If you knew before the season that Dallas would be heading to Lambeau without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, it’s likely you would’ve thought Green Bay would cruise to a home victory. After all, Green Bay had won its last five games against the Cowboys, sometimes in dominating fashion. But on Sunday, even in Lambeau, this game was all Cowboys from start to finish.
Dallas marched down the field – without ever facing a third down – to score a touchdown on its opening possession, and never really looked back on its way to an impressive 30-16 road victory. That score actually paints a decent picture of the game: Green Bay left dozens of opportunities on the field (a troubling seasonal trend), while Dallas made plays in crucial situations and outplayed the Packers on both sides of the ball. In the end, four avoidable turnovers spelled doom for the typically ball-safe Packers.
Aaron Rodgers is disturbingly human
This has to be the biggest story of the game. After the loss, both Rodgers and McCarthy downplayed the future Hall of Famer’s performance, but anyone with eyes could tell you how poorly Rodgers played. #12 missed several open throws, most notably missing a wide open Randall Cobb in the end zone in the fourth quarter. He simply didn’t see safety Barry Church on his interception, which came just into Dallas territory on the opening drive of the second half. The Cowboys took advantage of the good field position and got a field goal, putting Dallas up by two scores. Rodgers’ numbers will look fine at the end of the day, and he still made a sideline throw to Jordy that was vintage Rodgers, but it’s concerning to watch him miss basic open throws, especially considering he’s the guy known for making throws no quarterback in the history of football could make. Even more concerning are his four turnovers over his last two home games.
Still, Green Bay’s bend-but-don’t-break defense kept the Packers in the game to a point, and a big drive looked poised to get the Pack back into the game. Davante Adams left the game after taking a big hit, and resultingly McCarthy and Rodgers FINALLY figured out how to get Ty Montgomery involved in the offense. He had three catches for 41 yards (and six rushing yards) on the drive, and after 11 plays and 84 yards, Green Bay had the ball at the one yard line, a touchdown away from making it a one-score game with momentum on its side.
Then, on first and goal at the one yard line, McCarthy called a quarterback draw and Rodgers essentially fumbled the game away. Rodgers’ fumble was inexcusable, as a quarterback of his acumen should’ve thrown the ball away when he realized the play was flawed. But McCarthy’s play call was atrocious, given how well Rodgers had used Montgomery to move the ball on the drive. Rodgers is brilliant running the ball when plays break down, not as a designed runner. Morgan Burnett actually intercepted the ball back, but Green Bay had a crucial three-and-out that led to a field goal.
Of course, it isn’t fair to place all of the blame on Rodgers. For years he has been covering for weaknesses in other areas of the team, and sometimes the cracks begin to show when he looks like an average quarterback. With James Starks out and Eddie Lacy clearly hobbled, it put strains on the running game and McCarthy’s willingness to run in short yardage situations. It remains a curious decision to not call up practice squad running back Don Jackson to the active roster, and you can bet Green Bay will find a running back to add for this week’s game. McCarthy didn’t go for it on fourth-and-one from the Dallas 19, then did the same thing on fourth-and-two from the Dallas 25. Curiously, he did go for it on fourth-and-five from the Dallas 38, which showed a lack of consistent decision-making on a crucial drive. This came with six minutes remaining in the second quarter, and though a 55-yard field goal is no sure thing, it would’ve made it a 10-9 game. Mason Crosby has been the most consistent player on the Packers all season and probably deserved a shot at the field goal. Green Bay wouldn’t score again until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Brett Favre’s presence seems to be bad luck for the Packers offense.
Run defense struggles to contain Zeke
It’s tough to put too much fault on the Packers run defense, which was stretched thin by an injured secondary (see below) and an offense that struggled to get into a rhythm and stay on the field. Dallas had the league’s best rushing offense heading into the game, while Green Bay possessed the best rushing defense. Yesterday, the unstoppable force (Dallas’ running game) beat down on the immovable object (Green Bay’s run defense) to the tune of 191 yards on 33 carries (5.8 YPC). Rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott continually broke tackles and gained extra yards in space. He’s the real deal, on pace for the second-best rookie rushing season ever and running behind the league’s best offensive line.
It’s hard to be too upset with the front seven’s performance stopping the run. The broken tackles need to be fixed, but this is probably the league’s toughest running assignment and Green Bay’s historical start was due for some negative regression. The Packers still held Elliot to three or fewer yards on 12 of his 28 carries, and the tackling issues were a combination of Zeke’s power and being tired from being on the field for too long. Expect a much better performance against the Bears.
Injuries continue to plague secondary, backfield
Damarious Randall left the game early after re-injuring his groin, and Dallas’ Dez-less hodgepodge receiver group had no trouble getting open for the rest of the game. This was troublingly apparent on a drive late in the second half when Dallas marched 97 yards in five plays and scored a killer touchdown to build a big 17-6 halftime lead. Big plays continue to kill this defense, as a 42-yard catch-and-run by Terrance Williams set up Brice Butler’s 20-yard touchdown catch on the next play. Though the Packers were surprisingly solid on third down, the secondary let gadget player Lucky Whitehead get wide open for 35 yards on a crucial third down later in the game.
It’s hard to fault a defense for giving up big plays without its three starting cornerbacks, but it’s apparent the remaining players simply can’t handle one-on-one matchups. With the front seven only recording one sack, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott had enough time to find his receivers and move the chains throughout the game. This isn’t to take anything away from Dak, who played very well in a tough road matchup and could very well have won the starting job from Tony Romo after this performance. But Green Bay’s secondary needs to get healthy as soon as possible, and Dom Capers may need to make some adjustments if his corners keep getting beat in isolation. Is Sam Shields ever coming back? He’s now missed four straight games with a concussion, even with a bye week sprinkled in there.
The Packers get the Bears at home Thursday night, with both teams playing on a short week. Chicago blew a 16-6 lead at home against Jacksonville, so it’s a team equally as hungry for a win. Aside from improved decision-making and play calling from McCarthy and better accuracy from Rodgers, big stories to follow this week are the injuries at running back and cornerback and how Ted Thompson manages them. There’s nothing like a home game against the Bears to get the offense going… right?
Photo courtesy of fansided.com