Keys to the game: Stopping George

Never has a simple, three-word question said so much.

Asked what he liked about his foundering running game, Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells replied, "Our running game?"

Fact is, there's little to like about the Dallas running game. Like Green Bay's opponent last week, Detroit, the Cowboys (2-3) aren't running anywhere. Dallas enters Sunday's game at Green Bay (2-4) ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing with 102.6 yards per game.

The Cowboys' 4.2 yards per rush ranks in the middle of the pack but is a bit deceiving. Former Titans star Eddie George was supposed to be an upgrade over the tossed-aside Troy Hambrick as the offense's featured running back. Instead, George has been held to 209 yards and a 3.4 yards-per-carry average. Hambrick rushed for 972 yards last season on 3.5 yards a pop. George is on pace for 669 yards.

"I would have hoped for just a little bit more (from George), but it's just as much my fault," said Parcells. "I haven't been patient enough with the running game."

As bad as Dallas has been running the ball is as bad as Green Bay has been stopping the run. Even with last week's dominating performance at Detroit, the Packers rank 25th in the league by allowing 4.7 yards per rush and 130.3 per game. And those woeful figures include the Indianapolis game, when the Colts didn't bother running the ball.

What would help the Packers is the return of Grady Jackson. The 340-pound-plus nose tackle insists he'll be ready to play but Packers coach Mike Sherman isn't so sure. The two have taken part in some good-natured back-and-forth on the topic throughout the week, with Jackson saying he'd put Sherman in a headlock or sneak onto the field.

If Green Bay can stop the run, Dallas will be forced into a one-dimensional aerial attack. That's the worst-case scenario for immobile Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Here are the rest of this week's keys to the game.

2. You're in good hands

This just in: Green Bay is 0-3 at home. This just in: Ahman Green has been fumbling the ball. Green has lost a fumble in all three home games this season. The turnover against the Bears caused a game-changing 14-point swing. Against the Giants, the Packers' struggling offense appeared to be finding its groove when Green put the ball on the ground. Against Tennessee, Green's fumble helped turn a 14-0 deficit into a 17-0 hole.

Green was flawless against Detroit, keeping the ball secure while rushing for a consistent 81 yards. With Green and Najeh Davenport churning out the yards, Brett Favre had a big day. That's the Packers' recipe for success. It's practically fool proof if Green and Co. hold onto the football.

3. Enjoy the home cooking

If Green Bay plays as well as it did last week, it should emerge victorious. Even Parcells acknowledges the Packers team he watched on film whipping up on Detroit is a different club than the team that lost four consecutive games.

"That is very unusual for that to happen to them," Parcells said. "Unfortunately, they put a great game together last week. They were very efficient last week."

4. Start strong, finish stronger

With three straight losses at Green Bay, a fast start would get the crowd rocking and the players feeling good.

"There's not a better place to go play," Sherman said. "So we have to take advantage of our fans and our tradition and not let other people use that to their advantage to motivate themselves."

If Green Bay can stay in the game, chances are it will win. Dallas has been outscored 45-9 in the fourth quarters on their five games. The only touchdown came on a halfback option pass.

5. Protect Favre

In a great matchup, Dallas' aggressive, blitzing defense faces the rock-solid Packers pass protection. The Cowboys are tied for eighth in the league with 14 sacks — and four of the teams with more sacks have played six games to Dallas' five. Green Bay, meanwhile, is the best team in the league in keep its quarterback upright, having allowed just three sacks.

"We really have to hit the playbook this week because they'll give you some looks you haven't seen before," said fullback Nick Luchey. "It's not a matter of bashing heads with them. They have some packages that could give us some problems. I mean, they'll do an all-out blitz with zero coverage. Stuff like that, you don't see a whole lot."


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