10: Matt Cassel's rank for passer rating on third down -- The mid-season replacement for not only backup Brandon Weeden but Tony Romo as well has put together a 98.6 passer rating on third down. Unfortunately, the results of extended drives have not been reflected by this number.
Converting 33.3 percent of third downs (18/54) puts the Cassel-led Cowboys offense at 11th-worst in the league. Last week, Dallas was 1/9 on third downs and 4/13 in Cassel's last start against the Buccaneers before Romo's return. Cassel will have to find ways to keep the offense moving on third downs to help keep drives alive and also one of the best quarterbacks in the business off the field.
It's not terribly cold in Green Bay right now but it's going to be rainy and windy, and the tarp has been on the field all morning. We're about to find out whether Cassel's failures include the inability to throw a wet ball.
9: The Packers rushing offense's rank for yards per carry -- At 4.3 yards per carry through 12 games in 2015, Green Bay has developed a balanced attack to compensate for the stunted performance in the passing game. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli told our Mike Fisher that the key to stopping Aaron Rodgers was stopping the run: "You've got to stop the run. You have to. Because now if you don't, you're struggling. Play-action pass and everything is going to get you." The Cowboys defense ranks 14th in the NFL at giving up 4.0 yards per carry a game. Since the Tampa Bay game on Nov. 15, Dallas has not surrendered 100 rushing yards to a team except for the Carolina disaster on Thanksgiving, which was even then just 129 total yards. The Cowboys have proven they can stop the run, but they have to prove it again to make Green Bay one-dimensional.
Eddie Lacy's been in the Green Bay doghouse lately. They'll let him out today.
8: Number of passes defended for Byron Jones -- The rookie defensive back has done it all this year for the Cowboys from playing slot, covering tight ends, playing cornerback, and dropping as a safety. Dallas will need another mature performance from the first-rounder as he more than likely will shadow Packers tight end Richard Rodgers. Aside from catching desperation heaves to win games, Rodgers has been one of the quarterback's favorite targets this year. Rodgers is second to receiver Randall Cobb with 48 receptions on the year and also tied with Cobb for most touchdowns with six apiece. Jones will have his work cut out for him with Rodgers.
7: Green Bay's rank in offensive pass interference calls against -- When you think of the Packers offense, pick-plays and back-shoulder fades come to mind. Through 12 games this season, the Packers have only amassed two offensive pass interference calls. Just because the officials have failed to catch Green Bay running pick-plays doesn't mean they won't stop this afternoon at Lambeau Field. Just like their Mavericks counterparts in the NBA, the Cowboys have to fight through the picks and limit the Packers receivers from making any big plays. Seattle and Philadelphia ran pick-plays against the Cowboys this season to get the yards necessary on the drives that mattered. Dallas has to be ready again for these plays that skirt the lines of legality.
More on the officiating below ...
6: Green Bay's rank in fewest points off takeaways -- It's hard to imagine that the pairing of a Capers defense to a Super Bowl MVP quarterback would only yield 30 points off takeaways, the sixth-fewest in the NFL, but that is exactly the situation in Titletown. Dallas caught a break last week as Washington only scroed three points off three of the offense's turnovers. Sadly, the reality with Cowboys quarterback play this season, Romo included, is they are due to give the defense a turnover. Odds are Cassel is going to pad someone on the Packers' stats with either a fumble or an interception or two. If the Dallas defense can't get turnovers of their own, then it is incumbent they force Green Bay to live up to their fewest points off takeaways ranking, which averages out to two points per takeaway.
5: The Packers defense's rank for sack percentage -- Dom Capers has his defense still playing up to their reputation, and the harassing of opposing passers hasn't let up. Green Bay sacks the quarterback on 7.2 percent of their dropbacks, good for fifth-best in the NFL. For sacks overall, the Packers are tied with the Lions for seventh place with 33 apiece. Father Time has yet to catch up to outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who leads Green Bay with seven sacks on the year. Trailing him is the formidable Clay Matthews at 4.5 and defensive tackle Mike Daniels. The Cowboys offensive line has given up 25 sacks on the year, tied with Pittsburgh for 14th-best in the league. The Cowboys offense is 3-4 when their passer gets sacked two or fewer times, and the Packers are similarly 2-4 when they can't get to the quarterback.
4: Dallas' rank for lowest red zone TD percentage -- The number is 44.1 percent. Not only do the Cowboys need to book as many trips to the red zone as possible today at Lambeau Field, but they also need to punch their ticket to the end zone whenever they get there. As much as we love Dan Bailey, his 25/26 field goal mark this year is as much a testament to the decline in effectiveness of the Cowboys offense as it is his superhuman accuracy. In 2014, Dallas was second in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage at 64.9. If the Cowboys make trips to the red zone at Lambeau Field, they have to come away with more than field goals as souvenirs.
And CHQ is reporting that additional weaponry may be in play ..
But here are the inactives, with Butler not quite making the cut ...
3: Average number of sacks Green Bay has surrendered in the past six games -- The first six games of the season, during the Packers' 6-0 start, Rodgers was getting dropped 1.8 times a game. Now, the mean has ballooned to an even three times a game, a contributing factor in their 2-4 slide. Green Bay's 18 sacks since Week Seven puts them as the eighth-most in that span. Along with Minnesota, they are the only teams in the top-10 to hold a winning record. The numbers bear out as well. In that span, when Rodgers was dropped three-plus times, the Packers were 1-3. That lone win was last week's Hail Mary game in Detroit.
All of this explains two of Dallas' offseason moves.
2: Rodgers' rank for fewest interceptions this year -- Even though Rodgers has yet to crack 100-plus in passer rating this year, he is still characteristically careful with the football, only throwing five interceptions through 12 games, tied with Tom Brady for the second-fewest in the league. Add in the fact that the Packers offense as a whole has only lost four fumbles all year, good for third-fewest, and you have an offense that doesn't give you very many chances. A dropped pick could be the only opportunity the Cowboys defense has at a takeaway this afternoon. Therefore, more than ever, Dallas has to claim possession of any batted or loose balls to tilt the field for their offense and also keep one of the league's best passers off his home field.
You can hear more from me as I expound on that with "The Daily Dos" on 1430 The Buzz in Tulsa.
1: The Cowboys' rank in false starts -- Dallas leads the league with 23 false starts and right tackle Doug Free is sitting ugly on top with eight. Along with that, Dallas is second in the league with pre-snap penalties with 25. Beating Green Bay in December where head coach Mike McCarthy is 17-3 is hard enough playing good football. A penalty-laden performance will only make the challenge harder and less attainable.
The Cowboys today need the officiating to not "lean against them,'' as Cowboys Nation -- and Dez Bryant himself -- believe was the case in the playoffs here last Jan. 11. Check out Dez' visit with Fish on this subject and much, much more, here.