World’s Best Preview: Stars Shine on Offenses

Aaron Rodgers vs. Tony Romo. Eddie Lacy vs. DeMarco Murray. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb vs. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. There will be no shortage of offensive firepower on the field for Sunday's Divisional playoff game. Plus, perfection vs. perfection, the Cowboys' interesting game-plan dilemma, beating the Cowboys' stretch play and much more in the best preview anywhere. Guaranteed.

The schemes are different but the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are mirror images of sorts offensively heading into their NFC Divisional Playoffs showdown at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers’ career passer rating of 106.0 is the best in NFL history. Tony Romo ranks second at 97.6.

Romo’s passer rating of 113.2 topped the charts this season. Rodgers was second at 112.2.

Rodgers’ touchdown to interception ratio of 7.6-to-1 led the NFL by a mile. Romo was a distant second at 3.8-to-1.

Romo and Rodgers led the NFL with seven games with a rating of 120-plus.

Rodgers had a league-high eight games with three-plus touchdown passes. Romo had seven.

Against the blitz, Rodgers led the league with a 130.4 rating and tied for the lead with 15 touchdown passes. Romo was third with a 117.5 rating and equaled Rodgers’ touchdown tally.

Sunday’s game is a showdown between two of the elite quarterbacks of this season. But if the regular season is about passer rating, the playoffs are about a quarterback’s true rating. Quarterbacks, as Rodgers likes to say, earn their paycheck during the regular season but create their legacy during the playoffs.

Only 11 quarterbacks have won multiple Super Bowl rings as starters. If Rodgers can climb that mountain again, he will have cemented his standing as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game.

As a team, the Packers have played “not good enough” since winning the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, Rodgers said on his weekly radio show with ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde on Tuesday. Rodgers hasn’t played well enough, either. Since throwing nine touchdown passes (plus two more rushing) and two interceptions and averaging 273.5 passing yards in four playoff games in 2010, Rodgers has thrown six touchdown passes (zero rushing), two interceptions and averaged 243.0 passing yards in the last four playoff games. They’ve gone 1-3 in those games, with the one win coming against Minnesota and its backup quarterback, Joe Webb.

“I have high expectations every time I take the field and I think most people do of me, and that’s how I want it,” Rodgers said. “The bar has been set high and nobody’s going to apologize for setting it and I’m not sorry for the bar being up there. I love an expectation of greatness because that’s what I expect of myself every time I take the field, and I know my teammates expect me to play well. I go into the game expecting to play well and excited about the opportunity to be a guy that my teammates can count on.”

To be sure, the 31-year-old Rodgers will have plenty more opportunities to get back on this stage. But with a healthy roster, a balanced offense and an improving defense, it’s quite possible he’ll never again have this good of an opportunity.

“This group seems to be a little hungrier,” Rodgers told an enormous group of reporters surrounding his locker on Wednesday. “We’re a few years now removed from the Super Bowl and there’s a lot of guys who weren’t a part of that run who are big contributors for us. It’s fun to see those guys and their hunger to get there. We have the same drive, I think as a veteran who’s been there. It might be even greater than the young guys who don’t realize how special these times can be.”

For Romo, the lack of playoff success is the one hole in his resume. He’s started 123 regular-season games, with his 75-48 record matching Hall of Famer Troy Aikman at the same point in their careers. Sunday’s playoff victory over Detroit, however, was just the fifth postseason game (and second win) of Romo’s career.

“I’m not into reflecting on those things at the moment,” Romo said in a conference call this week. “We’ll look at that when the season’s over and evaluate all that stuff. I’m a better version of myself then I was in years past, and I’m excited about the trend that’s continuing to go on that route.”

Romo, fair or not, has been a lightning rod throughout his career. With three first-round picks blocking for NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray, and with an elite receiver and tight end, Romo’s never had this kind of supporting cast. He will turn 35 in April and has a history of back problems. This might be his last best chance to win a championship.

