Packers vs. Cowboys: 5 things to watch and a prediction in Week 10

The Green Bay Packers have lost five straight games and will now host a reunion with Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 on Sunday afternoon.

Will McCarthy, who was fired by the Packers after a loss in December of 2018, get sweet revenge in his return? Or are the Packers capable of getting a galvanizing and potentially season-change win over a true contender?

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday’s showdown between the Packers and Cowboys at Lambeau Field:

Passing game in big, big trouble?

The Cowboys defense might have the best combination of pass rush and coverage in football, providing an extremely difficult test for a Packers passing game still desperately trying to find its footing after nine games. Throwing the ball effectively and efficiently is a necessity for winning, especially in big games. We’ll get to the run game later, but Sunday could get ugly quick if the Packers aren’t getting open on time or blocking up front when the ball needs to be thrown. Micah Parsons and a deep pass-rushing group will be coming after Aaron Rodgers, who threw three picks last week. This mistake-laden group will be under huge pressure this week. Expect a bunch of physical, man-to-man coverages from the Cowboys that dare the Packers to throw it.

Which run game gets going?

Neither team has defended the run well this season. The Packers ran 22nd in run defense grade at Pro Football Focus; the Cowboys are 28th. Can Matt LaFleur find a way to control the ball and wear down the Dallas defense with the run? And can the Packers defense keep Tony Pollard (the Cowboys’ version of Aaron Jones) and Ezekiel Elliott from taking over the contest? The team that controls the line of scrimmage on Sunday is going to be the overwhelming favorite. And for Green Bay, it’s hard to see a path to victory without running the ball effectively on offense and forcing the Cowboys into obvious passing situations on defense.

Jaire vs. CeeDee?

The Cowboys’ best receiver is clearly CeeDee Lamb, who leads the team with 556 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Will the Packers shadow him with Jaire Alexander? Eric Stokes won’t play, so the Packers can get a little more creative in the secondary. Joe Barry and the defense should challenge the Cowboys to beat them in the passing game with someone other than Lamb. Keep in mind: Lamb has played almost 60 percent of snaps from the slot this season, so Alexander would need to move all over the formation to follow him.

Defense/special teams play

The Packers are a home underdog. Time to embrace it, because Matt LaFleur’s team isn’t going to be favored in many games the rest of the way. The offense is struggling and will be facing one of the NFL’s best defenses on Sunday. Can the defense or special teams make a big play or two to spark a couple of easy scoring drives? Considering all the variables in play for this matchup, it’s tough to predict the Packers putting together enough long drives for points to win the football game unless there are turnovers or big returns involved.

Situational

Will the Packers ever play well situationally this season? Sunday would be a good time to get it figured out. The Packers aren’t converting at a high rate on third down, are failing consistently on fourth down and struggling to finish drives in the red zone. All of this was on full display last week in the loss in Detroit, but it’s all been happening for most of the season. Executing in big spots will be huge Sunday against a good football team.

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Packers 13 (3-6)

It might be a November game at Lambeau Field with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but it’s still difficult to envision the Packers scoring enough points to win this game. The Cowboys defense ranks first in DVOA; the Packers just scored nine points in a loss to the Lions. This is a bad matchup for the Packers in a lot of ways and Matt LaFleur’s team will need to play exceedingly well – especially running the ball and defending the pass – to have a chance. With the passing game in complete disarray and now the defense losing edge rusher Rashan Gary and cornerback Eric Stokes, the Packers are in a tough spot. A blowout here is possible. This is a reeling football team lacking talent on offense against one of the NFL’s best and most complete teams coming off a bye week. Cowboys, big.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire