The Green Bay Packers return home to face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field. The Cowboys are 6-2 and are in the thick of the fight for a playoff berth in the NFC. They are presently two games behind the first place Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
The Packers are coming off their fifth straight defeat, an embarrassing 15-9 loss to the Lions in Detroit. The loss dropped the Packers record to 3-6 on the season. The Cowboys are coming off a 49-29 thrashing of the Bears in Dallas last Sunday.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these two teams 16-13-0. These two teams first met back in 1960. The two teams have split eight playoff games with each team winning four times. Green Bay has won the last three meetings between these teams and eight of the last nine. The Packers and Cowboys last faced each other in 2019 with the Packers winning 34-24 in Dallas.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game at Lambeau:
- Slow Down the Dallas Rushing Attack
Stopping the Dallas run game must be the Packers biggest priority and biggest challenge heading into this game. The Cowboys are 11th in the league right now averaging 131.5-yards rushing per game.
Dallas has a solid one-two punch at running back with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard splitting time carrying the ball. Elliott is the more familiar name but Pollard has been the more effective of the two, averaging 6.2-yards per carry and leading the team with 506 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Elliott isn’t far behind with 443 yards and four touchdowns although his average is “only” 4.1-yards per carry.
The Packers may still be without De’Vondre Campbell who did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury and Krys Barnes who is still in concussion protocols. The team will have to rely on Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie and Kenny Clark to slow down the Dallas running game.
Kingsley Enagbare will also be the likely replacement for Rashan Gary. Joe Barry and company hope the rookie will be better than Gary at maintaining the edge on running plays, something Gary often struggled with this season.
If the Packers can’t slow down the Dallas running attack, the defense could be in for a very long afternoon.
- Run the Football Enough
The Packers need to run the ball enough to keep ahead of the chains and to prevent the Dallas defense from teeing off on Rodgers.
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are the team’s most consistent offensive weapons (if Jones is healthy enough to play) especially with the injuries and inexperience at wide receiver and the uncertainty along the offensive line.
The Cowboys run defense is allowing 135.1-yards per game which ranks them 24th in the league while they are 4th at defending the pass. The run numbers are particularly noticeable when you consider Dallas has a winning record which means teams are rarely running the ball late in games to control the clock.
Running the football keeps the Dallas offense off the field and prevents the Packers defense from getting tired late in the game. It also allows the Packers to stay in the game longer while exploiting the weakest part of the Dallas defense.
The hope is that head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will stick to running the football enough and not get pass happy which undermines the Green Bay defense and plays into the strengths of the Dallas defense.
- Contain Cee Dee Lamb
DeeDee Lamb is the most dangerous receiver on the Cowboys roster right now. He has 42 catches through eight games while no other Dallas receiver has more than 25.
Lamb often lines up in the slot and so who the Packers line up opposite him there will be a key factor in trying to contain Lamb.
With Eric Stokes out of the lineup, the Packers turned to Keisean Nixon in the slot against the Lions. The Packers may be better off matching Jaire Alexander against Lamb as often as possible although that is not typically Barry’s approach. Darnell Savage may also see some time lining up opposite Dallas’ slot receivers.
If Lamb has a big day, the Packers defense will be in trouble, especially if the run defense doesn’t play better than it has thus far this season.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers offensive line has been undermined this year by the uncertainty surrounding the health and availability of their two best players, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. The duo is returning from serious knee injuries and has yet to fully regain their form when they’ve been able to play.
The Cowboys lead the NFL with 33 sacks through eight games and must be eagerly anticipating facing the Packers struggling offensive line.
Micah Parsons leads the Cowboys with eight sacks in eight games. The Packers hope they have Bakhtiari available to try to block him as he usually comes off the right edge.
Dorance Armstrong has five sacks while DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler, Jr. have four each.
In addition to Jenkins and Bakhtiari, Jon Runyan Jr. left last week’s game with a knee injury although he did return later in the game. The Packers are hoping he’ll be able to go at right guard.
Rookie Zach Tom would be the primary backup if any of the injured players can’t play on Sunday. Either way, the Packers offensive line has struggled to protect Rodgers most of this season and they will have their hands full against an aggressive and effective group of Dallas pass rushers.
If Rodgers doesn’t have time to throw, the Packers passing game will likely be ineffective.
- Create Turnovers
The Packers are home underdogs for a reason in this game: they are not viewed as the better team right now. When that is the case, the underdog usually needs to win the turnover battle to have a chance to pull off the upset.
Unfortunately, the Packers have only won the turnover battle only once so far this season. If the Packers can end this game plus one on the turnover battle, they have a much better chance to keep things close and possibly pull off the upset. The more turnovers they create, the better chance they’ll have.
Not having their best pass rusher (Gary) available won’t help get pressure on Dak Prescott, but the Packers need to win the turnover battle to have a chance to win this game.
- Get the Tight Ends and Running Backs Involved in the Passing Game
The Packers are thin at wide receiver right now. Randall Cobb is on IR and Romeo Doubs may soon follow.
Sammy Watkins has been almost invisible since returning from his early-season injury while Allen Lazard is playing through a shoulder injury.
The Packers will need to involve their tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Look for more targets for tight ends Robert Tonyan and Josiah Deguara and running backs Jones and Dillon into the passing game.
Having at least one wide receiver become productive would be helpful, but it won’t be easy against a strong Dallas pass defense.
LaFleur should be scheming players open as often as possible which is what you need to do when your receivers are overmatched against a strong defense. Let’s hope they at least try.
This will be an emotional game as Mike McCarthy returns to Lambeau for the first time since he was fired by the Packers late in the 2018 season.
The Cowboys have struggled against Rodgers and the Packers recently and that may get inside their head if the Packers get off to a good start.
Unfortunately, I cannot see the Packers defense stopping Dallas from running the football and the Packers passing game being effective against a strong Cowboys secondary.
The Packers will need to do things they haven’t done well all season to win this game. That’s not impossible but not likely either.
Cowboys 27, Packers 13
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