“I think he’s played really well throughout his career for us,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a conference call. “He’s just a really, really good quarterback who’s played this game at a really high level for a long time. He has the ability to make a ton of plays. Within this system, sometimes it breaks down and he can make plays. It’s something we’ve counted on to be the leader of our offense and the leader of our team for a number of years now.

The Running Backs

— Look up the term “workhorse” in a new dictionary, and you might find a picture of Murray. Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards — almost 500 yards more than runner-up Le’Veon Bell. He had a huge workload with 392 carries — 80 more than LeSean McCoy. It was the seventh-most carries in NFL history.

Perhaps the burden took its toll on Murray. He rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the first eight games and never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry. In the nine games since, he had “only” four 100-yard games and was held to 3.9 yards or less four times.

Impressively, he suffered a broken left hand against Philadelphia, an injury that required surgery. He didn’t miss a game.

“He’s a really, really tough guy physically and mentally,” Garrett said. “He’s just been really, really impressive coming back from that. He told me right after the game when he did it, and then subsequently on the plane afterward the next day after he had the surgery, that, ‘I’m playing.’ He’s never wavered. He’s got a real determination about him. He’s really a strong-willed guy, and I think you see that in his play.”

Garrett knows a thing or two about tough running backs. When he was a quarterback for the Cowboys, Emmitt Smith was the game’s best runner.

“I don’t like to compare guys, but certainly each of those guys have a great aptitude for playing the game,” Garrett said. “But maybe more than that, their mental and physical toughness is what separates them.”

Look up the term “workhorse” in a year-old dictionary, and you might find a picture of Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy. As a rookie last year, he carried the ball 284 times and caught 35 passes or 319 total touches. Even while having a total of one carry in two games because of a concussion, Lacy had 10 games of 20-plus carries. In a full 16 games this season, Lacy carried the ball 246 times and caught 42 passes for 288 total touches. That’s a 31 fewer times for Lacy to be hit. He had only three games of 20-plus carries.

On a game-to-game basis, Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t worried about Lacy’s touches. In the big picture, though, it was very much on his mind.

“I was very conscious of was his workload during the year, because of what he went through last year,” McCarthy said. “From that, I feel like we’ve hit the target. Eddie, you know, he feels great. You know we wanted him fresh for the playoffs, and he’s there.”

While Murray’s production slipped in the second half of the season, Lacy found his stride. During the final six games of the season, Lacy rushed for 592 yards and averaged 5.1 per carry. Only Denver’s C.J. Anderson (648) and Murray (612) rushed for more yards. He finished the season with 97 yards (6.5 average) and one touchdown vs. Buffalo, 99 yards (5.8 average) and one touchdown vs. Tampa Bay and 100 yards (3.8 average) against Detroit. It was the only 100-yard game of the season allowed by a Lions defense that finished as the ninth-best in NFL history in terms of rushing yards per game.

Lacy enters this game with 146 fewer carries than Murray. Not to mention a week off from absorbing punishment.

It’s not just the reduced workload that’s helped Lacy. Without Rodgers for half of last season, Lacy wore a bull’s-eye every week while running into a stacked box. That’s obviously changed with Rodgers starting and spreading out defenses for all 16 games. It’s also helped Lacy rank second in the league with 2.7 yards per carry after contact.

“Definitely less hits,” he said. “I probably get hit the same, I guess you could say, but it’s not eight, nine guys in the box every time because of our quarterback.”

The Receivers

— While both quarterbacks have ample options in the passing game, they rely heavily on two players. For Rodgers, it’s receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. For Romo, it’s receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

Nelson (98 receptions, 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Cobb (91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns) became the first NFL duo in history with 90-plus receptions, 1,200-plus yards and 12-plus touchdowns apiece.

Their combined production of 189 receptions, 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns represented 54.2 percent of the completions, 63.1 percent of the yards and 65.8 percent of the touchdowns. Among wide receiver duos, only Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson caught a higher percentage of passes, only Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders hauled in a higher percentage of yards and only Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews and Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans caught a higher percentage of touchdown passes.

