FRISCO, Texas – This is a bit of a new feeling.
After successfully beating the Chicago Bears in Week 3, the 2016 Dallas Cowboys were never again in danger of dipping below .500. In fact, from September to December of last year, they didn't lose a single game.
Things change, obviously, and no to seasons are ever the same. The Cowboys have quite a challenge in front of them if they want to avoid going into their bye week with a 2-3 record.
As the week goes on, you get a much better idea of what that challenge is going to look like – from injuries to game plans and everything in between. So, with that in mind, here are my final notes for this weekend's Cowboys-Packers matchup, and what I expect to see.
- I have no reason to believe Tyron Smith won't play this weekend after missing two days of practice. With that being said, the question I have is: if something happens to him during the game, who will be the backup? Both Chaz Green and Byron Bell took snaps with the first offense during practice in his absence. Green stepped in for Smith last season when his back was bothering him and played admirably. My hunch is that if they had to turn to a backup during the game, Bell would get the nod over Green on the thought that, at this point, he's just a little healthier.
- I am expecting to see Anthony Hitchens start this week. This is amazing considering we thought in the preseason that his year was done with a knee injury. Look for him to start in place of Sean Lee, who is still dealing with his hamstring condition. With the bye coming next week, it makes perfect sense in the big picture to allow Lee that extra week of rest to hopefully be fully recovered. As far as Hitchens, he should be paired with Jaylon Smith, but I'd keep an eye on the other linebacker spot. Damien Wilson didn't have one of his better games against the Rams and I am wondering if the coaching staff would maybe make a move to start Justin Durant or Kyle Wilber? When playing Aaron Rodgers, you can't afford any busts in coverage, and as a staff they might think that Durant or Wilber could limit those mistakes.
- I am getting a vibe that the Packers are not really sure who is going to start for them in the secondary? They've had some injury problems with Davon House (quad) and Quinten Rollins (ankle). Damarious Randall hasn't played all that well and has been replaced by rookie Kevin King. Against the Bengals, King traveled with A.J. Green. The Packers like Josh Hawkins, and he might see some action, as well. Last week the Packers played more of their base defense to help them in the running game, not really worrying about Bears quarterback Mike Glennon. They might not be able to do that with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant. In two games last season, the Cowboys had no problems moving the ball along the ground or in the air and that has to be a concern for Dom Capers.
- With Chaz Green taking snaps at tackle this week, look for Jonathan Cooper to once again start at left guard. Nothing was pretty about Cooper's game last weekend. Aaron Donald is not an easy opponent to deal with, especially after limited practice like Cooper received. I expect that we will see better coordination between Cooper and Travis Frederick this week after working together the entire week during practice.
- Anthony Brown showed up on the injury report with an ankle issue. I don't believe it's a major problem but something to keep an eye on for the game. As much as the Packers like to throw the ball, his job is going to be non-stop. If Brown does struggle, I am getting the sense that Nolan Carroll is still not quite ready and Brown's backup would be Jourdan Lewis or Bené Benewikere. As much as the Packers play in multiple wide receiver packages, all the cornerbacks that dress in this one are likely to see a great deal of action.
- The Packers defensively have allowed an opponent to have at least one rush of 20-plus yards on five occasions this season. Opponents have rushed the ball for nearly five yards (4.98) a carry on first down, which puts them 30th in the league. The Packers have played several games without Mike Daniels, one of their best defensive linemen, but that is still an alarming rate. This should play right into the hands of the Cowboys, who want to run the ball early and often to help their offense manage the game.
- Stephen Paea has been playing the last several weeks on a banged up knee. The training staff has done a good job of getting him ready each week, but it has been a struggle to practice. With the bye week coming after this game, this might be a great opportunity to give Paea a couple of weeks off to see if the health of his knee can improve. If Paea does rest, I would expect to see David Irving getting those snaps in his place. I personally like Irving inside as opposed to playing at end. If you remember, it was Irving that gave the Packers fits in the game last season from that tackle spot. Look for a rotation of Irving, Maliek Collins, Brian Price and Tyrone Crawford inside. Irving could also help them with work in the three-man line at nose tackle, as well.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Cooper Rush, RB Darren McFadden, CB Nolan Carroll, LB Sean Lee, DT Stephen Paea, OT Chaz Green, WR Noah Brown.