Packers - Cowboys Preview & Prediction

The Packers' spread offense should provide a stiff test for a Cowboys defense whose biggest vulnerability is considered to be defending the deep pass.

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:30 ET

GAMEDATE: 11/29/07

SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass

TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers' spread offense should provide a stiff test for a Cowboys defense whose biggest vulnerability is considered to be defending the deep pass. In fact, Dallas started its Thanksgiving Day game with three corners and SS Roy Williams on the sideline. Favre utilizes a lot of slants and screens to keep the Packers' second-ranked passing game moving, but WR Greg Jennings has emerged as the deep threat Dallas should be most concerned about. ... The Cowboys will see more man-to-man coverage than they're used to, with Packers CB Al Harris expected to shadow WR Terrell Owens in a matchup of two of the game's best players at their respective positions. Green Bay needs its cover men to hold up, because their depleted defensive line needs all the resources it can muster to contain Dallas' running game. Look for the Cowboys to come out running the ball significantly in an effort to set up shots downfield for QB Tony Romo.

KEY INJURIES: Packers: Woodson (toe) and DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (knee/ankle) could be game-time decisions; FS Nick Collins (knee) is practicing and could return after missing three games. Cowboys: WR Patrick Crayton (ankle) is expected to return after missing a game; CB Anthony Henry (ankle) will continue to work in the nickel package.

FAST FACTS: Romo has tied Danny White's 1983 single-season franchise record of 29 TD passes. ... In his past five games, Favre has completed 73.6 percent of his passes for 1,641 yards, 13 TDs and two INTs. ... Either team would clinch a playoff spot with a victory. The Cowboys would win the NFC East if the Giants also lose; the Packers the NFC North if the Lions also lose.

PACKERS PERSONNEL NEWS: --DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is no better than questionable to play Thursday night at Dallas. The pass-rush specialist suffered a game-ending sprained ankle in the second quarter at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. He didn't practice this week and did only rehab work on the field Tuesday.

--FS Nick Collins has the green light to return to the starting lineup after missing the last three games because of a sprained knee. Collins was a full-time participant in practice this week.

--S Aaron Rouse, who was Collins' starting replacement, is considered questionable for the game. He sustained a sprained knee and missed most of the second half of the last game. He was limited in practice Tuesday.

--RT Mark Tauscher did little in practice this week but is aiming to make the start Thursday. Tauscher aggravated a sprained ankle at Detroit and was pulled out of the game for the final quarter.

--TE Bubba Franks, who was in line to return to game action for the first time since suffering a sprained knee against Washington on Oct. 14, had a setback at the end of practice Monday. That kept him out Tuesday and leaves his availability for Thursday up in the air.

--CB Will Blackmon apparently passed the test of three straight practices this week and could be activated Thursday. Blackmon had been sidelined since suffering a broken foot in practice in early October.

--RB Ryan Grant is on the injury report because of a sore ankle, but he went the full practice Tuesday and is expected to make the start in the game.

--DT Justin Harrell will be activated for only the third time. This year's first-round draft pick is being pressed into service as the No. 3 tackle, with Johnny Jolly (strained shoulder) out for at least another game and Colin Cole (broken arm) on injured reserve.

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: --WR Patrick Crayton said he is good to go for Thursday's game against the Packers. He is not fully healed from the sprained ankle that kept him out of last Thursday's game against the Jets but he is healthy enough to play. Crayton will not take any pain killers before the game. He said the ankle feels better when he gets warmed up.

--LB Bradie James is having a Pro Bowl season. At least that is the opinion of coach Wade Phillips. James leads the team with 96 tackles and is the team's vocal and inspirational defensive captain.

--CB Anthony Henry will continue to come off the bench as a nickel corner as he remains slowed by a high-ankle sprain that kept him out of three games earlier this season.

--CB Roy Williams has no complaints about a defensive package that takes him off the field when the opposing team goes with three receivers. The Cowboys put cornerback Anthony Henry in the game, leaving three cornerbacks to go along with free safety Ken Hamlin. The package led to Williams' streak of 90 straight starts coming to an end against the Jets last Thursday.

"Whatever needs to be done to help the team win, I'm all for," Williams said.

INSIDE THE PACKERS CAMPS: As much as the Packers are running the football with greater frequency and with far greater productivity than earlier in the season, Brett Favre isn't quibbling with a perfect imbalance.

