Fifth in a 13-part series on the teams the Green Bay Packers will face in the 2016 regular season.
When the Dallas Cowboys arrived at Lambeau Field last December, it was technically a rematch of the previous postseason’s NFC divisional-round matchup.
It just didn’t feel like it.
Not without quarterback Tony Romo under center. Not with backup Matt Cassel as his replacement. The Cowboys’ quarterback situation was a disaster last season. The team was caught unprepared when Romo missed 12 games because of a broken collarbone.
That was the case in a noncompetitive 28-7 win for the Packers.
So, barring injuries, there could be a little extra intensity when Romo and the Cowboys return to Lambeau Field on Oct. 16. Time fades all controversies, even Dez Bryant’s catch, no-catch fiasco on fourth down in the fourth quarter of that playoff game at Lambeau. But even if the Cowboys won’t want to wash away those memories, they’ll certainly want to establish themselves as a genuine contender in a wide-open NFC East. A Cowboys win in Green Bay could do that.
Here are three things to know about the Cowboys.
» Power is their strength: Even with almost no threat of a consistent passing game, the Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL with 4.6 yards per carry. (They were ninth with 118.1 rushing yards per game.) The reason is arguably the NFL’s best offensive line, featuring three All-Pros with left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zach Martin. Even the two starters who are not All-Pro caliber — left guard La’el Collins and right tackle Doug Free — are above-average players. The Cowboys can run the football, whether defenses load the box or not. It should be a terrific matchup against the Packers' offensive line, itself likely a top-five unit in the NFL.
» The next Emmitt? It might never be a good idea to draft a running back in the top five, but if there ever was an exception, the Cowboys and their elite offensive line might be it. That’s what they hope after selecting Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall this spring. Elliott is considered one of the best tailbacks to enter the NFL in years, a complete player who can run, catch and block. The Cowboys would like to see Elliott join Romo and Bryant as a modern version of the triplets. Of course, that would make Elliott comparable to NFL all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Those are massive shoes to fill.
» A draft-day shock: Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was the most talented defensive player — if not overall player — to enter the draft this year, but in the days leading up to the first round, he was being discussed as a potential Day 3 pick. That’s because Smith shredded his knee in his final college football game, an injury that will force him to miss the entire 2016 season, at least. The fear is nerve damage could prevent Smith from ever becoming the player he once was. In that context, the Cowboys took a significant gamble when they drafted Smith with the third pick in the second round, No. 34 overall, much higher than anyone expected — but the decision could reap a massive reward. It will be interesting to monitor Smith’s career, knowing the Cowboys' pick has a chance to either be brilliant or disastrous, with perhaps nothing in between.
Packers schedule glimpse
Oct. 16 vs. Cowboys, 3:25 p.m., Fox
Week before: vs. Giants, Oct. 9
Week after: vs. Bears, Oct. 20
On the horizon: at Falcons, Oct. 30
Coach: Jason Garrett (45-43, seventh season).
2015 record: 4-12, fourth NFC East.
Scoring offense: 17.2 points per game (31st in NFL).
Total offense: 335.1 yards per game (22nd).
Scoring defense: 23.4 points allowed per game (16th).
Total defense: 348.1 yards allowed per game (17th).
Series: Packers lead 14-12 (3-4 postseason).
Last meeting: In a game remembered for coach Mike McCarthy reclaiming play-calling duties, the Packers re-established running back Eddie Lacy in a 28-7 win Dec. 20. Lacy had a rare bright spot in an otherwise miserable year, rushing for 124 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown. It was the Packers' fifth straight win against the Cowboys (counting playoffs), a departure from when the Cowboys owned the series in the 1990s, winning eight straight and nine of 10 in the decade.
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