Friday, November 13, 2009

Week 9: Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers

by Derek Major

The Dallas Cowboys head into Green Bay to play their first game in sole Possession of the NFC East.

The Packers will have their high-powered offense tested this week by the Cowboys' aggressive pass rush, and run defense.

Aaron Rodgers is having a fine season at quarterback (164-260, 2255 yards, 16 TD's, five interceptions), but his offensive line is having trouble keeping Rodgers upright as he's been sacked 37 times this season. The Packers' line will have their work cut out for them with DeMarcus Ware and company blitzing relentlessly during the game.

The Packers have great receivers on their team. When Rodgers has time to throw he loves to distribute the ball. Eight players have at least 100 yards receiving on the season.

Donald Driver has been their most consistent receiver for years and this season is no different (37 catches, 613 yards, and four TD's). Greg Jennings is also having a solid season with 34 catches for 498 yards and two TD's.

The Packers' running game has done its part to take the pressure off Rodgers. Ryan Grant has 149 carries for 621 yards and four TD's, but they've had trouble finding consistency in Grant's backup.

Rodgers is second on the team in carries, yards and TD's. Ahman Green was signed two weeks ago but has only eight carries since returning to the team.

The Packers have a great 3-4 defense that ranks ninth in rushing YPG and fourth in passing YPG. However, there's a good chance the Packers will miss their best pass rusher in Aaron Kampman, who hasn't practiced all week after suffering a concussion last week.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who leads the team in sacks with three-and-a-half was also limited in practice on Wednesday and is questionable for the game Sunday.

That could leave linebackers Nick Barnett, A.J Hawk, and Brandon Chillar, who have a combined three sacks with no one to pressure the QB except Clay Matthews, who has three. Barnett (51), Hawk (43), and Chillar (36) are in the top four in tackles on the Packers, however, and have adapted well to their new defense.

In the secondary, Charles Woodson was also limited in practice but is probable for Sunday's game. Al Harris will play opposite Woodson, but they haven't been effective against the Cowboys in the last two years—giving up an average of 284.5 yards passing.

Atari Bigby and Nick Collins are good safeties who aren't afraid to come up and make plays in the run game.

However, they gave up 205 yards passing and three TD's to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend—a team whose QB started his first career game.

The Bucs are averaging 177 YPG passing, and even after last week's game, still have more interceptions (12) than passing TD's (11). That's not a good sign with the Cowboys being sixth in the NFL in passing.

The Cowboys bring their third ranked offense into Green Bay and they'll be looking to score. Tony Romo has been great since Week Five, putting together four solid games, and tries to continue that streak on Sunday.

He'll look to Miles Austin who has had two great games against the Packers. Two years ago Austin drew two huge pass interference penalties that led to TDs in the Cowboys' 37-27 win. Last season, Austin had two catches for 115 yards and a TD in the Cowboys' 27-16 win.

Roy Williams will also look to build on his performance from last week where he had five catches for 75 yards. Jason Witten will also be Romo's reliable safe target.

Smash, Dash, and Tash will be a huge part of this game. With the Packers 3-4 defense the Cowboys won't want to get one dimensional, and using all three backs will be beneficial.

Marion Barber should get his opportunities in this game, especially if it's close late. Coach Wade Phillips said that he'll give Felix Jones more reps in this game and Tashard Choice should get more plays in the wildcat as it was successful last week.

The Cowboys defense is what's going to make the difference in this game. They know the Packers can't protect Rodgers, so they'll want to stop the run and force the Packers into third-and-long situations so they can come after Rodgers.

I expect Anthony Spencer to get his first sack in this game.

Keith Brooking and Bradie James have been fantastic this season and they're rubbing off on Bobby Carpenter, who has been playing well of late and is seventh on the team in tackles with 25.

The Cowboys' secondary will have their work cut out for them with this receiving core. Terence Newman, Orlando Scandrick, and Mike Jenkins did a great job last week keeping the Eagles from getting big plays. Mike Jenkins and safety Gerald Sensabaugh both had interceptions.

The secondary could end up playing more man-to-man defense depending on how much the Cowboys want to blitz. If they can get constant pressure with their front four, they'll just play zone coverage and look to jump routes. If the Cowboys send five, six, or seven guys then they'll play man in order to keep Rodgers from throwing the ball quickly.

This is another trap game for the Cowboys. They know they could be heading into December at 9-2 if they can win their next three games, and the Packers are the best team out of those three with Washington and Oakland coming up.

That's enough motivation for the Cowboys to show up to this game and the defense will dominate the Packers' offense. The Cowboys will take some time to score but eventually they'll blow it open and the Packers will score late when the game is out of reach.

31-20 Cowboys.