NFL

2017 NFL Divisional Round Preview: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys

 

There comes a time in a young team’s tenure when the pressure is on them to make a clear statement. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs also. So after a 13-3 regular season, the young Dallas Cowboys now face a different challenge. In their path is a veteran Green Bay Packers team with a quarterback who is in a zone and a defense that has forced 17 turnovers in their last seven games. One fanbase is eyeing a Super Bowl thanks to a pair of rookies with bright futures. The other fanbase eyes the same prize but places their hopes on an elite level quarterback. Here is the preview for Sunday’s NFC Divisional Round showdown between the Packers and Cowboys.

What To Know About Green Bay 

Little doubt is placed on the fact that Aaron Rodgers is one of the most feared quarterbacks in the league. In last week’s Wild Card matchup with the New York Giants, Rodgers passed for 362 yards and four touchdowns. He also posted a QB rating of 125.2. That was on the heels of Rodgers throwing for 12 touchdowns in his last three regular season games. His favorite target, receiver Jordy Nelson, suffered a pair of fractured ribs last week and is in doubt for this one. So the offense will rely a lot on receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. It will be interesting to see how creative head coach Mike McCarthy will be in adding receiver/running back Ty Montgomery into the game plan.

The Packers defense has been up and down all season. Last week, they forced two turnovers, totaled two sacks, and gave the Giants five 3-and-outs. Outside linebackers Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Nick Perry will be instrumental in providing pressure against the Cowboys offensive line. Rookie linebacker Blake Martinez and second-year linebacker Jake Ryan will have to follow suit if the Packers are to keep this a game. Green Bay allowed 191 rushing yards in week six against Dallas. Consider the pressure meter dialed up a little for the Packers front seven in this contest.

Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (21) receives the pass by Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (4) against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of an NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

What To Know About Dallas 

The Cowboys have a unique setting on the offensive side of the ball. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has been a tremendous boost to the Cowboys this season. Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win NFL Rookie of the Year. The 2016 fourth overall pick led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 while also compiling 15 touchdowns. Prescott was about as unbreakable as a rookie QB can be with an outstanding 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Star receiver Dez Bryant led the Cowboys in touchdown receptions with eight and receiver Cole Beasley topped the offense with 75 catches. Everything for Dallas centers around their elite offensive line led by left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin. 

Despite all of the attention being on offense, the Cowboys defense made significant strides this season. The unit was fifth in the NFL in scoring defense. That was result of holding eight opponents to 17 points or less. Cornerback Morris Claiborne will return after missing nine games because of a sports hernia injury. All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee led the team in tackles with 93. His most notable impact was the fact that he gave the Cowboys 15 games of services this season. The oft-injured linebacker found a way to stay healthy. Free safety Byron Jones is one of the best pure athletes in the league and provides a reliable presence on the backend.

Prediction

A 26-21 loss to Green Bay in the playoffs two seasons ago is still fresh in minds of Dallas fans. The memory is deeply embedded in the mind of Bryant as his controversial non-catch is still debated to this day.

That was then and this is now. This Dallas team is just as confident as that veteran team two seasons ago, even with a rookie backfield. In their pocket is the best offensive line in football. When there is a wall of blockers opening massive run lanes, life is always good.

The Packers run defense has been solid as of late. Green Bay has not allowed 100 rushing yards in about a month. With that said, this Dallas offense can break that trend or at least come might close.

Rodgers has heated up the last several weeks. It will be interesting how he fares without the likes of Nelson. However, Adams and Cobb has been solid and if Rodgers gets time, odds are that Rodgers will still find ways to make plays. Having Claiborne back is huge for Dallas. Along with Claiborne, corners Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr will be tasked to defend against a quarterback that is creative in extending plays.

So can Dallas keep the train moving? Absolutely. Especially if Prescott stays even-keeled and turnover-free. The fourth-round QB has played like a veteran this season. But, in his first playoff game, you have to wonder if a mistake or two will occur. Going against a Packers team with plenty of playoff pedigree, that one mistake may cost them the game. It’s tough picking against the man that is Aaron Rodgers as it is picking against the powerful Cowboys offensive line. Ultimately, the Cowboys find themselves in a shootout but still pull out a win in a game with a clashing contrast of styles.

Score – Dallas 33, Green Bay 31 

 

Eric Robinson