They were at their best in key situations, tying for third in the league with 24 third-down receptions that they turned into first downs. Among wide receivers, Cobb was fourth and Nelson fifth in yards after the catch.

“A lot of it is just reacting and being the athlete that a lot of us are when you’re playing in the NFL,” Nelson said. “I think ever since you were a kid, you’ve caught a ball and learned how to run and try to avoid tackles and get as far as you can.”

Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and a league-high 16 touchdowns. At 6-foot-2, he’s not a giant. With a 40-yard time in the 4.5-second range, he’s not a burner. His strength and determination are what set him apart.

“First of all, he’s a great player because of his instincts for the game,” Garrett said. “He’s got such a great feel for playing the game. I think that comes out the more you watch him. He’s very natural in so many things he’s asked to do. Maybe more than anything else, it’s his passion for the game and how hard he works at it, how hard he cares about it. I think that also reflects in his play. He certainly has good ball skills, the ability to make plays over his head and really anywhere the ball is near him, he seems to have the capacity to go and get it. He’s a big, strong guy with long arms and big hands and great, natural hands. To me, as much as anything else, it’s his intangibles — his desire, his competitiveness and his passion for the game.”

“He’s a lot more physical when you actually play against him than people think,” Romo added. “He has a good stop-start, he has a good motor and he just works his butt off. He’s outstanding.”

While it’s easy to point to Atlanta’s Julio Jones ripping the Packers for 11 catches for 259 yards a month ago, the Packers mostly took care of business against No. 1 receivers. Only three wide receivers had a 100-yard game against them all season.

“He’s very good,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said of Bryant. “This guy has great body control. He can go get the ball at the highest point. He’s explosive. If you stay off of him, he can catch the ball on now routes and make you miss and go 50, 60 yards. In the red zone, he’s as good a red-zone receiver as there is in the league because he high-points the ball. He’s very physical, he’s very violent. I don’t think there’s a better red-zone receiver in the league, and that’s not taking anything away from what he does up the field because he’s very, very good up the field, as well.”

Witten, who caught 64 passes for 703 yards, is 13th overall in NFL history with 943 receptions and ranks second in catches and yards (10,502) among tight ends. He is Romo’s go-to guy on third down with 22 conversions. That was evident in the Detroit game last week, when Romo went to Witten for a key fourth-and-6 conversion on the game-winning drive.

“He does it the right way day in and day out,” Romo said. “He’ll be able to play at a really high level for a long time in this league. I feel like he’s the best tight end over the last decade. I think he’s just proven that over and over again. It’s really just his work ethic. No one works harder in the offseason or during the season than this guy and it shows.”

The other sideline

You might have heard that the Cowboys are 8-0 on the road and the Packers are 8-0 at home.

To be sure, the Cowboys didn’t exactly play a bunch of NFL juggernauts in their road games. Seven of the wins came against Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville, the Giants, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. Those teams combined for 36 wins. Only the Eagles, which were 10-6, finished within shouting distance of .500. The eighth win, however, was the eye-opener: 30-23 at Seattle. The Packers, of course, were crushed 36-16 at Seattle a month earlier.

“At the time, I think it just showed you that you can go and beat a good football team on the road,” Romo said.

For Dallas, the ability to line up and run the football is the key. As the saying goes, running the football and playing sound defense is a winning recipe anywhere.

“I think we have a team that’s built for it,” Garrett said. “We’ve developed a physical team here over the last few years. I think we’ve done a good job as an organization drafting those kind of players. I also think we have a mentally tough team. I think we’ve done a good job as an organization drafting those kind of players, and hopefully we’ve done a good job as a coaching staff instilling that in our team. I really do believe that the idea of – what I say to our guys all the time – ‘Home, away, parking lot or moon, you just go play.’ I think that’s really an important concept.”

Romo has been brilliant on the road with 20 touchdowns against only two interceptions. He’s a big reason why the Cowboys are only the sixth team to go 8-0 on the road. They outscored their foes by 11.75 points per game in those eight games. So, Green Bay’s home dominance won’t faze them in the least.

