IRVING, Texas – Obviously, any preview of the Green Bay Packers is going to include some analysis of Aaron Rodgers. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and the fortunes of his franchise follow his play.
On top of that, though, as we get into preparations for this matchup in Green Bay, I want to take a look at some of the problems this Packers defense can present for Matt Cassel and Co.
Here's my preview of what to watch for from this 8-4 Green Bay team.
Nemesis: Aaron Rodgers, QB
One of the most competitive quarterbacks in the league -- will do whatever it takes to win. Mentally tough, with outstanding football intelligence. Rare for him to make a mistake that would cost his team a shot at victory. Top arm talent and strength. Will deliver the ball at all levels and arm angles in order to complete a pass. Quick, overhand throwing motion. Ball comes out of his hand nicely. Touch for check downs, screens and fades.
Rodgers' accuracy is off the charts. Ball placement is right where it needs to be. Does an outstanding job of throwing receivers open. Some of his best passes are those that are thrown on the move. Has a knack for keeping his eyes down the field and making a clutch throw. He is a poised and confident quarterback. Outstanding awareness and anticipation. Hard guy to fool – has to be almost a mistake to bring him down. Rodgers is able to process information quickly and make the right decision.
He also has the toughness and courage to hang in the pocket to deliver the ball. When there is trouble in the pocket, has the mobility to move, slide and escape. Is able to improvise when he has to. Underhanded and flip passes are part of his attack.
This year, he has taken more hits and sacks due to receivers not getting open. Is not afraid to hold the ball until the last second. Perfect shot-gun quarterback in the way he plays. Just by watching him work you can tell that he knows where he wants to go with the ball before the snap, which makes him tough to defend.
Weapon: Clay Matthews, LB
Great passion for the game. Is an all-out player from snap to whistle. You can see the passion in the way that he goes about his job. Rarely takes a play off or has a loaf. Outstanding football intelligence and understanding of scheme – he has to be smart due to how many places he lines up in this defense.
Matthews' best traits are his speed and quickness. Plays with a burst and some serious range. Very reactionary and finisher. Plays with body control and balance. Have to catch him just right to knock him off his feet. Better player when he can take on blockers while on the move. When stationary, he has more trouble. Doesn't anchor down all that well when he gets a blocker on him or the ball is right at him. I have to say that I have seen him make more tackles than miss. When he gets into position – he can get the job done.
Outstanding effort and pursuit to the ball. Doesn't quit on a play. He's a better player as a rusher than he is in coverage. Has made a career coming off the edge but now is asked to rush more from inside. You will see him as part of blitzes where he is in combination with the defensive line. Solid key and diagnose. Plays with instincts and a feel for where he needs to be. The Cowboys have to be aware of him, whether he is around the ball carrier or quarterback because of his ability to create turnovers. Is always going to be reaching for that ball. Scheme-wise, you have to account for him every snap.
Under the Radar: Jake Ryan, LB
The only rookie starter on this Packers defense. Ryan lines up as the Mike linebacker and is not a bad player. Does a nice job of playing with his hands. Can take on blockers and shed when necessary. Shows some pop in the way he plays. Will square up and hit the man.
He's a smart player, reads well and moves to the ball once he sees it. There are snaps where he doesn't always play with balance, but you also don't see him get knocked off his feet and to the ground. Ryan is not afraid to take on the pulling guard. Can be physical at the point. There were times at Michigan where he would miss a tackle in the hole, and you will on occasion see it here. Had trouble at Michigan getting broken down in space, and the Packers don't put him in many of those situations where he has to cover.
Right now, he's playing like a much better athlete than in college. There are snaps where he had problems getting to the edge, but they have been working with him in this area. He is able to get outside and put himself in position to tackle. Looks like he has improved on his strength. One of his best traits was his ability to work through the trash and get to the ball while at Michigan – you are seeing that as well with the Packers. Doesn't get hung up on my blocks. Savvy, aware football player.