Sullivan: Limiting Packers Drives, Elliott's Impact, More Thoughts

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • By the time this game kicks off, the amount of words written and spoken will make War and Peace look like a reminder on a Post-it note. We all have our idea of what's going to make the difference, and how this this game will play out. For me, it's all about drives. If Green Bay has more than 10 drives, it's going to take some fluky happenstance for the Cowboys to win. During their seven-game winning streak, the Packers are averaging a smidge more than 3.0 points per offensive possession. I eliminated the drives they kneeled on the ball when factoring that number, so it was 223 points divided by 74 drives. They haven't scored any defensive or special teams touchdowns.
  • For those non-math majors, if the Packers have 12 drives, based on the last few months, that would be around 36 points. Incidentally, Green Bay is averaging 35 points their last five games. The Cowboys have scored more than 35 just once this year, putting up 42 against the Lions.
  • The final regular-season points per drive kind of stunned me. The Falcons averaged 3.09 points per drive and the Saints were second at 2.59. That's half a point. There are 13 more teams separated by half a point after New Orleans. That's how much better Atlanta was than the rest of the league. The last team to average that many were the 2011 Saints. Also, the Cowboys were fifth at 2.43 while the Rams were last at 1.16. That's more or less like hitting a field goal every three possessions. Almost unfathomable.
  • Already on the record, and have been for years, as saying Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback I've ever seen. Yes, including Tom Brady and, yes, I'm from Boston. Last week he became the first to ever throw for 300 yards, four touchdown passes and zero interceptions in three straight games. As in that's never happened in NFL history. Heck, Dan Marino only did it four times in his career, never mind three straight games. Just an incredible run by Rodgers.
  • Way, way too much about Jordy Nelson this week and what his absence would mean for Green Bay. He's a top-tier wideout, should win Comeback Player of the Year honors and Rodgers has targeted him on about a quarter of his drop-backs this year. Just think it's more about the quarterback than the receivers, and Davante Adams and Randall Cobb combined for 241 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Giants last week. I've always been a big fan of their tight end Jared Cook, too. If the Packers lose, I just can't envision folks sitting around Sunday night honestly thinking Nelson was the reason.
  • Not only have the Packers been avoiding turnovers, just one during their current seven-game winning streak, but they have also been forcing them, totaling 17 during the run, including 15 the last five games. And that's with a patchwork secondary. The run defense has been improved of late also, allowing just 83.5 yards per the last four games. And three of those contests were a touchdown or less outcomes, so can't just say the opposing teams were playing catch-up and throwing. Even the Giants game was close entering the fourth quarter. A lot of the analytical statistics say Green Bay's run defense has been struggling the second half of the season, so I guess there's that, too.
  • For all the talk and honors for the Cowboys offensive line, and deservedly so, the Packers have a top-five, arguably top-three front five themselves. Especially in pass protection, which one would assume Green Bay isn't going to spend a ton of time trying to establish the run Sunday. In its last 11 games, including their playoff opener, the Packers are averaging 18 non-quarterback rushing attempts per outing.

Over that same stretch, Rodgers is throwing the ball 40 times per game, more than a 2-to-1 ratio. There isn't a set of starting tackles in the league that come close to David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga in terms of keeping their quarterback upright. The Cowboys absolutely need the David Irving of the last three games of the season to show up. There were five games this year when he played significant snaps and didn't register a tackle or a quarterback pressure.
[embeddedad0] * This kind of surprised me: Minus Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys rushed for 765 yards on 177 carries, which is 4.3 yards per attempt. That would rank 12th in the league. They finished third at 4.8, behind only the Bills and the Browns. (Yes, the Browns, I was stunned, too.) That really speaks volumes to just how much more Elliott did for this offense than if they went another route in the first round. * Speaking of, I wrote a story this week for *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine *on the last conference championship game the Cowboys played in, which was against the Packers on Jan. 14, 1996. One of the great games in franchise history that really doesn't get the legacy of those 49ers classics. Anyhow, that's not my point.

In the 38-27 win, Emmitt Smith rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries. Even for Smith, this was excessive. In 16 other postseason games, he only rushed more than 26 times on one other occasion, that being 30 in Super Bowl XXVIII. And 35 matched his regular-season high. I'm not saying Elliott is going to see 35 carries, but if the Cowboys win, I think he flirts with 30. It helps he has 13 touches since Dec. 18. That's a lot of rest from the season-long wear-and-tear. * The Cowboys had the fewest dropped passes in the NFL with eight. Michael Crabtree finished with nine and Brandon Marshall had eight. Cole Beasley and Brice Butler led Dallas with two apiece, while Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar and Jason Witten each had one. More than half of the 32 NFL teams had at least 20. The Jets led the way with 30 while the Raiders were second with 29. In retrospect, perhaps Derek Carr really was the NFL MVP this season. * In 1985, there were 58 interceptions thrown in Dallas' 16 regular-season games. That was a franchise record, besting the 57 from 1967, although there were only 14 games that year. This season, there were 15, nine interceptions by the Cowboys and the six thrown by Dak Prescott and Mark Sanchez. That broke the old mark for the fewest, 19 set in 1997. * As for this weekend, give me the Falcons, 34-24. Yes, I'm aware that Matt Ryan has the lowest postseason winning percentage for any quarterback who has won at least a game. He's 1-4. And yes, Russell Wilson is 8-3, which at 72.7, is the fifth-highest wining percentage among those starting at least 10 games behind only Bart Starr, Jim Plunkett, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. Just feel that Atlanta's offense isn't receiving the attention it deserves, they scored the seventh-most points in the history of the league. The six teams who scored more than their 540 points went a combined 84-12. It's fluky that Atlanta only went 11-5, losing those five contests by a combined 22 points. * In the AFC, the Patriots are the highest-non Super Bowl spread favorite in postseason history, likely 16 points at kickoff. I'd still take the points, thinking 24-3, or so. Amazing that Houston will be among the last seven teams remaining in the playoffs, though. The weather sounds more like the Iditarod than football for Pittsburgh-Kansas City, but the field should be OK between the underground heater and a tarp, so give me the Steelers in a classic, 27-26. * Packers-Cowboys should draw the highest ratings of any non-Super Bowl in league history. This is one of those rare games in today's world that everyone who enjoys athletic competition is going to be in front of a television. Some think this could end up being the best matchup of the postseason. I like the Cowboys, 27-16. I just don't see Green Bay being able to contain Elliott, and I think Sean Lee is due for an interception, maybe even a pick-6. As a defense, the Cowboys strength this season has been bending but not breaking, so three field goals and a touchdown, force a few punts, an interception and limit the drives.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.*

Look through some of our favorite photos from practice on Thursday, January 12. 

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