Baranczyk/Christl analysis: Supporting cast of playmakers triggers epic rally

Dec. 16, 2013

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Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams makes a diving interception as Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley watches late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media


Other than Aaron Rodgers, the pecking order of Green Bay Packersí playmakers would go something like this.

On offense, Eddie Lacy would be second behind Rodgers followed by Jordy Nelson among those in good health. On defense, Clay Matthews would be the clear No. 1 followed by starting cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams.

Pro football is all about making big plays, and since Rodgers was hurt seven games ago, the Packers hadnít been making nearly enough of them. In the first half against Dallas on Sunday, they virtually hit rock bottom.

On defense, there were three routine plays where the Packersí defensive backs broke up passes on third down and also a pressure by Mike Daniels that forced the Cowboys to settle for four field goals. Offensively, the only substantive play was James Jones turning a short reception into a 39-yard gain. The next longest play, other than the last one of the half, was a 13-yard pass on third-and-26.

Then came the second half.

With Lacy, Nelson, Matthews and the two corners delivering a tsunami of big plays and lethal body punches, the Packers completed a comeback for the ages.

Lacy had done his part, especially in comebacks against Minnesota and Atlanta. But Nelson had gone six games without a touchdown catch, Matthews hadnít been himself since he broke his thumb, and Williams and Shields played well at times, but werenít making much of a splash.

With their best player out, the Packers needed more from their next best players to win.


Heís the tires on the car right now. Without him, the Packers wouldnít be going anywhere. With Matt Flynn at quarterback, everything offensively starts with Lacy. Heís the one who keeps the chains moving with his ability to run the ball. When the Packers make big plays in the passing game, itís usually off play-action or moving the quarterback outside the pocket off play action.

When Mike McCarthy said at halftime the Packers were going back to featuring Lacy, even down by 23 points, part of that was using him as bait through formations and trying to get linebackers and safeties moving forward to make their dink-and-dunk passing game work.

Last year, when the Packers ran play action, they didnít fool anybody. The other teams played two safeties back and wouldnít step up for anything. Now, you see the safeties and linebackers jumping the run. You see safeties lining up in the box creating wide spaces in the secondary for receivers to make plays. For example, thatís largely whatís opening the middle for Andrew Quarless.

First play of the second half, Lacy ignited the comeback with a 60-yard run. The play was blocked almost to perfection, but Lacy also cut at the perfect time.

Along with all his skills, Lacy has an innate feel for the game. He got the ball, saw the crease and cut right there. Some backs dance around. Some donít have the patience to let blocks develop. Lacy has patience. He knows when to lower his shoulders to get extra yards. Backs either have that or they donít, and he has it.

On the Packersí final two touchdown drives, even with the clock running down, they kept feeding Lacy the ball, and he pounded the Dallas defense for 49 yards on eight carries.

Letís face it ó Flynn is extremely limited. Of his 299 yards passing, 179 of it came after the catch. But defenses are so focused on stopping Lacy, they get caught on their heels in the passing game.


Nelsonís 13-yard touchdown reception should have been an interception, and if it had been, the game probably would have been over 2 minutes into the second half. It was third-and-3, and the Cowboys took a chance by not playing a safety back. To a degree thatís what allowed Nelson to make the play over the top of the cornerback. Nelsonís one-handed, 21-yard reception also came on third down and spurred another touchdown drive.


There havenít been many times since his injury where Matthews has made plays that jumped off the screen. But his shared sack with Datone Jones at the Dallas 2-yard line sure did, and it set up the Packersí third touchdown. Matthews made the play. Heís the one who burst into the backfield and flushed Tony Romo into Jones.

Matthews made that play from an inside linebacker position, so maybe moving him around more in the second half helped. Using your hands is such a big part of playing defense and especially rushing the passer, it canít be easy wrestling down after down with a bigger offensive lineman even wearing just a small cast.

Matthews also charged off the edge to disrupt the timing on Shieldsí interception, the play that set up the Packersí winning touchdown. While the Cowboys ran the ball only seven times in the second half, Matthews played that better, too

Shields, Williams

Romo might have thrown the ball slightly behind Miles Austin, the intended receiver, on Shieldsí pick, but that was still a wow play. Not many cornerbacks have that kind of explosion to make up that much ground in such a short area that quickly.

Shields was on an island. The Cowboysí line showed run on what was a run-pass option for Romo, and the Packersí safeties bit. Ten defenders played the run and if Shields hadnít intercepted the pass, it could have been a Dallas touchdown.

On the first play of that series, Shieldsí catch-up speed also prevented a big play to Dez Bryant. Although it wasnít eye-catching, Shields delivered one of those body blows, as well, when he made a sure tackle on a third-quarter wide receiver screen.

Williamsí game-saving interception was a tough catch. That would have been an impressive catch for a wide receiver.

Josh Sitton

Offensive linemen rarely make big plays, but Sitton made some huge blocks. He created a seam underneath for Lacy on his 60-yard run before John Kuhn made the key block up field. On the next play, a 5-yard run by James Starks, Sitton picked off two defenders. Then on an 11-yard run by Lacy in the fourth quarter, Sitton pulled and engulfed a linebacker in space. All game, the Cowboys didnít have an answer for the Packersí power plays where they were pulling Sitton and T.J. Lang.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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