The way Favre sees it, in what's shaping up to be his most proficient season in a 17-year pro career, Green Bay has more than enough ammunition to win a shootout at the Texas Stadium corral on Thursday night because of a pass-first premise. What strikes Favre is the radical philosophy initiated by head coach Mike McCarthy evolves by the week.

"We really haven't found our identity, to a certain extent," Favre acknowledged days before the 10-1 Packers visit 10-1 Dallas, "in that do we want to be an I-formation running team; do we want to be a balanced I-running passing, keep passes, movement-type stuff team; or do we want to go into a four-wides or five-wides package?

"I've gone into every game kind of in limbo with that -- what do we end up in, what do we hang our hat on? But, up to this point what we're doing, for the most part, has worked."

What's really appealed to Favre of late is having a luxury of sorts to start offensive play after offensive play from the shotgun formation. Despite the post-bye emergence of Ryan Grant, who has three 100-yard rushing games, Green Bay has been reliant on the pass 58.5 percent of the time in the last five outings.

That almost parallels the rate of 59 percent by which Favre is throwing the football out of the shotgun in the same five-game stretch. Of the 178 passes he's made in his exhilarating stretch with five straight performances of 100-plus passer rating, Favre has thrown 105 taking the snap in the backfield.

"I think part of that is aging," the 38-year-old reasoned. "It's a lot easier to take a drop from shotgun than it is from under center. There's no doubt you see better from back there and you can get the ball out quicker.

"(With) our receivers, get 'em the ball. If we can throw one 40 yards and catch it, great. But, if you can throw it at the line of scrimmage and get 10, that's outstanding. That sure makes it a lot easier on a quarterback."

Further proof of how efficient the Green Bay offense is when Favre can get the ball out quickly was in the pudding at Detroit last Thursday. Aided by the head start afforded from riding shotgun, Favre delivered 18 of the throws in his team-record completion streak of 20 in that formation. The Packers ran 13 straight plays out of the shotgun from the end of the first half into the third quarter.

"To me, you weigh, 'OK, line up in an I-scheme, an outside zone run play versus you line up in five wide receivers, you throw it to Donald Driver at the line of scrimmage, he's going to get you a guaranteed five yards,' I go with Donald Driver," Favre said. "When you throw it to those guys underneath and they make the plays that they're making, it's hard to pass it up."

For the game last week, Favre was 22 of 28 for 276 yards with two touchdowns starting from the shotgun.

Covering the most recent five games, eight of Favre's 13 touchdown passes are out of the shotgun. The initial cushion he gains from the defensive rush has left him sacked only three times. What's more, his decision-making has been nearly precise, with only two interceptions and none in his last 132 attempts.

"If it's working, keep rolling with it," receiver Greg Jennings said.

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: The big game is here.

The Cowboys and Packers game is the first time two 10-1 teams have met since 1990. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones calls it the biggest game at Texas Stadium since the two teams met in the 1996 NFC Championship Game.

"Green Bay is intimidating to me," Jones said. "What this game is about is to get back here in January. It's a big one. There is a difference between playing in Dallas and playing in Green Bay in January."

The Cowboys have won only one playoff game since that magical season, which was the last time they made to the Super Bowl. And if the Cowboys are going to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1996, beating the Packers on Thursday would be a huge step in that direction.

"People love football, but when you see two organizations with great history, old-school football teams with great records that are going to play each other, that is a great thing," linebacker Greg Ellis said.

The winner of the game gets the inside track to home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Remember the Ice Bowl? Well, the Cowboys would prefer not to.

"If it's bad weather up there and they can't throw it and they have to go with their running game, that wouldn't be too bad," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "But, yeah, you'd rather play at home. That's the big thing. The crowd, the motivation factor."

A Cowboys victory against the Packers would also clinch them a playoff spot. A Cowboys victory and a loss by the Giants on Sunday would clinch them the NFC East title. Right now, all the Cowboys care about is taking care of business against the Packers on Sunday.

"We know this next game is, at this point in the season, certainly the biggest game in the NFC so far," Phillips said. "And we know the challenges, Brett Favre and all those things. But we're looking forward to it."

What he's not looking forward to is Favre having a typically huge performance.

"The thing I'm most concerned with is their passing game," Phillips said. "Favre can light you up, and he's done it through the years."

PREDICTION: Cowboys 34-27

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