Thumbs up to play-calling, down to run 'D'
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers control their playoff destiny after their 28-7 win Sunday over the Cowboys, but that would have been the case even with a loss. They lead the NFC North by a game over the Vikings, and even if they were to lose their next two games at Oakland and Arizona, they could claim the division crown by beating Minnesota in the Jan. 3 season finale at Lambeau Field. On the other hand, should the Vikings win that head-to-head matchup and finish with the same record as the Packers, they would claim the title based on a better record within the division. So, both the Packers and the Vikings can capture the division by winning out. As for a wild-card berth, Green Bay is in good shape there as well with a 9-4 record (7-3 in the NFC).
The Packers were dominating the game in terms of time of possession, yet still led only 14-7 after Robert Turbin’s seven-yard TD run with 8:25 left in the third quarter. The teams then exchanged punts three times before the Packers mounted a decisive 12-play, 84-yard drive that was capped by a 30-yard James Starks TD burst on a second-and-25 play with 4:44 remaining. The Packers gained 78 yards on nine carries on a drive that took 6:34 off the clock and put them ahead by two touchdowns.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy finally relented and resumed calling plays after the Green Bay offense struggled again in the Hail Mary win at Detroit. And the immediate results featured a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy, who carried 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown. Curiously, the Packers didn’t go to Lacy despite having three shots at a touchdown from one yard out on their second series of the game and failed to score. Their first TD was a nice call, with Aaron Rodgers faking a handoff to Randall Cobb in motion to the left and then hitting a wide-open Starks on a 13-yard swing pass to the right. Fullback John Kuhn saw increased playing time as the Packers controlled the ball and ate up the clock (37:48 time of possession, compared to 22:12 for the Cowboys).
The Packers’ run defense has ranked among the NFL’s best since getting off to a rough start in the season opener, but against the Cowboys it got burned on the first series by a Darren McFadden 50-yard run as safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix missed a tackle (cornerback Sam Shields’ end-zone interception prevented any damage). McFadden struck again early in the third quarter, breaking loose for a 45-yard dash to set up Turbin’s seven-yard TD run. The Cowboys rushed for 171 yards on 20 carries as they tried to avoid letting quarterback Matt Cassel make mistakes, and the strategy kept them in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: The Packers’ ground game became further muddled last week when Lacy, fresh off back-to-back 100-yard games, was benched for missing curfew. Lacy was back in the starting lineup Sunday and ran angry from the outset, carrying four times for 18 yards on the first drive and then contributing an 18-yard run and a 24-yard scamper with a screen pass on the second series. Lacy (24 carries,124 yards and a touchdown) got ample help from Starks, who rushed 11 times for 71 yards, including the big 30-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Starks also scored on a 13-yard swing pass in the third quarter.
RAVE: After rescuing Green Bay with a Hail Mary heave on the game’s final play to defeat Detroit, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had to be hoping that such dramatics would be unnecessary against Dallas. With McCarthy again calling the plays, Rodgers orchestrated a masterful 11-play, 81-yard TD drive late in the second quarter that featured a 16-yard pass to James Jones, 14-yard passes to Cobb and John Kuhn and a 16-yard Rodgers run that converted a third down. On the day, Rodgers was 22-for-35 for 218 yards and a passer rating of 99.5.
RANT:Davante Adams finally caught a pass in the end zone at Detroit, and the second-year wide receiver remained the Packers’ best hope of recouping some of the production lost when Jordy Nelson was sidelined for the season by a torn ACL. Adams had a big game against Dallas in the playoffs last January, but was a no-show again Sunday (two catches for 12 yards on just three targets). And Hail Mary hero Richard Rodgers struck again in the second quarter, catching a three-yard TD that put the Packers ahead 14-0. Yet that was the second-year tight end's only catch on just two targets as he failed to carve out a bigger role in the offense.
RAVE: Back at the scene of his controversial non-catch in a playoff game last January, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had a 28-yard catch overturned in the second quarter when a replay review again determined the ball hit the ground on his way down. Bryant was held to one catch for nine yards while being blanketed by Sam Shields and Damarious Randall with help from Clinton-Dix. “There were some opportunities I had that I should have made, like the one in the third quarter where I am jumping and I shouldn’t even jump,” Bryant said. “That is all part of keeping your head in the game.”
DID YOU NOTICE?
» Jones, who had a big day while wearing a green hoodie under his No. 89 jersey at Minnesota, wore it again Sunday after two unproductive games without it. And sure enough, Jones again was a factor against the Cowboys. He had three four catches for 40 yards, including a 16-yard grab on Green Bay’s second TD drive.
» Cobb extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 53 with a first-quarter catch for four yards against the Cowboys. It’s the fifth-longest streak in Packers history and just five shy of fourth place (James Lofton, 58 from 1979-83).
» Jeff Janis, who entered the game with a team-high eight special teams tackles, had three more on punt coverage and all three were tackles for losses.
» The Packers improved to 9-0 this season in games in which they recorded two or more sacks
» The game-time temperature of 53 degrees was the highest ever for a December-January game at Lambeau Field (the previous record was 45 degrees, twice) and no doubt was appreciated by 78,369 rain-soaked fans.