The Cowboys-Packers Rivalry Is Better Than You Think - Week 6 Preview
It’s been overshadowed by some extra-insane happenings in Seattle, but the Packers and Cowboys may have one of the weirder rivalries in the NFL.
Think about it: their most iconic encounter was seriously affected by a faulty field heating unit. Recent matchups have featured a playoff game (2014), a legendary comeback led by a backup (2013), a coach killing blowout (2010), and the first glimpse of what Aaron Rodgers could be (2007).
There’s no reason to assume that this game is going to feature that kind of insanity, but there wasn’t any reason to expect that in other matchups, either. But perhaps the pieces are there.
The Cowboys are both belabored and blessed by their quarterback situation. Dak Prescott has been better than anyone expected, Ezekiel Elliot has been exactly as good as expected, and the Cowboys’ offensive line is as good as it’s ever been.
The Packers, meanwhile, are beset by their own quarterback situation. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t quite been Aaron Rodgers in a while, but that could (hopefully) change any time. As of today, the Packers have no running backs expected to be a full go on Sunday, with Eddie Lacy’s gimpy ankle and James Starks’ family situation keeping both on ice for much of this week. To top it all off, the strength of this Packers’ team might actually be the defense, specifically their effort to stop the run.
It has many of the hallmarks of not just a great matchup, but a potentially strange one, too. Bring it on!
Oh, and Dez dropped it.
Last time - Packers: 28, Cowboys 7 - December 13, 2015
Perhaps the past is prologue in this situation. Last season, in the first game after Mike McCarthy took back the playcalling duties, the Packers finally woke up their sleepy offense. Aaron Rodgers was relatively sharp, going 22 of 35 passing for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Eddie Lacy carved up the Dallas front for 124 yards on 24 carries. Matt Cassel started for the Cowboys and was awful.
The narrative coming out of this game was that Aaron Rodgers was fixed, Mike McCarthy had solved the offense, and the Packers were back on track. In reality, it might have been more true that the Packers just needed to feed Eddie Lacy, weight issues or not. When the Packers finally committed to giving Lacy the ball, he produced. Two of his three 100 yard outings in 2015 came when the Packers gave him 20 or more carries.
This year, the case can be made that the Packers might want to feature more Lacy and less Rodgers, at least until they figure out what’s going on with the passing attack.
Cowboy to Watch - Ezekiel Elliot - RB - 6-0, 225
I wish there was some secret, under the radar player that we could focus on to explain the Cowboys’ success this season, but there’s not. Ezekiel Elliot is the engine of the Dallas offense, and he’s improving every week. He’s surpassed 130 yards in each of his past three games, and his yards per carry have improved every week of the season so far. Running behind an excellent offensive line, Elliot will be difficult to slow down on Sunday.
Though I wrote this week that Aaron Rodgers has been in a serious funk, I do think there are reasons for hope. Rodgers hasn’t been sharp, sure, but it’s easy to look bad when your receivers drop passes left and right. Jordy Nelson had three drops last week, Davante Adams was the adventure he always is, and even Richard Rodgers had a ball glance right off his hands. If all (or even most) of those passes are completed, the Rodgers storyline might be a little bit different.
Surely he realizes that he needs to play better, and I think eventually he will. Rodgers has shored up some of his deficiencies over the past couple weeks, and sooner or later he’s going to put it all together. I think that could be this week.
If Rodgers plays like we know he can, it might not matter how great Ezekiel Elliot is.
It's challenging to get excited about this year’s version of the Packers. On one hand, the defense has seemingly taken a step forward and Ted Thompson’s most recent draft selections are off to a promising start. On the other hand, Rodgers appears to have regressed significantly and the Packers’ ability to play a consistent full game has disappeared. 2016’s Packers haven't been as fun to watch as previous years.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have yet to play a team this season with high-end talent like the Packers. In Jason Garrett’s tenure, Dallas tends to play well when no one believes in them and struggles when they're getting all the praise. Dak Prescott was on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, too. Both that and last week's moderately surprising win over Cincinnati leaves Dallas feeling good about themselves. Because of that, I like Green Bay to win at home.