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 look at how these teams compare by position. We already discussed the Offensive side of the ball and now we’ll make a comparison of each team’s defense and special teams units. You can check out Part I here.
The last three weeks have been a steady diet of 3-4 defenses facing the Cowboys. This week looks to be more of the same as Dom Capers group runs their base defense out of that formation. Capers uses the front to present multiple aggressive pressure and the engine of this scheme on the line is DT Mike Daniels. He has the power to take on double teams and remain stout at the point of attack, as well as the quickness to wreak havoc in the middle of the line as a pass rusher. Daniels has been banged up the past couple of weeks and there is some doubt as to his availability, but I believe he will probably play and play very well. The Packers surround Daniels on the line with strong 2-gap pluggers in Quinton Dial and Clark Kenny. They have also augmented the defense up front by bringing in Ricky-Jean Francois who impacts the game when they go to a 4-DL nickel alignment. He is a talented veteran that must be accounted for, especially in the passing game.
DeMarcus Lawrence found out what it feels like to be considered a dominant pass rusher last week against the Rams. He was routinely double-teamed and even got the attention of three blockers on some plays. Even with all of that, he was still able to impact the game with a sack-strip. The disappointment from this comes in the lack of production from the other players on the Dallas defensive line. No one on the line could generate pressure even while Lawrence was getting the bulk of the attention. Many fans have been looking at the return of David Irving this week from suspension as a saving grace for what has ailed the Cowboys pass rush. Tap the brakes on that. Irving has a tremendous amount of potential and has flashed phenomenal ability in spots. What he hasn’t done is provide any consistency in his approach that would make him an automatic upgrade after 4 weeks on the shelf.
Irving may wind up living up to all the team’s greatest hopes but it is unlikely that he is dominant from the start. The true benefit this week might be that we don’t have to watch Taco Charlton struggle to pressure while Aaron Rodgers makes plays. It also allows Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins to have fewer snaps and be fresher when the winning plays are happening in the 2nd half this week. Neither units are world beaters but, with the uncertainty around Daniels for the Pack and the addition of Irving for the Boys, this becomes…
ADVANTAGE – Cowboys
Sean Lee was sorely missed against Todd Gurley and the Rams offense. He is still not healthy enough to fully practice but the Cowboys need him to be at least very good for their defense to function well. Unfortunately, even if the hamstring injury he suffered in the Cardinals game doesn’t cause him to miss this one, he may not be at his best. Jaylon Smith is going to be a very good LB for the Cowboys, but right now he is a liability in coverage. As offensive coordinators get tape they are beginning to exploit this for easy catches. Anthony Hitchens appears to be ready to return from his broken knee and there is hope that he can lessen an overburdened Smith and take some of the coverage responsibilities on himself. Justin Durant is just a stop gap at this point in his career and Damien Wilson’s athletic ability has been overshadowed by his lack of experience and discipline in his assignments. This group needs Lee like oxygen.
Green Bay generates most of its pass rush their outside linebackers. Clay Matthews has lived up to his “Bloodline” and is, once again, playing at a Pro Bowl level. Packers GM Ted Thompson veered from his normally conservative script this season when he brought in Ahmad Brooks to fortify that OLB rush group. He has started paying dividends on that decision already and his presence is preventing offenses from keying solely on Matthews as they put them on the field together more often. Blake Martinez is firmly entrenched as a starter in the middle of the linebacking corps and has been good. He has even chipped in with a sack already this year. Tyler Fackrell and Jake Ryan round out the starters and they are young, talented players that are hungry to impact each game. I still don’t believe we will see a fully healthy Sean Lee this weekend if he suits up at all. Without him, this is…
ADVANTAGE – Packers
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has become a very good safety for Green Bay and has grown into a leadership role in their secondary this year. Demarius Randle was expected to be the top corner for the Packers but he was last seen getting thrown off the sideline during their lopsided win over the Bears last week. In fact, 2017 2nd-rounder Kevin King’s emergence has put Randle squarely behind the rookie in the defensive backfield’s pecking order. That is a good situation for Green Bay because it gives them three good defensive backs with Jacksonville free agent Davon House manning the other corner. The coaches have so much confidence in King that they allowed him to play over AJ Green for much of the Bengals game 2 weeks ago. Between the draft and free agency, the Pack has rebuilt a moribund secondary from a year ago into a strength of this defense in 2017.
Dallas has something we haven’t seen in their secondary in over half a decade…Hope! Orlando Scandrick has been a good veteran presence and Anthony Brown is showing solid progression coming off a surprisingly good rookie year. This was the desired outcome for those two but not necessarily unexpected. The biggest jump has come from the 2017 draft class. Cowboys’ observers were ecstatic to see the team draft defensive backs to upgrade the position, but getting Jourdan Lewis in the 3rd round and Xavier Woods all the way down in the 6th are looking like absolute steals. Lewis and Woods are showing up play after play and proving the team’s belief in them to be well-founded. Both have earned significant playing time and could be starting as soon as this week. On top of this, Byron Jones is becoming the defensive leader the team needs him to be. He was outstanding in coverage against the Rams and the only thing left for him to ascend to a top safety is to take the ball away from the opponents. The Cowboys have a ton of talent and all indications are that they will only get better as the season progresses. For this week, however, the experience and playmaking of the Packers group make this…
ADVANTAGE – Packers
Dan Bailey is dependable and consistently great. He has overtaken Justin Tucker and is once again the most accurate Kicker in NFL history. He is great under pressure and money on the routine kicks. He is also excellent at executing kickoffs to either get touchbacks or deep popups depending upon the strategy for that week. Chris Jones has been earning his preseason extension with stellar play all season. He’s been a consistent gamechanger with his ability to flip field position and pin opponents inside their own 20 to start drives. Ryan Switzer showed himself to be a rookie as he had a terrible game beyond just the atrocious fumble in the 2nd quarter. He kept bringing the ball out from deep in the end zone and losing valuable yards for the offense in the process. His attitude about his mistakes was disappointing and indicate that he may allow his overconfidence to keep leading to bad decisions. The hope is that he grows up quickly as he has flashed talent as a returner. The jury is out on whether he can turn his talent into production when all the players are just as quick and fast as him.
Mason Crosby has never been a highly consistent performer. Unfortunately, Crosby had his best performance in his career against to eliminate the Cowboys from last year’s postseason. Overall, he’s been solid, bordering on good. The Packers are running with rookie punter Justin Vogel. He’s been good but unspectacular and has solidified their special teams group thus far. Green Bay’s returners are not the explosive players that the Cowboys faced with the Rams last week, but they can hurt you if the team isn’t disciplined in coverage. Both Bailey and Jones are at the top level of performers in the kicking game and the returners appear to be a wash. That makes this…
ADVANTAGE – Cowboys
Now that we have compared the teams unit by unit, we will next take a look at the top three matchups that will decide the outcome on Sunday afternoon.
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