IRVING, Texas – Like you can probably guess, this divisional round clash comes down to which defense can do a better job handling the opposing offense. I don't think anyone is expecting a clash between the No. 6 and No. 7 offense in the NFL to be a defensive struggle.
If you've been reading this week, I've thrown out plenty of ideas for how the Cowboys might play this Packer offense. Taking one more look at the tape, these final thoughts mainly center on things to be on the watch for when this Dallas defense lines up against Aaron Rodgers and Co.
- As much as we have talked about Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, I worry more about the problems Eddie Lacy can create running the ball. There is a side of me that believes that the Packers are just as nervous facing this Cowboys offense as the Cowboys defense is facing the Packers offense.
The Packers put a ton of pressure on their opponent's offense, especially with the way that they score points at home -- but that is with a healthy Rodgers. I am not really sure how much Mike McCarthy wants to expose him to a Cowboys rush that has been better the last month of the season.
This is why I think that the Packers are going to load up and pound the ball at this Dallas defense and take the physical pressure off Rodgers. There were two games this season where I thought the Cowboys struggled to handle the run and both were division losses – the 20-17 loss to the Redskins and the 33-10 loss to the Eagles.
If there was a game this season where the Cowboys front seven was able to dominate up front against a physical running team, it was Seattle. If the Cowboys are going to hold the Packers in check offensively and put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, they are going to need that same type of performance. They cannot allow Eddie Lacy to control this game on the ground.
- Over the last several weeks we have seen this Cowboys offense using more "11" personnel with the emergence of Cole Beasley as a reliable go-to guy out of the slot and on the outside. Where the Packers have been good, especially these last three games, has been their ability to play out of their nickel and dime packages, which would match well with what the Cowboys do in "11."
Look for the Cowboys to get into more "12" personnel looks with their tight ends on the field, which will force the Packers to have to play more in base -- which is where they have had their issues. What is helpful about this personnel group for the Cowboys is that it might appear to be run-only, but in fact it still allows them to get Jason Witten or Gavin Escobar down the field all while keeping James Hanna in for protection. You will see some "11" but expect more "12" as well.
- It will be no different for the Cowboys defensively this week then what they have seen the last four weeks of the season, personnel-wise. The Packers are going to line up three wide receivers and a tight end as their base look, which means plenty of nickel defense for Dallas.
What might be different is how they decide to play their linebackers. In all likelihood we should see Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter on the field, but with the health issues of McClain and even Anthony Hitchens it might be Carter and Kyle Wilber.
Another thought might be to play more dime in this game with Carter as the only linebacker on the field and Tyler Patmon as the dime back. With Patmon as the dime, they could decide to keep him on Packers tight end Andrew Quarless, which means they can keep both Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox back in a two-deep safety look, which has given Aaron Rodgers trouble in the past.
- Earlier in the season the Packers were playing rookie safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix down in the box to try and assist in the running game, but after several games where his tackling was hit-and-miss at best, they have put Clinton-Dix deeper in the secondary and moved Morgan Burnett down in that position to help. Burnett is more reliable as a tackler and packs more of a punch on the physical side. If the Packers are going to play well against the run Burnett, will have to be a big reason why.