FRISCO, Texas – There was no Cowboys tape to watch this Monday, as they had a weekend off to start the playoffs.
Rather than study this team, I decided it might be a good use of my time to study the opposition. The Green Bay Packers rolled to a 38-13 win against the Giants on Sunday night, setting the stage for a showdown at AT&T Stadium.
Here's a handful of plays, both good and bad, that I think swung the game in Green Bay's favor. These will be important moments for the Cowboys to watch as they get into their preparations this week.
- The drop by Sterling Shepard on the Giants' second drive of the game was far worse than anything Odell Beckham Jr. did. I thought that both passes were in good spots for the skill level of these receivers. We have all seen Beckham Jr. track passes with far more difficulty and come up with catches, but Shepard's miss was just a flat drop. He put himself in position to high point the ball and for some unknown reason he let it fall right between his hands, giving Micah Hyde the opportunity to rally to contest him on the play. Hyde has no shot and there was nothing keeping Shepard from securing that ball – if he would have just went to go get it. It was a four-point play that would have given the Giants an early lead and some momentum.
- Eli Manning got sacked on a big third down and the Giants were forced to punt. Brad Wing only managed to get the ball out to their own 38-yard line, which put Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense in great shape. Rodgers, struggling to find footing against this defense, hit a hole shot to Davonte Adams against a single-high look down the right sideline for a 31-yard gain. Rookie corner Eli Apple gave Adams free access off the line, and it allowed the veteran receiver to gain a step. Rodgers, seeing Leon Hall in the middle of the field with no chance to get over, put the ball over the top of Apple, who never reacts. Adams didn't even need to break stride to haul in the pass. The gain put the Packers in position for their first points of the game.
- Coming into the game, the Giants were 17th in the league when it came to converting 3rd-and-1 situations. In 66 percent of those snaps, they were able to secure a new set of downs. On the other side of the field, the Packers were ranked 30th when defending those snaps. Opponents had converted a shocking 80 percent of the time. Just before the half, the Giants were facing this down and distance on their own 41-yard line, and it appeared they were on their way to continuing the drive. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers, knowing he needed a stop, gambled on the play and sent Morgan Burnett on a run blitz between Justin Pugh and Marshall Newhouse. Burnett timed his blitz perfectly and arrived at Bobby Rainey unblocked, tackling him for no gain. The Giants were forced to punt the ball to the Packers, leaving Aaron Rodgers with 1:38 on the clock to work with – a possession that resulted in a Hail Mary touchdown.
- It was a bad break for the Giants that Keenan Robinson knocked the ball out of Jared Cook's hands on that final drive of the first half. If Cook had caught the ball, there is no time left for Aaron Rodgers to attempt the Hail Mary. Regardless, the route was poorly played by the Giants secondary in their positioning. Leon Hall had the best chance to make the play, but his back was to Rodgers and he never saw the ball coming. Hall was also shoved by Randall Cobb on the play, but the officials rarely call those fouls in those situations. As a side note, Rodgers has executed three of those in his career, two of them he was rolling to his right like he was versus the Giants. The other, he was going to his left against and that came against the Arizona Cardinals.
- When playing the Packers you have to be ready to handle crossing routes on various levels. These routes also lead to pick routes to free up their receivers, especially on third downs. The Packers went empty formation with Ty Montgomery lined up wide to the outside of Davonte Adams, near the sideline. Rodgers never looked in Montgomery's direction on his right, trying not to draw attention to him. The Giants were in man coverage with Janoris Jenkins over the top of Montgomery. As he worked inside, Adams then moved outside and squared up on Jenkins, extending his hands to block. Montgomery was free to work behind Adams and past Landon Collins, who was late to realize what had happened. Rodgers came back to Montgomery and put it on him with a four-yard cushion. Montgomery gained 34 yards on the play and secured a big third-down conversion.
- Tremendous football intelligence by Clay Matthews on the sack/fumble of Eli Manning in the fourth quarter. Matthews beat Ereck Flowers clean around the edge, then hammered the ball out of Manning's hand. As the ball moved toward the line of scrimmage, Matthews began pointing for Julius Peppers and Joe Thomas to fall on it. When neither did, Paul Perkins made an attempt to pick up the ball as if nothing had happened. Matthews sprinted over to Perkins, knocking him on his back and causing him to drop the ball on the ground. Matthews beat Eli Manning and Tavarres King to the ball for the recovery and a turnover, which the Packers turned into a touchdown by Aaron Ripkowski.
- Watching the Packers' ill-fated fourth down conversion attempt at midfield in the third quarter. If Aaron Rodgers had an option where to run the ball on that call, and he went the direction he did – it was a poor choice. Rodgers decided to run the ball right into the teeth of the Giants' best run defenders. His offensive line had no chance of getting movement on Damon Harrison, Johnathan Hankins, Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon. Handing the ball to Ty Montgomery behind Aaron Ripowski was not going to get the job done. Ripowski went soft at the point and Montgomery was too upright on the play.
- Bad breakdown defensively by the Packers on the touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Tavarres King. The safeties had done a nice job until that point of helping these cornerbacks, especially in dealing with Odell Beckham Jr. Judging from Damarious Randall's drop to the outside, it appeared that he was looking for help inside from Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. Instead of getting that help, King went up the field untouched while Clinton Dix jumped the underneath route by Sterling Shepard. Manning was able to lay the ball out front far enough to allow King to track it before Randall was able to rally on the play.
- Nice job by the Giants on their first sack of Aaron Rodgers by doing the right things. The linebackers and secondary were exactly where they needed to be in their assignments, which forced Rodgers to hold the ball. Both Olivier Vernon and Romeo Okwara were square to Rodgers on the edges, keeping him in the pocket. Johnathan Hankins got such a push inside it forced Corey Linsley and Lane Taylor to have to double-team him, which left blitzer Coty Sensabaugh a free run at Rodgers. Even as he tried to escape from Sensabaugh, there was nowhere for him to turn taking the sack and driving them out of field range. This is the approach you have to take defensively when you play Aaron Rodgers.
- The Packers doubled Odell Beckham Jr. the majority of the day. Dom Capers asked LaDarius Gunter to travel with Beckham Jr., but they were quick to get him help with Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Morgan Burnett. When facing the Cowboys, Capers is going to have to make a call whether he wants to play this way in a Cover 2 look, giving up on the Cowboys' running game or playing single coverage on Dez Bryant? My guess is that Bryant is going to still going to see double coverage -- but that opens the door for the other receivers.
- The Packers didn't have their normal packages where Randall Cobb lines up in the backfield as a running back. It might have been in an effort to try and conserve him. Instead the Packers put Davante Adams in that role twice and threw him the ball on a screen for a decent gain. Adams is a good player, but he doesn't have Cobb's ability when it comes to those specialty plays where they want to get the ball quickly in space.
- How explosive have the Packers been? In the last nine games – offensively they've had 47 plays of 20 or more yards. On Sunday, they had six against a good Giants defense.