Week 5 Preview: Rejuvenated Packers Return to Dallas for Divisional Round Rematch
As we move into the second part of the season, a few things about the 2017 Packers have become clear.
First, Aaron Rodgers is fully capable of carrying this team, should he show desire. Even approaching his 34th birthday, Rodgers still maintains his MVP-caliber form, putting the bumpy 2015 season even further into the rear view mirror. He's clearly as good as he's ever been.
Second, even in games when Rodgers isn't at his absolute best, this year's defense has shown that it's capable of keeping the Packers competitive. Two of the Packers' wins so far this season came in games where Rodgers wasn't dominant from start to finish. It was the defense that made Russel Wilson's life miserable, and it was the defense that stiffened just enough to give Rodgers and the offense time to come back against the Bengals.
Third, a great blend of old and new philosophies helped bring all this about. Ted Thompson's draft savvy landed the Packers two defensive playmakers in the second round, and both Kevin King and Josh Jones have already enjoyed some time in the spotlight this season. Along with that, though, the Packers' free agent crop is paying dividends. Lance Kendricks made life miserable for the Bengals, Ahmad Brooks and Quinton Dial have played solid roles on defense, Jahri Evans hasn't been a liability on offense, and Martellus Bennett is putting up impressive if inconsistent numbers and may be ready to break out as the offensive line gets healthy.
With the Packers making their third regular season trip to AT&T Stadium on Sunday, memories of last season's Divisional Round win over the Cowboys will be fresh in everyone's mind. But that was a vastly different team than the one that weathered an early storm of injuries to emerge at 3-1, and this year's group could be even better equipped to continue the winning streak in Jerry World
5 things to think about during Sunday’s game
1. The Packers and Cowboys have played a lot recently, but the Packers have come out on top more often than not. Counting playoffs, the two teams have played at least once in five straight seasons. The Packers have won six of the last seven meetings.
2. The Packers have been dominant in the red zone so far this season, scoring a touchdown on 11 of 14 drives, a league leading 78.6 percent touchdown rate. Jordy Nelson is a big reason for that success. He’s scored four of his five touchdowns this year on red zone plays.
3. Green Bay is also getting down to business quickly. They’ve scored 21 points on opening drives so far this season, behind only the New England Patriots, who have scored 23.
4. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott took the league by storm last year. Prescott completed 67.8 percent of his passes and threw just four interceptions all season, while Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. This year, both have struggled at times. Prescott’s completion percentage has dropped precipitously and he has already thrown three interceptions. Elliott is facing a litany of off the field issues and has managed just 3.6 yards per carry so far this year.
5. Dallas has been banged up on defense for much of the season, but defensive end Demarcus Lawrence hasn’t been slowed down a bit. He’s already managed eight sacks through four games, leading the league and equalling his career high from 2015.
Who could be an X-factor in Sunday’s game?
Jon says Martellus Bennett
Aaron Rodgers made a point of saying the Packers need to get Bennett involved early this week, and that could prove to be a very prudent plan. Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ All Pro linebacker known for his tremendous coverage abilities, did not practice on Wednesday as he’s nursing a hamstring injury. What better time to attack a linebacking group with your big time tight end? I’m hoping for a big
Gary says Kenny Clark
The young defensive tackle turned 22 this week, and has taken a step forward in his second season. With star defensive lineman Mike Daniels missing almost three complete games, Clark has led the defensive line. With Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys' talented offensive line coming to town, it's certainly going to be up to Clark to once again lead the line.
What happened last time the Packers played the Cowboys?
Oh, I think you know.
Yeah, that about covers it.
Who will win Sunday’s Packers-Cowboys game?
Jon says the Packers win 30-24
The Cowboys have been nearly as banged up as the Packers throughout the first quarter of the season, and that’s probably led to some of their uninspiring play so far this year. It feels like the Packers are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to their team’s overall health, though, and I think that gives them a significant edge, especially coming off what amounts to a mini bye. Give me the Packers with a “not as close as the score looks” win over Dallas.
Gary says the Packers win by a field goal
The Packers have yet to lose in the new Cowboys Stadium, a feat that twenty years ago would feel more fantasy than reality. For Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, the Cowboys were the equivalent of the Atlanta Falcons today. I think the Cowboys' defense hasn't shown me enough to slow down the Packers offense, so I like Green Bay's chances in this one.
We touched briefly on the Packers/Cowboys game this week on Blue 58 and also spent some time diving into the curious case of Damarious Randall. What do the Packers do with their 2015 first round pick?