“We just kind of put our head down and go to work,” Romo said. “More than anything, we’re going to run the ball a little bit, we’re going to throw it down the field, we’re going to be aggressive. It’s kind of who we are and what we’ve been doing. We feel comfortable with that plan of attack. We just kind of go out and do it. I don’t know that we really get affected by where we’re playing or who we’re going against and that sort of thing. For us, it’s just been about improving ourselves and getting better and just looking at the big picture and figuring out how to improve and continuing to get better. If you just put your head down and go to work, you just have a good chance to be the best version of yourselves.”

This will be just the third playoff matchup in NFL history between an undefeated home team and an undefeated road team. The others: Chicago at Philadelphia in 1948, with both teams 6-0, and Miami at Pittsburgh in 1972, with both teams 7-0.

In running roughshod at Lambeau, the Packers outscored their opponents by 19.38 points per game. Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home since Dec. 2, 2012, and tossed 24 touchdowns and no interceptions at Lambeau this season. With a 133.2 rating in 2014, 128.5 in 2011 and 126.4 in 2013, he owns the three best single-season home passer ratings in NFL history.

“This is as well-rounded a football team as we’re going to play on both sides of the ball,” Romo said. “When you look at them, you understand that they’re just really, really good at home. Aaron, who’s played outstanding through his whole career, even plays at another level when he’s at home. You sit and watch and you understand he doesn’t turn the ball over. He doesn’t miss people. He throws to the open guy. He does everything you want. It gives them such a good chance to get some big leads on some people early and it makes the game very difficult on a lot of opponents.”

— The Cowboys let future Hall of Fame defender DeMarcus Ware go during the offseason but got better on defense, anyway. In 2013, they ranked 26th in points (27.0), 32nd in yards (415.3), 27th against the run (128.5) and 30th against the pass (286.8). Under new coordinator Rod Marinelli, this year’s unit isn’t quite the Doomsday Defense of the Tom Landry era but it’s vastly improved. The Cowboys finished 15th in points (22.0), 19th in yards (355.1), eighth against the run (103.1) and 26th against the pass (251.9).

“Very well-coached defense,” Rodgers said. “They play really well together. A lot of great players who some of them don’t have the biggest name recognition but they will, because they’re talented guys, they play really well together and they’re very well-coached and it’ll be a tough test.”

Sort of like Green Bay’s defensive meltdown against Atlanta, Dallas’ defense has been strong during the second half of the season with the exception of one bad game against Philadelphia in Week 13. Toss that game out of the equation, and the Cowboys have yielded just 62.5 rushing yards per game the past six games.

“They rally to the ball,” Lacy said. “Whenever you see them make tackles, there are three, four guys getting to the ball. So what we want to do on offense is, whether it’s a pass down the field or a run play, is everybody get to the ball and try to eliminate those third and four defenders that are coming to add onto the tackle.”

The Cowboys finished second with 31 takeaways and tied for ninth with a plus-6 turnover margin. Linebacker Bruce Carter led the team with five interceptions. They'll be challenged to replicate that success against Green Bay. It tied for the league lead with just 14 giveaways and Rodgers threw a league-low five interceptions.

“He’s just a great football player, and he proved that a couple weeks ago when they played Detroit,” Garrett said of Rodgers. “He’s just a fantastic player. He just has a unique way about him playing that position. He just plays it at a very high level, plays with great poise and composure, can make any play that you can imagine on the football field. He’s great from the pocket, he’s great out in space. He just plays the position really, really well.”

— That description sounds a bit like Romo, who isn’t much of a scrambler anymore but knows how to get out of trouble and keep plays alive.

“Tony’s had a great season. He’s played really well,” Rodgers said. “He’s battled through an injury, a significant one with the surgery to his back. He’s a really talented guy and I enjoy watching the film of him playing. He does a great job in the pocket, does some great things out of the pocket as well. He’s had a phenomenal season.”

Romo, who needed disk surgery on his back last season, suffered two fractured transverse process in his back in a midseason game against Washington. He missed the Arizona game, then returned to throw 19 touchdowns against three interceptions in leading Dallas to a 6-1 record in the final seven games.

