By Shawn S. Lealos
The Green Bay Packers are standing in the way of the Dallas Cowboys chances at keeping in the playoff race. This will be the toughest opponent the Cowboys face this season. If the Cowboys beat the Packers, and any of their divisional rivals lose, they remain eligible for a playoff spot. However, the Packers also have a lot to play for with the Minnesota Vikings sticking close to them for the NFC North lead. Here is a look at the Packers heading into this big game.
The Green Bay Packers sit in first place in the NFC North, with an 8-4 record and a tiebreaker over the Minnesota Vikings. However, they need to keep winning because they play the Vikings at the end of the season a game that could determine who wins the division and who gets a wild card berth. This is also a big game for Dallas, as Green Bay i,s the team that beat them in the playoffs in 2014 on a controversial call to end the Cowboys season.
Green Bay Packers on Offense
The Green Bay Packers in and lose on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. With the offensive line finally returning to full strength, only missing center Corey Linsley. Rodgers has thrown for 2,957 yards this season with 26 touchdowns and a very low five interceptions. The problem is that he has been sacked 29 times this season, thanks to the offensive line problems. Since the Cowboys struggle with sacks, that shouldn’t provide too many problems for Green Bay.
A big problem for the Packers this season is their rushing attack. Eddie Lacy has only 517 yards on the season and only has two touchdowns rushing. He looked like he was turning things around two weeks ago after his second 100 yard rushing game in a row. However, he was late for team meetings last week and barely played. James Starks is there to replace him but only has 444 yards on the season. They need to do more to help the Packers win.
The Packers lost Jordy Nelson when the season started and have had to rely on James Jones, who they brought back this season, and Randall Cobb, who leads the team with 92 targets and 57 receptions on the season. Both Cobb and Jones average over 10 yards a reception and Jones has a very nice 19.7 yards per reception for seven touchdowns. This is where the Packers have an advantage over Dallas.
Green Bay Packers on Defense
The reason that the Packers are losing games this season is because of their defense. They rank 19th in the NFL in total defense, 20th against the run and pass. With Dallas only sporadically throwing the ball with Matt Cassel, it is mostly important for the Packers to stop the run and that means stopping Darren McFadden. The Packers are giving up 111 yards a game, and that is where Dallas might exploit this defense.
Thanks mostly to Aaron Rodgers accuracy at quarterback, Green Bay ranks fifth in turnover differential. However, when taking Rodgers accuracy out of the equation, Green Bay ranks 22nd in the NFL in takeaways with 11 interceptions and only four fumble recoveries. They do rank 12th in sacks with 29, which is the biggest Achilles heel for the Cowboys this season.
Green Bay Packers’ Players to Watch
Aaron Rodgers: The Packers All-Pro quarterback is the big reason that the Packers are winning this year, despite a lackluster defense and a suspect running game. He ranks in the top 10 in quarterback rating, is fourth in the NFL with 26 touchdowns, and ranks second for starting quarterbacks with over 300 attempts for interceptions thrown with only five. He is the player who can beat the Cowboys.
Clay Matthews: For many years, the defensive player to watch in Green Bay is Clay Matthews. That hasn’t changed this season. He ranks third on the team with 57 total tackles and has 4.5 sacks as well. He also has three passes defensed, one interception, and one fumble recovery. He is the man who can disrupt the entire Cowboys’ offensive plan.
The Dallas Cowboys have almost no chance to win this game. The Green Bay Packers are playing close to the level they were last season while the Cowboys have drastically dropped off thanks to injuries and the loss of DeMarco Murray in the offseason. If the Cowboys defense can limit what Aaron Rodgers does, their offense can score some points against the Packers defense, but this has to stay a low scoring game for Dallas to have a chance.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.