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Scouting: When Green Bay Runs the Ball

Packer Report’s Bill Huber and Cowboys HQ’s Matt Galatzan tell you what to look for when the Green Bay Packers are running the ball against the Dallas Cowboys' top-ranked rushing defense in Sunday’s playoff game.

Green Bay’s Rushing Offense

Back when these teams met in Week 6, Eddie Lacy was the unquestioned workhorse. That would be his last game of the season, though, as Lacy wound up having season-ending ankle surgery. After meandering through a chunk of the season with really no running game whatsoever, the Packers have gotten by with a mix-and-match arrangement of receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery, waiver-wire pickup Christine Michael and fullback Aaron Ripkowski.

Montgomery took the NFL by storm with a 162-yard day at Chicago in Week 15 but he’s rushed for 94 yards on 28 carries the last three games combined.

Montgomery, who had 10 catches in the first matchup, might be a receiver but don’t mistake him for easy to tackle. He’s a tough guy at 220 pounds. He’s got a knack for slipping through tackles at the line of scrimmage and has shown a nice stiff-arm once he gets in the open field.

Michael was the team’s best runner last week against the Giants with 10 carries for 47 yards. They make a nice one-two punch. Montgomery has uncommon patience for a guy with his limited backfield background; Michael runs the ball like he’s been fired out of a cannon and has proven tough to bring down. Ripkowski carried seven times in his career at Oklahoma but had nine carries for 61 yards at Detroit in Week 17.

Green Bay’s offensive line is darned good. It’s not Dallas good but it might be the best of the rest. Right guard T.J. Lang was picked for his first Pro Bowl. The interior of Lang, center Corey Linsley and left guard Lane Taylor has been solid. If there’s been a drop-off from Pro Bowler Josh Sitton, who was released at the end of training camp, to Taylor, it’s not been noticeable. For the cap savings, this proved to be a shrewd move by general manager Ted Thompson. The biggest issue for the running game is the lack of short-yardage success. On runs on third and fourth downs requiring 1 or 2 yards, Green Bay converts 49 percent of the time — third-worst in the league, according to Football Outsiders. They got stuffed twice by the Giants on Sunday.

Dallas’ Rushing Defense

Last season, the Cowboys ranked near the bottom of the NFL in rush defense, giving up more than 120 yards per game and 16 touchdowns. This season, however, has marked a significant turnaround for Dallas, as it finished the regular season as the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL.

For the year, the Dallas defense has allowed only nine touchdowns on the ground, surrendered merely 83.5 yards per game and yielded just 3.9 yards per carry. It’s also forced 16 fumbles – only Oakland forced more -- and recovered nine. Dallas is yet to allow a single 100-yard rusher for the entire season, despite facing backs such as Le’Veon Bell, Doug Martin, Jeremy Hill, and the league’s second-leading rusher, Jordan Howard.

A good portion of the credit for that turnaround is the health of linebacker Sean Lee, who has been in and out of the lineup with injuries throughout most of his Cowboys career. This season, however, Lee has been healthy for all 16 games and leads the defense with 93 solo tackles, 145 total tackles and 12 tackles for losses. His instincts and anticipation are nearly unrivaled in the NFL, and he has been by far the Cowboys’ best and most consistent threat on defense.

The secondary, most specifically Barry Church and Byron Jones, also play a big part in the run defense. Church (85) and Jones (81) have combined for 166 tackles and are two of the more physical safeties in the NFC.

The Cowboys’ platoon defensive line, led by Terrell McClain, Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins, has been great against the run, as well. They are big and physical up front, and will utilize all nine guys throughout the game to try and slow down the opposing rushing attack.

According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys, by percentage of running plays, ranked 25th in success on third- and fourth-and-short (1 or 2 yards) but eighth in tackles for losses. Before the Week 17 game against Philadelphia, when the Cowboys played their front-line players sparingly, they had gone five consecutive games without allowing 100 rushing yards.

In their previous matchup with Green Bay, Eddie Lacy played through an injured ankle that ultimately required season-ending surgery and managed 65 yards on 17 attempts. The current starter, Ty Montgomery, was held to just 6 yards on three carries, as the Cowboys held them to 78 rushing yards and 3.3 yards per carry.

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. Matt Galatzan writes for Cowboys HQ.

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