“You figure out a few things that allow you to throw the football at another level,” Romo said of playing through an injury that requires a weekly painkilling injection. “That was the big thing was just perfecting that craft to the point where you can be deadly when you’re out there on the field where with you’re going to throw the football and from different positions. That’s a big thing. When that adds up with experience and it adds up with your football team getting better, then I think you get to be the best version of yourself.”

— At 5-foot-8, Cole Beasley certainly won’t be the most imposing player on the Cowboys’ roster. However, he caught 37 passes for 420 yards, with 19 receptions and three of his four touchdowns coming in the final five games. Most of his damage came in the slot, where he caught 72.5 percent of the passes thrown his way (fourth in the league among slot receivers).

“He’s a great player,” slot cornerback Casey Hayward said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film on him. He’s one of the harder slot guys to go against for me and Micah (Hyde). He kind of reminds me of the guy from the Patriots, (Julian) Edelman. He’s great coming out of his hips. Beasley might even come out of his hips faster. They use him well and he’s one of (Romo’s) top targets over the last half of the season.”

History lessons

— When these teams met at Dallas in Week 15 of the 2013 season, the Packers trailed 26-3 at halftime. Considering they were 6-6-1 at the time and Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone, the circumstances for the game — and the rest of the season — were dire. The first-half performance was so putrid that McCarthy decided to just start over and run the game plan.

So, on the first play of the second half, the ball went to Lacy, who broke free for a 60-yard gain. That play jump-started a stunning comeback. The Packers won 37-36 to equal their biggest comeback in franchise history.

“That was huge,” Nelson said of Lacy’s run this week. “It might have been the key play of the game, to be honest with you. It was right out of the half, it gave us that momentum, it allowed us to get down there and score right away. The big thing is momentum. People talk all the time about what momentum can do for a team, and that was huge for us.”

Lacy finished with 141 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Matt Flynn, a native of Tyler, Texas, who grew up cheering for the Cowboys, threw for 299 yards and set a franchise record with four second-half touchdown passes.

“One of the high points of my football career,” Flynn said.

That win helped the Packers sneak into the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record. That loss was a crushing defeat for the Cowboys, who wound up finishing 8-8 for the third consecutive year and out of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The vultures were circling around Garrett, who was 22-26 in his first three seasons, and Romo, who had led the team to the playoffs just three times since taking over as the starter in 2006.

“I’ve been in the league long enough to know that just comes with losing football games,” Romo said. “Any time you lose, you’re going to take criticism. That comes with playing football in the National Football League. We came back and won a big game after that game (vs. Green Bay) against Washington that allowed us to have a chance to continue on and go to the playoffs, but I got hurt in that Green Bay game and wasn’t able to finish the season after Washington. That was just part of what happens in the National Football League. That part of it was disappointing, getting hurt, and I think our team responded well from that last year.”

— Rodgers led the Packers to an 8-0 home record. Romo led the Cowboys to an 8-0 road record. Rodgers’ 133.2 passer rating at Lambeau Field was the highest ever for a quarterback at home. Romo’s 121.8 mark away from AT&T Stadium was the fourth-highest ever for a quarterback on the road.

However, neither quarterback has excelled in those settings in the playoffs. Rodgers is 1-2 at home in the playoffs with a modest 238.3 passing yards per game, four touchdowns, one interception and 91.6 rating. Not terrible but not lights-out great for the quarterback with the NFL’s second-highest career postseason rating of 103.6. Romo is 0-2 in career playoff road games with a total of 387 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 76.8 rating.

— Rodgers owns a 2-1 career record against the Cowboys, most recently a 45-7 dismantling of them in 2010. Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception in 135 career attempts against Dallas — the most attempts by any quarterback against the Cowboys without throwing a pick, according to STATS.

And speaking of impressive streaks, Romo owns the record for most consecutive road games with a touchdown pass — 41 and going strong at the end of the regular season. A distant second? John Hadl and Brett Favre are tied with Peyton Manning’s current streak of 32 in a row.

