Big-play defense must make Romo pay

After clinching wins the last two weeks, the Packers' defense must remain opportunistic against the high-powered Cowboys on Sunday night, Packer Report's Tyler Dunne says.

Good thing Warren Sapp wasn't in a Green Bay Packers uniform on Sunday.

Jon Kitna still would be sprawled like a starfish on the Ford Field turf.

When Nick Collins picked him off in the fourth quarter, Kitna immediately turned the other direction and ripped off his helmet in full pout – a juvenile gesture he has apologized for. Collins raced to the end zone, 20 other players redirected their motion and the helmetless Kitna stood in disgust – begging for a blindside crackback, Sapp-on-Chad Clifton low blow.

It never came. Just another opportunistic finish by Green Bay's defense, another game John Smoltzed by a defense smelling blood when it matters.

In Week 1, Atari Bigby's takeaway sent Minnesota home. Week 2, Charles Woodson and Collins took interceptions to the house for touchdowns. And in Week 3, the Packers need such fourth-quarter takeaways more than ever. It'll take a killer, go-for-the-jugular instinct on defense to knock off Dallas.

Tony Romo is going to erupt. The yardage. The rhythm. All inevitable. Dallas has the best offense in the league, infused with seven Pro Bowlers, rolling at an all-time high confidence. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders will dissect last season's 37-27 debacle and devise a game plan to shut down the Cowboys … Mike McCarthy will ensure that Jarrett Bush is far, far away in crunch time … and the mood will be different (Lambeau Field, instead of Texas Stadium).

But Aaron Rodgers only can match Dallas drive-for-drive to a point. The bend-don't-break, we'll-stop-em-inside-the-20 gameplan works against great offenses only to a point.

The antidote? Be disruptive and force turnovers. Against the best offense (by far) in the NFL, A.J. Hawk (two sacks at Detroit) and Co. have to stay opportunistic and aggressive.

Albeit against football's equivalent to Michelle Wie (a child in a man's league), Green Bay's defense has harassed Tarvaris Jackson and Kitna into mistakes at critical junctures. Progress, no doubt.

Charles Woodson, bum foot and all, can be counted on for the occasional backbreaking pick. Now he has company. Calvin Johnson torched the Packers for 129 yards and two touchdowns, but big plays by Green Bay's defense stifled the Lions' upset chances. Five sacks, three picks, two touchdowns. These are not Mike Martz's Lions – not even Scott Mitchell's offense – but the Packers are blitzing, swinging for the fences and connecting much more than last season.

Green Bay's defense cranked up the thermostat in crunch time.

When the line between flawless football and meltdown blurs so abruptly, so wacky as it did on Sunday, big plays are in high demand defensively. Aloe to heal the confusion. The back-to-back pick sixes by Woodson and Collins soothed the bizarre change of events into a smashing Packers victory.

Romo may have the strongest arm in the league, the best wide receiver, the best offensive line, the hottest girl (for the record, Tony, I woulda stuck with Carrie) and a coach that gives him Mike Sherman-like free reign.

Yup, it's a good time to be Romo, the NFL's real-life, teen movie football golden boy.

But Romomania has a kryptonite: occasional boneheadness. A pick, an overthrow, a scramble-gone-haywire. It's going to happen at some point. The Packers must pounce. Sanders' revised defense calls for the defense to think big play, every snap, so those mayday mistakes are exploited.

Opposing defensive backs regurgitated this inevitability when Brett Favre was around. Breadbasket picks will present themselves when you least expect them, i.e. Asante Samuel's early Christmas present from Romo on Monday night.

For Green Bay to beat the Cowboys, the defense must play on its toes. Attack mode, ready for a game-changing play at any instance.

Tyler Dunne is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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