Final Thoughts: Plan For Claiborne, Cowboys' X-Factor; More Notes

FRISCO, Texas – So much has already been written about this game, I don't know how much else there is to say – but I did my best.

I tried to keep it as simple as possible heading into this do-or-die playoff game. We know what to expect from the Dallas Cowboys after 16 regular seasons games. We've seen plenty from the Green Bay Packers going back to the Oct. 16 meeting and their seven-game win streak.

With all that information in mind, this is how I've broken it down. This is what I'm expecting to see Sunday, from matchups to playing time and everything in between.

Here we go:

  • I feel that Morris Claiborne will play a significant role in this game despite being off the last two months. I expect Claiborne to start this game at left cornerback if the Packers open the game in "11" personnel. This is a role that Anthony Brown has played the majority of the season, but with Claiborne back, Brown will step aside and be ready in case he is needed.
  • No Jordy Nelson is a huge blow for the Packers. During the Packers' seven-game winning streak, none of their receivers have been targeted more than him. Aaron Rodgers looked in his direction 56 times with 44 of those resulting in receptions. In that same period, Nelson had accumulated five touchdowns. The next-most receptions on the team is Jared Cook with 18. I expect we'll see Rod Marinelli play these Packers receivers straight up, which would allow him to use Byron Jones and Barry Church on Cook.
  • Even though DeMarcus Lawrence is healthy and ready to go, I could see the coaches going with Benson Mayowa as the starter. Mayowa has earned the right to be the starter due to his play these last several weeks. I would expect that we would still see Lawrence, but only in certain rush situations. Tyrone Crawford will also be back in the lineup, which will allow David Irving to roll from end to tackle as they need him.
  • For the Cowboys to have success in the running game, I feel like it's going to have to come on the edges instead of inside. The tape has shown that Green Bay's best defensive player when dealing with the run has been Mike Daniels. The matchup of Daniels inside with Ronald Leary and Zack Martin should be a great one. Daniels' strength is his ability to win off the snap. Leary and Martin have faced him before, so they understand what they are up against. They cannot allow him to be disruptive with his penetration -- which he is capable of.
  • Speaking of running the ball on the edges, if I am Scott Linehan, I would be more worried about Clay Matthews running down plays from the backside than Nick Perry or Julius Peppers. Matthews is relentless in the way he chases, while Perry and Peppers are not. In regard to Matthews, I am hearing that we might see him inside instead of the outside in order to put him in position to make more plays. This is an adjustment that the Packers have done before when they were struggling stopping the run with A.J. Hawk in that spot.
  • Want an X-Factor player? Justin Durant is my guy. Damien Wilson has done a nice job in his place while out, but Durant has a knack for making those game-changing type of plays when he is on the field. I believe that the Packers will struggle to get a handle on him and Sean Lee in this game. Their ability to read and react quickly will be too much for their inside three.  
  •  The Packers have only been able to get opponents off the field 16 percent of the time in 3-and-out situations. That ranks them 30th in the NFL.
  • My guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mark Sanchez, CB Leon McFadden, RB Alfred Morris, LB Mark Nzeocha, OG Jonathan Cooper, DT Richard Ash. Just a reminder that they are playing with 52 players instead of 53 – so they only need six inactives instead of seven.

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