The guys at PackersNews.com give their predictions for Sunday afternoon's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – Mike Daniels left nothing uncertain Friday, saying he will play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Green Bay Packers' top defensive tackle hasn’t played since leaving the field early against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2. The Packers' defense has managed without him, but Daniels’ return is a big boost against the Cowboys’ potentially dominant run game.
Daniels said he doesn’t know how he first injured his hip, but it feels much better.
“It feels good,” Daniels said. “I felt good at practice running around, felt strong. So I’m just ready to roll. It’s been hard watching.”
Daniels was listed as questionable on the injury report Friday (the Packers didn't practice so the listings are an estimation).
Daniels got an ample amount of third-down snaps against the Seahawks, including a strip-sack against quarterback Russell Wilson on third-and-17 that became the game-turning play. In the past, Daniels’ value on first and second down at times limited his availability on third down.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said more depth means the Packers can preserve Daniels’ role on third down.
“I’ve got to keep giving him some third-down reps,” Trgovac said. “With the veteran guys that we have in there, we can get him some more rest on first and second down. So we can get him in there fresh sometimes on third down.”
Trgovac said Daniels’ third-down role won’t negate his impact on early downs. In addition to being the Packers' best interior pass rusher, Daniels is also their best run stuffer.
But the Packers bolstered their interior run defense before the season, signing Quinton Dial and Ricky Jean Francois. The emergence of second-year defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry also fortified the defensive line.
The Packers’ ability to defend the run even without Daniels was evident last week. Playing almost exclusively in their base 3-4 defense, the Packers held Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard to 53 yards on 18 carries. Howard had 140 yards on 23 carries the previous week in a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Trgovac said he has been especially impressed with how quickly Dial has learned the defense, allowing him to play 33 snaps (49 percent) less than one month after being signed.
“I was just thinking to myself, because we played him at a couple different positions,” Trgovac said, “that, boy, he’s really done a nice job of learning our system. It’s not the hardest system to learn, but there’s some things, when you’ve been together for a while, the players might have a little code word or something they use with each other. He’s really done a nice job of picking up our system in that regard.
“The other guys were here for most of the stuff that we had, so they picked it up all spring and summer, but he came in right at the end. I was just thinking to myself the other day, ‘Boy, he’s done a great job of learning multiple positions. That’s a sign of a true pro.’”
Daniels said he doesn’t care how he gets his snaps, so long as he plays.
“If you take him off the field,” Trgovac said, “he’s mad at you on the sideline. You’re taking him off so you can keep him fresh; he wants to play every down. That’s just his nature. Sometimes, I just have to pull back a little bit, and he understands why, but on game day, he wants to be on the field every down.
“He’s gotten better at that. A few years ago, I’d take him out and it would be like hell on the sideline. Not disrespectful or anything. He just wants to play. I tell him, ‘Look, it’s a long game. I want you fresh in the fourth quarter. We’ve got guys who need to play a little bit, too.’”