Regardless of the trade-deadline miss on bringing in another wide receiver, the Dallas Cowboys are coming off their bye week feeling really good about their situation. The team is in second place in the most competitive division the league has seen in decades. This despite starting QB Dak Prescott missing five of the eight games.
Dallas has one of the best defenses in football, a great special team unit, a very good run game, and an improving pass game with the return of Prescott. There is no game left on the schedule this season that the Cowboys should fear, including Week 10’s Green Bay Packers and nemesis QB Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers came into 2022 with high hopes despite trading WR Davante Adams; coming off back-to-back division titles and with the back-to-back reigning MVP in Rodgers. After an 0-3 start, Green Bay beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New England Patriots, and the New York Giants, only to lose four straight and leave their season on the brink of collapse.
The Cowboys have their sights set on catching up to the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles while the Packers are attempting to salvage the season. Here are the keys to victory in this matchup between these two storied franchises.
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The bye week came at the perfect time for the Cowboys. They played the Chicago Bears without starters, Ezekiel Elliott, Jourdan Lewis, and Malik Hooker. They were also missing their third receiver, Noah Brown, and rookie pass rusher, Sam Williams. Micah Parsons has been playing through injury and they lost Jayron Kearse and Anthony Barr during the game against the Chicago Bears. It got so bad for Dallas that rookie Damone Clark, coming off spinal fusion surgery, had to play 40 snaps in his first game back and this team is notorious for taking it slow for players coming back from injuries.
The Packers are currently going through major injury problems of their own. Running back and Cowboys killer Aaron Jones, pass rusher Rashan Gary, rookie receiver Romeo Doubs and cornerback Eric Stokes all left their loss to the Detroit Lions in walking boots or crutches. Christian Watson, David Bakhtiari, and even Aaron Rodgers had injury concerns as well. Rodgers, Jones, Watson, and Bakhtiari all hope to play, but how many of them will, and the impact of the injuries on their play is still unknown.
Reports have Elliott, Williams, and Hooker likely to return, with Kearse and Parsons continuing to play through their injuries for Dallas. This rest, allowing the Cowboys to get a little healthier could be a big boost in their attempts to beat the MVP from the past two seasons. The difference between returning players for the Cowboys off the bye and the new injuries from Green Bay could be the reason Dallas finally gets another victory over Rodgers.
The mobility of the quarterback
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Mobility could be used in quotes for Aaron Rodgers the last three years. While Rodgers was a QB that scrambled often to hurt defenses in his career, amassing almost 700 carries, for over 3,400 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 257 first downs, he isn’t that guy any longer. He hasn’t averaged ten yards a game since 2019 and has been under seven yards per contest the last two years.
For Rodgers, mobility is now about evading the pass rush and making big plays out of would-be sacks. This is important in this matchup because Dallas brings the best pass rush in football. The Cowboys lead the league in sacks with 33. The New England Patriots are second with 32, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have 29 in third, and the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens each have 27. All of those other teams have played nine games, the Cowboys have only played eight.
If Aaron Rodgers can move around, and get out of sacks, to make positive plays, it will give the Packers a chance to stay competitive at home and maybe Rodgers can steal another game from Dallas late.
For Dallas, Dak Prescott’s mobility, or lack thereof, is a concern that cowboys nation has had since the ankle injury he suffered in 2020. Prescott never averaged bellow 17 yards rushing per game before his injury and was a threat to pick up a first down or a touchdown regularly with his legs. In 2021 he basically stopped using his legs, averaging only nine yards per game, almost slashing his lowest average on a season in half. He added only nine first down runs and one TD.
This trend seems to be turning back to how he ran before his injury, nearly reaching 2019 averages for yards per game running the ball. Last week Kellen Moore schemed up a great play, using Prescott’s legs to get an easy redzone score. Moving CeeDee Lamb in motion, then faking a handoff to Tony Pollard all going to one side of the field, then pulling blockers to run the opposite way with the QB to get him in the endzone. If the Cowboys can use Prescott’s mobility to extend drives, and make plays in the redzone, it could be the key to getting a win in Green Bay.
Which defensive back group plays better
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The Cowboys and Packers are two of the top five pass defenses in the NFL. The Cowboys are fifth in yards allowed at 178.4 per game, the Packers are second, allowing only 170.6. Dallas ranks third in touchdown passes allowed, and 13th in interceptions per game. The Packers are eighth in touchdowns allowed, and 23rd in interceptions. They are ranked much lower in intercepted passes than Dallas overall, but over their last three games Green Bay has averaged 1.3 per game, which would be good enough for third place in the NFL.
With secondaries loaded with talent like Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Trevon Diggs, Donovan Wilson, and Jayron Kearse, either of these defensive back groups can change the game by getting third down stops and turnovers that get the offense of the opposing team off the field.
Neither pass offense is at a level that should worry the other pass defense as well. Dallas is probably not as bad as the numbers look because they were without Prescott for five games. For example, the Cowboys are only throwing for 157.3 yards in road games, but those games were all played by backup QB Cooper Rush. Prescott is making his road debut at Lambeau Field, and the air assault put up 242 yards last game with him starting.
Green Bay isn’t special passing the ball either but considering their issues with the offensive line and wide receivers, it is surprising Rodgers has them in the middle of the pack in both yards and touchdowns.
The advantage on paper definitely lies with the passing defense of both these teams, but the one that can come up with the true game changing plays could get them the win. An interception in scoring position to help their own offense, a red-zone stop pass break up, a third down coverage sack to keep the opponent from field goal range are all ways a defensive back group can step up. That clutch ability of the defensive back units could be the key to a victory for Dallas or Green Bay.