PackersReport: The Packers have long been one of the better road teams in the league but what Dallas did this year is remarkable in going 8-0. Anything you can point your finger on that might impact Sunday’s game?
CowboysHQ: It's a strange feeling to point to these things as a Cowboys writer, but I'd have to say the intangibles. Of course, being able to run on any and everybody makes a huge difference. It's completely changed the philosophy of the offensive coaching staff who previously would try to take what the defense gives them as opposed to imposing their will on the game. However the singular focus of this team is what has given them their magic on the road. It sounds hokey, I know, but the will of this team is extraordinary. For years we've seen them come back from deficits (Tony Romo leads the league in game-winning drives over the last three seasons), but the belief every player shows in each other to do their jobs intensifies when they seclude themselves in a road environment.They live to quiet opposing crowds.
CHQ: Strength. Physical and mental strength. A lot of outsiders, as well as insider media that like to fan flames, see Dez's sideline antics and demonstrative ways and flock to negative connotations. However, when listening to his actual words, nine times out of 10 Dez is violently spewing words of encouragement and belief in him and his teammates to perform at an elite level.
There probably isn't a player as passionate about football as Dez Bryant is, and at a position filled with diva-types, that love of the game means a lot. Combine that with the fact that Dez is one of the stronger receivers in the game. Strong arms to fight off jams. Strong hands to secure catches at various catch points despite defender's best efforts. Strong core to fight off would-be-tacklers. Strong trash-talk game to get under the skin of opponents. Dez used to talk himself out of his own game, but he's learned to control his emotions to the point where he dictates the relationship with the corner covering him in most instances.
PR: Defensively, the Cowboys couldn’t stop Matt Flynn — much less Aaron Rodgers — last year. The names on the backs of the jerseys don’t impress you. Their pass rush is one of the worst in the league. Nonetheless, that’s a pretty good defense. Why? And who tries to handle Randall Cobb in the slot?
CHQ: Let's be honest, you can't stop Matt Flynn, you can only hope to contain him. I floated the idea in Week 4, and it has grown since... the team is in a much better mental state now that DeMarcus Ware is gone. Of course they miss his HOF-worthy pass rush and edge setting, but his uber-friendly attitude set the pace for the team. Now, the pitbulls own the locker room, and they have an aggressive, pack mentality that oozes toughness. The first change was that Dallas transformed into an offense that wasn't trotting the defense back onto the field after three and outs with barely any time elapsing on the game clock.
The ball control offense the Cowboys employ give Rod Marinelli and the defense time to adjust on the sidelines to what the opposition is succeeding in doing. The defense in most second halves down the stretch have been stiffling. The second change happened as the year went on, the rotations along the defensive line started working. What has been the case all year though, Dallas swarms to the ball and are sure tacklers. They have hitters that have done so without getting the bogus penalties. Rolando McClain is a hit stick waiting to happen, as is safety J.J. Wilcox.
Earlier in the year, Dallas was mounting up the pressure numbers but never getting home. Now, they are. Since week 10, Dallas has 13 second-half sacks, one more than Green Bay has totaled in that span over the same number of games. They are creating turnovers as Marinelli is most famous for. They were second in the league with 31 before they got 3 against Detroit in the Wild Card game. Over the last month of the season, they gave up less than 20 points per game and less than 330 yards per game; both good enough for Top 10 status.
Our best corner is Orlando Scandrick who is a slot by trade although he now works the outside as well. He and Sterling Moore form a great duo as slot guys and will get the task of staying with Randall Cobb. Neither has allowed a touchdown pass on the year, but as the scheme dictates they do give up their fair share of catches in an effort to keep all plays in front of them. Minimizing Cobb's YAC will be a huge test.
PR: Green Bay’s special teams have been brutal. No. 31 in my rankings. Dallas is No. 10. Special teams were huge all through Wild Card Weekend. Can you give us a scouting report?
CHQ: Save for his very rare miss on Sunday, Dan Bailey is the league's best kicker. I nicknamed him "Split'Em" three years ago as not only does he lead the NFL in career accuracy, almost each of his kicks literally splits the uprights right down the middle. It's uncanny. Over the last half of the season, he's also flashed an ability to master the well-placed kickoff. He teased a backwards-bounce kick against the Giants earlier in the year, then used it to open the game against Philadelphia that resulted in the longest intentional onside kick recovery ever. The next week he completed a perfect onside kick in the second quarter against Washington. Last week, he hit a pop-up that allowed Dallas to pin Detroit inside their 10 on a kick that wasn't bobbled. ST coach Steve Bisaccia is a master at learning the return tendencies of a team and using it at strategic moments.
CJ Spillman is a mad man on coverage and is almost always the first man down the field.. most importantly at great angles. Our returner, Dwayne Harris, has been a shell of what he was in the return game in 2013, but over the second half of the season has shed the indecisiveness that was infuriating Cowboys fans. He hasn't broken a big one that stood (one was called back) but he is very dangerous. The weak spot is our punter, Chris Jones. The only reason he isn't upgraded each year is because he's the holder for the placekicks and Bailey is very comfortable with him. Dallas has allowed kicks to be blocked when players are playing outside of their normal roles, but entering the game the ST unit is pretty much what it should be.
PR: Are you buying or selling Tony Romo in a divisional playoff game in his home state against Aaron Rodgers? He certainly came through in the clutch against Detroit after a fairly mediocre game.
CHQ: Buying. Romo is simply in a zone unmatched by any other quarterback when he's on the road this season. 8-0 record, 20 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Over 70% completion percentage, he's just five inches shy of averaging a first down on every throw (9.84 Y/A). He's 11-1 on Sundays, which normally you'd scoff at, except Romo needs to take a Torodol shot before every game in order to manage his back pain. That can only be taken once a week, so getting Sunday matchups is vital for this team.
In fact, the Cowboys are now 13-0 under a "healthy" Romo on the year. He wasn't himself Week One, obviously. They lost the game he broke his back (Washington) and the subsequent one started by Brandon Weeden. The Thanksgiving game was the only one all season he couldn't take his shot and he folded at the nearest sign of a pass rush and threw off his back foot all night. When he's right, he isn't losing. And now, he's shown that he will not be rattled by the fierce pass rush, because what Detroit did in that first half was phenomenal... yet he shook it off, remained calm and executed a textbook comeback. In addition, look at Romo's track record. He has a habit of making stars out of lesser talents. Look at what he's doing with a body-catcher like Terrance Williams. Look what he did with Laurent Robinson, Miles Austin. Heck, even Terrell Owens had some of the best years of his career with Romo as his quarterback. He's made Jason Witten a Hall of Famer. This just seems like it's Romo's time to ascend to "that" level in the national conversation, and the way he talks shows that he believes it as well. And because he believes, his teammates believe.