Final Thoughts: Ball Security, Lineup Combinations; More Green Bay Notes

FRISCO, Texas – These types of matchups are always interesting.

Obviously, any NFL team is going to be most familiar with its divisional opponents. And you only see teams from the opposite conference every four years, so things change a lot on that front.

But despite the fact that they're in different divisions, this is the third time the Cowboys and Packers have met in the last two years. If you go back to a late-game collapse by Dallas in 2013, these two clubs have played four times in the last four years.

The point is that there's some familiarity here. Even if Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott – and a whole slew of other players – are new to the matchup, there's a starting point for basing your game plan.

With that in mind, let's look into the matchup. Hopefully for the Cowboys, it goes better this time around. Dating back to 2004, the Cowboys are 1-5 in their last six trips to Lambeau Field.

Let's take a look:

  • If the Cowboys have success running the football, I believe it's going to be on the edges and not inside. The Packers will try and crowd the box inside by walking Morgan Burnett and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix down. Look for those plays where the Cowboys pull their offensive linemen on the outside. This will allow them to down block in order to seal the corner and get their blockers in space. This is the way that they can trap their defenders inside. The Cowboys must make sure they get a hat on rookie linebacker Blake Martinez – if unblocked he has the talent to make every tackle.
  • You have to control Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. He is one of the best in the league when it comes to extending plays with his feet. He is a hard guy to tackle, and that is even harder when he is on the move. To handle Rodgers, you can't rush past him in the pocket. The depth of the rush is vital because if you are not disciplined, he will find ways to escape and make those huge chunk plays down the field. As we have seen in the past, big plays are what starts their offense.
  • I expect that Tyron Smith will line up and play this week after missing some practice time. But there are several different ways that they could go if something were to happen during the game. If he was healthy, Chaz Green would fill in -- but he has been ruled out with a foot injury. Emmett Cleary is now comfortable with the playbook and could be an option there, or they could shift Doug Free from the right side to the left. That would mean that Zack Martin would move to the tackle and Joe Looney would come in at guard. This might be their best five but there are a lot of moving parts here.  
  • I am more worried about Jordy Nelson than Randall Cobb. I know the numbers say Nelson is having a down year, but the big play capability is still there. He is the one receiver they have that can make plays down the field. Rodgers is not afraid to throw him the ball at any point of the field. You have to be concerned with his ability to catch the back shoulder ball -- especially in the red zone. Brandon Carr was outstanding against him during the playoffs in 2014. They will need the same type of effort from him and Morris Claiborne.
  • Aaron Rodgers is one of the best in the league in drawing defenders offside, especially when playing at home. He takes a great deal of pride in his ability to gain those free five yards. Defensively you have to be ready for him taking a shot down the field on the free play – can't be asleep here.
  • Jason Garrett has to have an aggressive game plan here. To beat the Packers you must keep scoring. No lead is safe, and I am not talking about field goals. The winner of this game likely comes down to which defense is able to make the other kick field goals in the red zone.  Garrett knows who is taking snaps on the other side of the field and I believe he will handle this game accordingly.
  • Protect the ball – for years the Packers have fed off of turnovers, mistakes and poor execution, especially at home. Last season a ball went off Dez Bryant's hands on the goal line and Sam Shields turned it into an interception. In the playoff game, DeMarco Murray had a ball punched out of his hand that completely turned the game around. Offensively it's a must: you cannot give them any extra possessions if you expect to win this game.
  •  My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives:  QB Tony Romo, RB Lance Dunbar, CB Orlando Scandrick, RB Darius Jackson, LB Kyle Wilber, OT Chaz Green and WR Dez Bryant.

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