Week 5 Preview: Packers Face a Tall Task in Dallas
Outside of the Bears, there is almost certainly no team with whom the Packers share a richer history than the Cowboys. Dating back to the time Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry spent together on the New York Giants’ coaching staff, the stories of the Packers and Cowboys have been intertwined. Both have at times been the measuring stick to which the rest of the league aspires, and both have been the immovable object in the place of the other’s Super Bowl ambitions.
Now, the teams renew their rivalry in a nationally televised contest, both fresh off their first losses of the season. Who will get back on the winning track?
Dallas presents a rare alignment between traditional volume stats and advanced numbers, rolling up the second most raw yardage in the league while posting the NFL’s second-most efficient offense.
It’s hard to pinpoint a weakness, too. Dallas has found success both on the ground and through the air, bolstered by big years from both Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott.
Elliot and Prescott are plenty talented on their own, but they also are getting a boost from one of the best offensive lines in football. Football Outsiders presents a full rundown here, and this week on our preview podcast we’ll break down one key area of Dallas’s offensive line success that could present big problems for the Packers.
While Aaron Rodgers has overcome a tough stretch of defenses to slowly improve each week, becoming more and more comfortable in a new offense in the process, Prescott started hot and has pretty much stayed hot, save for a down game in New Orleans last week. The Saints held Prescott without a passing touchdown for the first time this season. But on balance, Prescott has statistically outperformed Rodgers this year, and that shows up clearly in the stats.
Player to Watch
With left tackle Tyron Smith in doubt for Sunday, the Cowboys’ most important offensive lineman is probably center Travis Frederick. Not the best, necessarily, but the most important. As the center, he’s the fulcrum of Dallas’s offensive line calls, working hand in glove with Dak Prescott to efficiently and effectively eliminate opposing pass rushers before the ball is even snapped.
He’s kept a clean sheet so far this year, too. In 264 snaps, Frederick has yet to give up a sack and has only been penalized once.
But the really impressive thing about Frederick isn’t his play on the field. It’s what he’s endured off it to even be playing this season. Diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome last August, Frederick missed all of 2018 battling his unexpected illness. Recovery is not guaranteed to anyone receiving such a diagnosis so that he was not able only to recover, but build back up to an NFL level within a year is incredible. Think about that when you watch him play on Sunday.
What happened the last time the Packers and Cowboys played?
We covered this and six other great wins over the Cowboys on Wednesday’s episode of Blue 58, but let’s recall quickly what happened on the very last drive of the game in the Packers’ last game against the Cowboys. Take it away, Aaron Rodgers.
Who’s going to win?
The Packers have been either the favorite or relatively evenly matched in every game they’ve played so far this season. But this week, banged up as they are and powerful as the Cowboys seem to be, they are decidedly the underdog. And much as I’d like to believe in the power of Aaron Rodgers to singlehandedly push the Packers to an upset, the Cowboys just seem too well equipped. I’ll take the Cowboys in this one.
Fans are still picking the Packers to win this week, but they’re hardly feeling great about it. Just 57% of voters in our weekly poll thought the Packers would win this week, the lowest figure of the season so far.
That reflects an overall drop in confidence after last week’s loss to the Eagles. Just 58% of fans currently approve of the team’s overall direction, also the lowest number of the year
Confidence in Mike Pettine, however, remains high. Though his rating did drop, he’s still clocking a whopping 95% approval rating among voters in our poll.
One Last Thought
The Packers claimed former Baltimore Ravens third-round pick Tim Williams on waivers this week, and while it’s probably a fool’s errand to expect overly big things from a player who has managed just two sacks in three years, exploring his background is worthwhile.
There are two key questions to the Williams story: what made him an intriguing prospect in the first place and what prevented him from cashing in on that promise.
The first question is fairly simple to answer: he gets off the ball really quickly, a crucial, desirable trait.
“To be a great pass rusher, you have to have this explosion right off of the ball and the ability to turn a corner,” Shawne Merriman, a former NFL pass rusher, said of Williams’ best skill. “His get-off off the ball and the way he times snaps, you can’t coach that. You can coach guys and get them better with their technique and getting off of blocks and things like that. You can get a guy better with his hands and help him learn different moves and stuff like that. The way he takes off of the ball and his explosion and his ability to turn a corner, you can’t coach that.”
But Williams hasn’t been able to elevate that skill into something he can reproduce on a down in, down out basis, making him too much of a liability to have on the field. He also hasn’t been great as a run defender, making him a further problem for defenses desiring any kind of versatility.
The Packers may be uniquely positioned to help Williams unlock his potential. Working together on the New York Jets staff in 2012, Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith helped develop Aaron Maybin into a serviceable pass rusher. Maybin came to New York on his last shot in the NFL having been released by the Buffalo Bills just two years after they took him 11th overall in the NFL draft. Maybin had been held without a sack during his entire stay in Buffalo, but managed six sacks working under Pettine and Smith in New York.
Williams may not have quite the raw talent that Maybin did, but if the Packers can make similar strides, he’ll be a more than worthwhile pickup.