— The Cowboys are making their 31st postseason appearance (tied with Pittsburgh for the most in NFL history) and have 34 playoff victories (most ever). The Packers are making their 30th postseason appearance and are third with 30 playoff victories.

Despite that history, Dallas hasn’t won a playoff road game in a long time. A really, really long time. The last one? The 1992 NFC Championship Game, a 30-20 win behind Aikman’s 322 passing yards. Most famous of all? Jimmy Johnson in the locker room yelling, “How ’bout them Cowboys!”

Noteworthy numbers

— It will be incredibly interesting to see how Marinelli attacks (or doesn’t attack) a wounded Rodgers.

According to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, the Cowboys blitzed on only 23.7 percent of dropbacks this season, the seventh-lowest rate in the league. If you’re Marinelli, it might be risky business to deviate from a long-held defensive philosophy but with a suspect pass rush (29th with a sack rate of 5.02 percent), the outstanding performance of the Packers’ line (nine sacks in final eight games) and Rodgers’ limited mobility, it’s possible he’ll throw the kitchen sink at Rodgers early.

On the other side, the Packers were blitzed 26.4 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. Rodgers led the league in passer rating against the blitz this season (130.4) and since 2008 (110.7), according to STATS.

“We don’t see a lot of blitzes from other teams just because Aaron’s so good against the blitz,” guard T.J. Lang said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see them generate some extra pressure to try to move him around a little bit. I don’t know, we’ll have to see. The way we’ve shown we can block a four-man rush, I don’t know why you wouldn’t try to bring a little bit more on him. But with him it’s kind of pick your poison. Our job is to take care of him and make sure he’s not under any duress back there.”

Bring it on, McCarthy said about the potential of Dallas blitzing more.

“They have pressure in their scheme,” McCarthy said. “It’s not very high, but if you crank something up 10 percent more than your tendency, that’s fine. We’ve always liked playing against pressure. I think if you look at Aaron’s passing rating versus pressure, particularly with his vision and his understanding, anticipation and his ability to get the ball out of his hand, we would welcome pressure.”

— The Cowboys have three first-round picks up front. The Packers’ front wall is made up of fourth-round left tackle David Bakhtiari, fourth-round left guard Josh Sitton, fifth-round center Corey Linsley, fourth-round right guard Lang and first-round right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Nonetheless, Green Bay finished second in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-protection metric, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per passing play. PFF charged only five sacks to the line during the final eight weeks. And the running game averaged 142.1 yards per game and 4.72 yards per carry since the bye.

“It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel,” Bakhtiari said. “We’re just going out and doing the same thing we’ve been doing. The biggest difference is how we’ve been playing consecutive weeks together as an offensive line and we’ve been playing at a high level. We haven’t had a lot of interchanging parts. The continuity has reflected how we’ve been playing.”

— Green Bay features one of the top big-play passing attacks in the league. The Packers finished fifth with 59 receptions of 20-plus yards and tied the Colts with a league-high 15 passing plays of 40-plus yards. Nelson and Cobb by themselves had 43 receptions of 20-plus yards. That’s more than five teams. Dallas allowed the seventh-fewest 20-yard receptions with 45.

“Execution. I think a lot of it starts with the run game and getting that play-action going,” said Nelson, who led the league with five touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards. “It’s getting yards after the catch that we’re able to do once we catch the ball. A lot of it is, I don’t want to say luck, but luck and timing to call the shot plays that we want and be fortunate enough that they’re in the defense that’s made perfect for it. It’s a combination of everything. Just when we get that opportunity, we’re pretty good at executing it and make sure we hit it when we get that chance.”

Speaking of big plays: Since the start of the 2010 season, Romo has thrown 49 touchdown passes to Bryant. That’s tops in the league. Matthew Stafford’s 43 touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson rank second and Rodgers’ 41 scoring tosses to Nelson are third.

