Cowboys + Packers Q-n-A With PackerReport

We check in with Scout’s tremendous Packers blog to get the inside scoop on Dallas’ Divisional Round foes from Green Bay. ... Rodgers injury ... Matthews inside ... Green Bay's concerns with Dallas ... Premium goods!

There’s no better insight than from those that follow passionately. As such, we turn to PackerReport’s Bill Huber to give us the inside skinny on what Dallas can expect on Sunday afternoon when they square off against the NFC North champion, Green Bay Packers.

CowboysHQ:What’s the latest on Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury? Is it simply an issue of him needing to rest it to get it back to full strength? Is there concern that the below-freezing temps could agitate it? Will it matter in the end? Any other injury situations that are putting a crimp in the Packers’ game plans?

PackerReport: Rodgers had more “hip in his hop” — whatever the heck that means — when the team reconvened on Monday, coach Mike McCarthy said. I assume he’ll be fine. What makes him so good is his ability to extend plays to get Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson open if they’re initially covered. Dallas’ pass rush isn’t that good while Green Bay’s pass protection has been excellent during the second half of the season, so I’m not sure the injury impacts this game too much. As for the temperatures, I’m not a doctor, though I do play one when asked about the quarterback. With heaters on the sideline, I’d think he’d be OK.

The rest of the team is incredibly healthy. The Packers were slammed by injuries in three of the previous four seasons. This year, the five starting offensive linemen have missed one game combined. Rodgers has started all 16 games, as have Nelson, Cobb and running back Eddie Lacy. Apparently the Injury Gods took some pity on McCarthy and Co.

CHQ: How much of a concern do you have over a slow start coming out of the bye? Green Bay handled the 2014 bye with flying colors, but that was against a Bears team that seemed disinterested in life, much less football. Dallas has a tremendous ability to own the clock on opening drives, is that a concern for the Packers?

PR: Isn’t that the million-dollar question for every team coming off a playoff bye? I did the math the other day. In the past nine playoffs, the teams coming off a Wild Card bye are just 21-15 in the divisional round. That .583 winning percentage isn’t much higher than what home teams post in the regular season (bye or no bye). Coming off a bye in 2011, the Packers were crushed by the Giants. The Packers say they just played poorly and weren’t playing well coming down the stretch. If there were a sure-fire way to use the rest but minimize the rust, every team would do it.

As for Dallas’ ball-hogging ability, it’s a good point. I’d think it’s a concern based on this: When the Packers got their you-know-what together for the second half of the season, they won time of possession six times (compared to once in the first half of the season). Green Bay won all six games. Certainly, with 80,000 fans jacked up for the playoffs, playing keep-away will silence the masses.

CHQ: Walk us through the trickle-down effect of moving Clay Matthews inside.. Does he stay there for the majority of the game? How did it change snap counts for the other OLBs and the defensive ends?

PR: Best bye-week adjustment in the league. What had been the last-ranked run defense before the bye blossomed into the fifth-ranked unit during the final eight games. Matthews immediately became the biggest, fastest, toughest and most-instinctive inside linebacker on the roster. He’s also the best cover guy at the position.

Here’s how it works: In the base defense, Green Bay goes with veteran A.J. Hawk and rising second-year player Sam Barrington inside, with Matthews at outside linebacker. In nickel — which is Green Bay’s preferred package — it’s Barrington and Matthews inside. In dime, Matthews has lined up as the lone inside linebacker at times and as a line-of-scrimmage rusher other times. Incredibly, despite having fewer opportunities to rush the passer, Matthews had 8.5 sacks during the second half of the season compared to 2.5 during the first half of the season. The Packers couldn’t have done it without the addition of Julius Peppers. With Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry, Green Bay has the depth at outside linebacker to get that edge-rushing production that Matthews would have provided. The bye certainly will help the 34-year-old Peppers, who played a lot of snaps this season. He’s been terrific; only J.J. Watt has produced more turnover plays (interceptions, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles) this season.

CHQ: The Packers have faced the Rod Marinelli Tampa-2 for years, in Detroit initially and then the last few seasons in Chicago. There’s been more than a few occasions where Marinelli has been able to design a gameplan that kept the potent Packers offense under 24 points (although rarely in a winning situation). What have been the difficulties the Packers O has seen in trying to find holes in the zone, what has semi-worked against them?

PR: It’s why the Tampa-2 scheme has passed the test of time. Bend but don’t break. Eliminate big plays. Let the other team screw up. Field goals, not touchdowns. It’s not like it’s anything magical.

This is going to be a red-zone game because I don’t see Dallas having much success stopping Rodgers between the 20s. But what happens inside the 20? Against Tampa Bay’s Tampa-2 scheme in Week 16, the Packers had 431 yards but only 20 points as they went 1-of-4 in the red zone. Against Detroit’s Cover-2 scheme in Week 17, the Packers had 377 yards but scored 30 points as they went 3-of-4 in the red zone.

CHQ: Name me three unsung heroes that when we’re watching the game, could be a surprise source of indigestion for Cowboys fans.

PR: Offensively, it’s rookie tight end Richard Rodgers. This offense runs through Aaron Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb and Lacy but Rodgers caught five passes (in five targets) against Detroit. If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have faith in you, you’re not getting the ball. Five passes in a big game shows faith. He’s slow — he’ll tell you as much — but he knows how to get open and use his big body to wall off the linebacker.

Defensively, I’m not sure how much people know about defensive tackle Mike Daniels. He’s really the driving force of the defensive line. He’s as strong as an ox and is an excellent pass rusher. If Dallas is going to run the ball like it has all season, it’s going to have to keep Daniels out of the backfield. Also, Micah Hyde. He’s been the Packers’ nickel corner for most of the season. He’s got a knack for making plays and is a good run defender, which will be critical in this game. Plus,had he amassed enough runbacks, he would have led the NFL in punt return yardage.

CHQ: Bonus Question, give us a final score prediction.

PR: Packers 30, Cowboys 20

Many thanks to Bill Huber of PackerReport for giving us some of his time.

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