IRVING, Texas – As deadly as Detroit's offense was, imagine all those weapons with one of the best quarterbacks in the game dictating the gameplan.
You can't overstate how important Aaron Rodgers is to the way the Packers play, and these aren't the last words we'll write about him this week by a long shot. Rodgers also has a dynamic weapon in Jordy Nelson, and I wanted to take a look at the defensive back who I'm guessing will draw the assignment of tracking Dez Bryant.
Weapon: Jordy Nelson, WR
If there ever was a player that was made to play for the Green Bay Packers, it has to be Jordy Nelson. It takes a certain type of mentality to thrive at receiver in that environment, and Nelson has that in his demeanor.
In my opinion, Nelson is one of the most deceptive route runners in the league that is also blessed with a wide catching radius. His best trait is his natural hands with the ability to extend for the catch. There is nowhere on the field that Nelson will not venture to make a catch. He has always been the type of receiver that has shown courage when having to make a reception in a crowd.
His body control and balance is outstanding, along with his stop-start quickness. I have seen him twist and turn his body in order to make difficult adjusting catches. He has the ability to run a corner off, then sharply break to the outside to buy space. His football intelligence is off the charts, and he knows how to read coverages and take advantage of it.
On tape you can see how mindful he is of down and distance in the way he executes his routes. There were countless times on the game tape where Aaron Rodgers went to him along the sideline once he broke outside the pocket. Nelson is one of those receivers that can run all day. Routes are just as strong at the end of the game as they are in the beginning.
Nemesis: Aaron Rodgers, QB
This Packers offense has several talented players throughout its lineup but none are as talented as Aaron Rodgers. When the Packers are really rolling on offense, it is all through Rodgers and his ability to create plays. I have yet to see a quarterback that makes the types of throws that he does with all the different arm angles and be as accurate as he is doing it.
Other than facing Drew Brees earlier in the season, the Cowboys have not faced a quarterback that gets rid of the ball as quickly as Rodgers does. There were snaps where he is pulling the ball out of Eddie Lacy's stomach and firing it to the outside before the receiver had even turned his head. His accuracy and ball placement are scary -- especially on the move. The Buffalo game late in the year was the one that I studied where he had the most trouble, but even then he was firing the ball into tight windows because of the confidence he has in his receivers and tight ends.
If there is something that we all need to keep an eye on in regard to Rodgers, it's that calf injury that he is playing with. I've been told it's a four-week injury and he is playing through it. As I mentioned before, one of his strengths is his ability to throw on the move so we could see him throw from the pocket much more than in games past.
Under Radar: Sam Shields, CB
I expect that we will see Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers take Sam Shields and match him up with Dez Bryant and go to battle that way. There is no question that Shields is his best option and is the one player Capers has that can be physical enough on Bryant and not allow him off the line.
Shields was outstanding against Calvin Johnson the last time the Packers played the Lions. His strength is his ability to get his hands on the receiver quickly and ride him up the field, then just past that five yard zone-release. Shields really frustrated Johnson playing him this way. It is this physical style that keeps Shields in position during the route up the field and inside.
If you remember on DallasCowboys.com when I showed you the blueprint in handling Johnson before the Lions game, it was Shields covering him on the three different types of routes that he ran. If there is a weakness to Shields' game, it would be his ability to burst deep if the receiver gets by him. There was a snap where Johnson released past him, and even with safety help he was able to split the two, but Matthew Stafford was not accurate with his throw.
Shields doesn't have the deep speed to really run if he has to catch up. We could see the Cowboys take a shot or two down the field, and we'll also see if they can run Bryant across the field and make Shields have to chase him. What could be different in this matchup between Bryant and Shields is that if Bryant can win off the line, there might not be a safety there for him to beat because of the confidence these Packers coaches have in him.