Trap Game? Not With That Talent

Green Bay expects the ultra-talented Cowboys to come out fighting for Sunday night's matchup. Dallas, a preseason favorite to host the Super Bowl, is 1-6 with a roster that had nine Pro Bowl players last season. What's gone wrong?

The irony wasn't lost on Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

At 3-3 and coming off of back-to-back overtime losses, he and his players were being kicked while they were down. They wouldn't beat the Minnesota Vikings. They wouldn't beat the New York Jets.

Two wins later and with the Dallas Cowboys coming into town on Sunday night with a stunning 1-6 record, McCarthy was asked if he had to guard against this being a "trap game."

"How fast it turns," McCarthy said with a look of amusement.

Dallas' season might be over — even in the weakened NFC, they'd have to go 8-1 the rest of the way to have a chance at the postseason. Still, the Cowboys sent nine players to the Pro Bowl last year, won a playoff game last year and entered this season with a three-year record of 33-15.

So, based purely on talent, this isn't exactly the "bye" before next week's bye week.

"This is no trap game," McCarthy continued. "Last week, we had no chance to win it and now it is a trap game. There is none of that, I can promise you that, just the way we practiced and the way we approached our meeting today. We are playing a very talented football team. The same message that I gave the team last Wednesday was ‘trust the film' when we were preparing for the Jets and ‘trust your preparation.' It's no different this week. There is a lot of productivity on the Dallas Cowboys' film. There are a lot of good players. Things may not have gone the right way if you want to point to their record, but we're looking for a knockdown, drag-out game here on Sunday night."

With a star-studded lineup, many experts thought the Cowboys would be the first team in NFL history to host the Super Bowl.

Outside of injured quarterback Tony Romo, the other Pro Bowlers return. Receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten remain focal points of the offense. Gigantic Leonard Davis is a mauling guard and Andre Gurode, another mauler, is a two-time All-Pro center. Jay Ratliff is an undersized, playmaking nose tackle. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is tied for second in the NFL in sacks. Terence Newman remains an upper-echelon cornerback. Fellow corner Mike Jenkins, however, has regressed and leads the league in pass interference penalties.

Nonetheless, only one team has fewer wins than the Cowboys — winless Buffalo.

"Absolutely, man," Witten, in a conference call, said when asked if he figured Dallas would be 6-1 rather than 1-6. "Yeah, obviously, it's been so disappointing and frustrating. It's like a bad dream here. You can't get out of it. I think we started 0-2 and then you come off the bye and you get a win. It just seems like it snowballed on us from there. It's tough to overcome. It's three, four plays here or there in each game. Obviously, it's not what we expected but I don't think there's anybody that's going to quit fighting in this group."

Despite being colossal disappointments, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said he will not fire coach Wade Phillips. Nonetheless, the heat is on. Do a Google search for the coach, and the second non-news choice is FireWadePhillips.com.

"Sure, we (he and Jones) talk every day and all the time," Phillips said in his conference call. "I'm disappointed for Jerry because I think we have better players than we have, than we're playing. But, you know, it happens every year unfortunately — and I didn't think it would happen to us — but teams that win their division, even teams that go to the Super Bowl, don't play as well the next year for whatever reason. We've got to find out those reasons and turn it around."

Like with the Packers' struggling offense, Philips and Witten said those reasons are varied. Phillips is using a back-to-training-camp approach this week, with a focus on fundamentals. It's a stunning fall from a team that destroyed the Eagles in a wild card game and entered this season onboard with the Super Bowl hype.

"Every year's a new year, but you go to the second round of the playoffs, you feel like we're going to build on this and this football team is going to come back and be stronger because of it and the first playoff win in a long time and all that stuff," Witten said. "I think we all knew that, ‘Hey, you just don't pick up where you left off.' At the same time, I think we really thought we had a group of guys that are going to work really hard and be successful. That's been tough and it seems like it snowballed on us. There's not one play or one person that you point to, it's just been a group effort that we haven't executed and played (well enough) to win games. That's been the tough part."

What the Cowboys still do well is throw the ball, regardless of who's at quarterback. Jon Kitna threw for 379 yards against the Jaguars, and he's surrounded by arguably the NFL's most-gifted group of pass-catchers with Austin, resurgent Roy Williams, star rookie Dez Bryant and the sure-handed Witten.

"If you look at their record, you'd be fooling yourself to think those guys are going to come here and lay down," said cornerback Tramon Williams. "We're expecting those guys to come in here and play like the talent we know they have on that team."

After last week's loss to Jacksonville, Phillips intimated that the team had quit. He backtracked on that on Wednesday, saying he had a good group of guys that have kept fighting. And in turn, Witten said the players respect Phillips and there's "no question" they want to play for him.

But will the Super Bowl-contending Cowboys make the trip for Sunday night's game and put up a fight?

"It's a great opportunity for us," Phillips said. "Dallas I don't think has done well in Green Bay, so we're going against a lot of things and things aren't going well for us right now. We can turn it all around right now. This is the biggest game of the year for us. We're going to approach it that way."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


Packer Report Top Stories