bug this year, but they will still be very capable of walking out of AT&T stadium with another win. The recent playoff struggles for Dallas against Green Bay should give this game more significance as the Cowboys try to position themselves for a playoff berth.
Let’s take a look at how these teams compare by position. Today we will take a look at the offensive units with a comparison of the defenses and special teams coming next.
Aaron Rodgers is once again carrying a very flawed team to win after win on the strength of his talent and leadership. His mobility is outstanding and he is as good as anyone that has ever played in directing an offense. He can overcome bad play calls and mediocre talent around him. In fact, there are not enough superlatives to describe how well Rodgers plays the QB position. He’s as good as Tom Brady from the pocket and better than Russell Wilson on the move. This is a lethal combination that has ended the Cowboys playoff hopes in both the 2014 & 2016 seasons. To channel the great Tina Turner, Aaron Rodgers is “Simply the Best!”
Dak Prescott has had some significant accuracy issues in the first quarter of this 2017 season. These problems were very apparent as the Cowboys failed to make a comeback against the Rams and are concerning moving forward. Prescott is being challenged by defenses that stack the line and press his receivers to take away both the running game and the hot reads with which he was so proficient in 2016. My old college used to say, “Those guys across the field are on scholarship too!” No one is coming in afraid of the Cowboys’ QB. In fact, defenses are putting the pressure on him to deliver as they force him to operate very differently than he had last season. Even at Prescott’s peak of performance in 2016, Rodgers was better. With his struggles, this is an enormous…
ADVANTAGE – Packers
Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas running game found their groove in the first half of the Rams game. The overall numbers were very good and the performance was solid. Elliott has been running hard and fighting through a lot more trash than he saw for the majority of last season. A big bonus has been the team getting him more involved in the passing game as well. Dallas showcased its depth in the backfield with Alfred Morris breaking a long run to augment Elliott’s good numbers. The team even has Darren McFadden in mothballs to help in case Zeke’s suspension is upheld this season. That is a very talented group of runners to help move the chains from week to week.
Green Bay has a walking M.A.S.H. unit in its running back room. Ty Montgomery is the starter but he may not be able to go this week due to broken ribs suffered in their game against the Bears. His primary backup, Jamaal Williams, has impressed the team in his opportunities but he is nursing a knee injury that occurred in the same game. The extra time between games has the Packers hoping that he can handle the load in Montgomery’s absence but there are more questions than answers right now for Green Bay’s running game. Like the QB matchup, this wouldn’t be close if both teams were at their peak. Right now, this is a runaway…
ADVANTAGE – Cowboys
Green Bay has smartly built its offense around one of the best QBs to ever play. They have made it a big part of their roster building to continue to provide Rodgers with talented pass catchers that can convert his creative genius into big plays and TDs on the other end. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are one of the best WR duos in the whole league and they have very complementary skill sets. Cobb’s quickness and explosiveness allow him to present his QB with a hot target as the team has struggled this season with protection. Nelson is the classic WR1. He is an outstanding route runner and is strong at the point of the catch. Add to that the downfield speed of Davante Adams and this is a very talented, high-quality group.
Dez Bryant is coming off a very good game. His numbers were respectable. Bryant consistently beat his coverage and presented an open target to his QB. Unfortunately, they were not on the same page several times and Prescott missed him badly on some other plays. Dez will be fine. Cole Beasley is learning the struggle that Bryant faces every week. He is beginning to see more bracket and double coverage and has been unable to make an impact in the field because of it. Terrance Williams and Brice Butler continue to alternate between fantastic plays and frustrating ones from series to series and game to game. The consistency of group in Green Bay makes this an…
ADVANTAGE – Packers
James Hanna showed some ability to get up the field in the past game and, at this point, he is by far the best blocker of tight end group. Jason Witten is still an effective outlet receiver but teams are taking the quick throws to him out of the offense by alignment and coverage. Dallas is trying more 3-tight end sets to combat all the congestion at the line of scrimmage, but the jury is out on whether their group is helping or hurting in the run game. It has been apparent that this group is not handling 1-on-1 assignments as well as last year and this is contributing to the struggles of the running game. When you take the names off the jerseys and just look at 2017, this is a pretty pedestrian group all around.
The Cowboys get a familiar face across the sidelines this week at TE. Martellus Bennett has blossomed into a very good TE in stints with the Giants, Bears and Patriots since he left Dallas. He is a strong blocker at the point of attack and has moved past his consistency issues in catching the ball. Bennett’s ability in the run and pass games will make him the best TE on the field this week. Lance Kendricks backs up Bennett and he is a good tight end that can help in the passing game. He’s gotten mixed reviews on his blocking to this point and the injuries the Packers have faced on the offensive line have dampened the impact of the entire group. The growth of Bennett and the struggles of the Dallas tight ends make this…
ADVANTAGE – Packers
If the Green Bay running back situation resembles a M.A.S.H. unit, their offensive line is an inner-city trauma unit on New Year’s Eve. A team with high-quality tackles like Brian Bulaga and David Bakhtiari is having to field youth and inexperience in Justin McCray & Lane Taylor. This is causing Aaron Rodgers to get hit a ton. He is the most sacked QB right now with 15 already and he’s been hit way more than that. Rodgers’ escapability has kept those numbers way down from where they could be. Even with all the changes, the Green Bay offense has been able to function well. The young guys are fighting their butts off and are putting good work on tape.
The Cowboys early season line struggles continued in the 2nd half of the last game. Chaz Green hasn’t been a world beater at LG, but his injury was felt in the passing game especially. Jonathan Cooper looked a little better than Green in the running game so we may not have seen the last of this competition this season. Either way, that position has been a weak spot on the line and opposing defensive coordinators are scheming to get their best pass rusher on that matchup. The new starters on the line need to get better with their individual assignments, but their coordination with their All-Pro linemates is the bigger issue here. After a quarter of the season, we may have to accept that this is no longer the best offensive line in the league. If the Packers had their two starting tackles, this might give Green Bay the edge. Without them, this is a big…
ADVANTAGE – Cowboys
Keep a lookout for my next Tale of the Tape: Defensive and Special Teams comparisons.
Cowboys Wednesday Injury Report