FRISCO, Texas – Finally it's Friday, and here are my two biggest keys to determining who advances to the NFC Championship Game when the Cowboys and Packers face off on Sunday afternoon.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
When these two teams met earlier in the year, the Packers were struggling to make big plays. Those in the media were starting to wonder if this was the end of Aaron Rodgers and was his career on the downward turn.
What I noticed in studying those early season games, it wasn't that Rodgers was playing poorly, it was that he just wasn't connecting with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams -- which had been such a staple of their offensive attack.
If there is one thing that I can point to for the Packers that has changed for them during this winning streak, it's that they're now back to hitting on those plays. For the season, the Packers have had 76 plays of 20-plus yards, with 47 of those plays coming in the last nine games. Just last week in the wildcard game against the New York Giants, Rodgers and his teammates hit them for six of those plays which –proved to be the difference in the game.
For the Cowboys to win this game, they're going to need to do what they have all season – limit those back-breaking plays by the Packers. They will need to be disciplined with their pass rush, execute their assignments in coverage and tackle as well as they did when these teams met in October.
If they're able to do all that, then they will get to host the NFC Championship game next week.
Green Bay Packers Win If:
There was an early point of the season where this Packers defense was considered a strength of their squad. When these two clubs met in October, the Packers were the top unit against the run -- but since then, they have been on the steady decline.
On 43 percent of their snaps, opponents have successfully gained four or more yards on first down. The Packers were 26th in the league by allowing opponents to gain 10-plus yards in 228 snaps. Where the Packers have been exceptionally bad is scoring defense. Coming into the playoffs, in their previous eight games, they had allowed a league-worst 232 points. The Packers have managed to survive due to the play of their offense, and without them this team would be watching these playoffs from the couch at home.
For the Packers to win this game, Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is going to need to figure out how to stop this Cowboys offensive attack. His question will be: does he commit to controlling the run with extra personnel in the box or use those safeties to help his corners with these Dallas receivers that played well against him earlier in the year?
Capers is in a tough spot whichever way he decides but to win this game, but I believe he will have to control the running game. He cannot afford to let the Cowboys grind the ball and clock on him. For the Packers to win this game, they are going to need to get some defensive stops and put this game on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers to win.