Lambeau Field is one of the toughest venues in professional sports for a visiting team to navigate when facing the Green Bay Packers. The crowd is raucous, the conditions are often wet (complete with a slick turf), and Aaron Rodgers -- before this season, anyway -- plays on another level. But the Dallas Cowboys are no strangers to that environment.
As every Cowboys fan will remember, in 2014, Dallas was a controversial non-catch (that was a catch) away from defeating the Packers and moving on to the NFC Championship Game, where they would have faced a Seattle team that they had already defeated once on their own field. Granted, that was a team with a veteran quarterback in Tony Romo, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year at running back in DeMarco Murray, and the always dangerous 88 at full health and playing his best football.
Things are obviously a bit different this year. Dallas will be trotting out rookies at both quarterback and running back, La’el Collins is out for the year, and Tyron Smith isn’t 100-percent healthy. As you can see in the video above, the NFL world is obsessed with one of those issues -- QB.
But perhaps more importantly, Dez Bryant, one of the NFL’s most dangerous and dominant pass catchers, figures to be be sidelined once again today due to his knee injury.
But even without Bryant, the Cowboys are certainly capable of pulling out a win in front of the Cheeseheads. They will have to be at their best, and play mistake-free football, but there are a few more factors that will decide whether or not Dallas will leave Wisconsin 5-1, or 4-2.
So how can they Do it? Let’s take a look
FORCE TURNOVERS. Dallas has been an opportune team when it comes to forcing the opposition into mistakes. But in total numbers? Through five games this season, the Cowboys have only forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumble recoveries), which ranks near the bottom of the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers usually doesn’t throw interceptions at home, but he did manage to turn it over twice through the air last week against an aggressively average Giants secondary. Truthfully, Rodgers hasn’t taken care of the ball as well as he usually does all year long. He’s already thrown three picks, and fumbled the ball three times this season, so if the Cowboys can continue that trend, it will be a major help to Dak and the offense.
GET AFTER A-RODGE. Another area in which Dallas has struggled this season -- in terms of big numbers: getting pressure on the quarterback. Dallas ranks near the bottom of the NFL with just 10 sacks, and hasn’t been able to get a consistent threat on opposing QB’s all season. The addition of DeMarcus Lawrence back into the fray last week however, gave Dallas a much-needed boost in that area. The Cowboys need to put pressure on Rodgers if they are going to force him to make any mistakes, and they most definitely cannot let a guy like him sit back in the pocket all day and pick them apart. Pressure Rodgers isn’t a simple feat because of his escapeability and awareness, but it is a necessary risk if they want to be successful at Lambeau on Sunday. ... Oh, and yet there is this: The Cowboys think Rodgers is at his most dangerous when he's flushed from the pocket.
FEED ZEKE THE ROCK. When the Cowboys are at their best, they have a dominant rushing attack. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott has taken full advantage of having the best offensive line in football, and currently sits atop the league in rushing. Through five games, Elliott has amassed 546 yards and five touchdowns on 109 carries, which is good for 5.0 yards-per-carry. The Cowboys have always been at their best when they run the ball well, and they have done that in there four wins. Owning the time of possession and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field will be a major key in this deciding the outcome of this game. ... and Zeke might be as much of an "every-down back'' today as he's been all year.
The Packers currently rank as the No. 1 defense in the NFL this season against the run, giving up just two yards-per-carry and 42.8 yards per game on the ground. Those stats might be a bit skewed, considering the best rushing team they have faced this season is the Detroit Lions, but you can’t fault them for their competition. With the Cowboys coming into the game ranked as the top rushing offense in the league to this point, something is to going to have to give one way or the other.
PROTECT THE FOOTBALL. Green Bay ranks near the bottom of the NFL in takeaways this season, tied with the Bears, Dolphins, and Seahawks for 26th in the NFL with just five take aways. The Cowboys meanwhile, have only turned the ball over three times this season, which is has them tied with Atlanta and Oakland for fourth best in the NFL in that category. If Dak can stay interception-free, and the Cowboys can avoid a giving the ball away on a fumble, their chances at success will increase exponentially. Winning the turnover battle is always a big key in any football game, but doing it on the road in a hostile environment with a rookie quarterback, will make it even more important.
WIN THE EXPLOSIVE PLAYS. Green Bay is known for explosive plays on offense in the passing game. With players like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams on the outside, A-Rodge has plenty of guys to hit for big plays. ... though they've done little of that so far this year. Without Dez Bryant, Dallas will have to find their explosive plays somewhere else on the field, such as through Terrance Williams, or a big return from Lucky Whitehead. If the Cowboys can limit the explosive plays from Green Bay’s receivers and get a couple of them to go their own way, it will pay huge dividends towards the outcome of the game. And for Dallas to "get explosive'' here, Dak might have to make some vertical throws and some outside-the-numbers throws.
Even if the Cowboys manage to do these five things at Lambeau this Sunday, beating the Packers at home will be an enormous task, as it would be for any team in the NFL. But the Cowboys have as good a chance as anyone else considering the way they’ve been playing over the course of this young season, so with a little bit of luck and solid execution, anything can happen. ... even when Dez reduces to the role of sideline cheerleader today.null