— The Packers long have been one of the NFL’s top front-runners and nothing has changed in that regard this season. At Lambeau, at least. In going 8-0 at home this season, the Packers have trailed for just 9:15 of the second half. That was the Week 2 game against the Jets. In the other seven home games, they didn’t trail for even 1 second at any point in those games.

Four-point stance

— Left tackle Tyron Smith was the ninth pick of the 2010 draft. Center Travis Frederick was the 31st pick of the 2013 draft. Zack Martin was the 16th pick of this year’s draft.

Those three blockers — all All-Pros and Pro Bowlers — are the driving force behind Murray’s monster season.

“One of the big changes that we had as an organization was to get this team better around (Romo),” Garrett said. “It started with the offensive line. We had some really good players there four, five years ago that we had to kind of move on from — Flozell Adams, Mark Colombo, Leonard Davis. A lot of those guys were good players, but they all kind of got old at the same time. We felt like we had to make some hard decisions with those guys, and then come back and make some really good decisions to rebuild that group up front.”

Dallas’ bread-and-butter run is the stretch play. It’s a similar scheme to what Seattle gouged the Packers with in Week 1. In a stretch run to the left, for instance, all of the linemen move in unison to the left, with Murray patiently waiting for a gap to appear. The key for the Packers’ defenders is preventing that gap from appearing. That means discipline will be the overriding key.

“They look for that one guy that gets beat, that one guy that’s cut off from a certain area and then they can gash you,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “We have to do a good job of everybody staying accountable to their gap. Anytime you play a big stretch team, that’s what they do. They stretch it out and look for somebody that’s cut off from the backside or cutoff from the front side. That’s what we have to fight against.”

— The Packers went 11-0 when Rodgers had a passer rating of 100-plus. The Cowboys went 10-0 when Romo had a rating of 100-plus.

“In my book, man, Tony’s always been one heck of a quarterback,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You guys give him a little trouble every now and then. This guy’s a really good quarterback. That’s who we expect to go out and play.

— Dallas finished second in the league in time of possession, hogging the ball for 32:22 per game. In a turnaround from the start of the season, Green Bay finished 14th with an average of 30:32. So what? Dallas went 10-1 when winning the possession battle, with the only loss in Week 1. Green Bay had more possession time seven times and went 7-0 — including six wins in the last seven games.

“Since you got on us for scoring too fast, we just figured we’d slow it down a little,” McCarthy joked. “No, I think running the football has a lot to do with that. We’ve obviously been running the ball more the second half of the season. … We can bounce these stats around as much as you want, but I think running the football offensively definitely helps your defense. I think that’s a formula that’s gone on in this league for a long time.”

— One of Capers’ favorite statistics is passer-rating differential. More times than not, Capers has noticed, the final four teams in the playoffs rank among the top teams in that category. The Packers were No. 1 when winning the Super Bowls in 1996 and 2010, and four of Vince Lombardi’s five champions finished first, as well, according to ColdHardFootballFacts.com

This season, Green Bay is a league-high plus-27.8. Dallas is the only other team better than plus-20 and plus-22.4. Denver, Seattle and New England rank third through fifth.

Quoteworthy

Rodgers, on the Ice Bowl — a 21-17 victory over Dallas on Dec. 31, 1967: “That one ended well. I’ve been with Bart (Starr) on a couple occasions when he’s described that game, and the final seconds of that game. It’s fun to be around Bart when he’s talking about that, the memories there. Must have been a rough day for everybody involved — the fans sitting there without maybe the hand-warmers and stuff that our fans get to have access to. The players, I don’t know how many heaters were going on the sidelines. I think we’d be a little more ready for it. Any time you play in the cold, it’s just important to keep the important parts of your body warm.”

And linebacker A.J. Hawk, on the Ice Bowl being uploaded onto the players’ iPads: “I don’t know if guys will sit there and be studying the scheme but you want to get a feel for the atmosphere of what it was like. This place was built by guys like that and it’s going to be going long after we’re all gone. It’s one of those things I think you always need in the back of your mind. We know who came before us. Everybody does here. It’s a special place. It’s just another reminder of that. Coach does a good job of reiterating that throughout the weeks.”

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.


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