The guys at PackersNews.com give their predictions for Sunday afternoon's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys.
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2).
WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, AM-1360 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 14-13.
LINE: Cowboys by 2 1/2.
SURFACE: Artificial turf.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (127-70-1) vs. Dallas' Jason Garrett (61-50-0).
5 THINGS TO WATCH
MOUNTAIN MEN: When these two teams met at Lambeau Field last year, Cowboys defensive end David Irving dominated. In 19 snaps, the 6-7 ½, 290-pound Irving registered three forced fumbles, four tackles and a sack. Irving missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension for PEDs, but he returns this week and is expected to play. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys employ Irving inside instead of at the end position opposite NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence. Irving’s huge wing span could cause quarterback Aaron Rodgers problems getting the ball over the middle. Watching center Corey Linsley and left guard Lane Taylor – or Lucas Patrick if David Bakhtiari doesn’t start – give up four inches to Irving could make for an interesting day. “I’m not sure his status right now, but he’s one of the guys that I know when you go back and watch the tape, he’s another playmaker for them,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said.
RANDALL OR ROLLINS? The Packers have been getting away with using safeties Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones as the slot corners in their nickel and dime packages, but they might have to employ a corner there Sunday because of Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley. The 5-8, 180-pound Beasley is too quick for Burnett and Jones and probably will need to be handled with a cornerback, particularly in man-to-man coverage. Beasley has just 11 catches for 86 yards this season, but he had 10 catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns in two games against the Packers last season. Randall is quicker than Rollins, but coming off his meltdown in the Chicago game, he’s not exactly reliable. Another option would be Josh Hawkins, but he has not played a lot in the slot. Whatever the case, it will be a tough matchup. “He’s a really good player, I’ll tell you that,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.
MORE MIKE: There’s never a time that defensive tackle Mike Daniels wants to come out of the game and after the better part of the last three games due to a hip injury he’s going to be politicking for extensive playing time. However, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac isn’t going to let him overdo it Sunday. In fact, Trgovac doesn’t want him to overdo it at all, so that Daniels is fresh in the latter stages of the season. He would like to get him on the field more on third downs, so he may have to rely more on Quinton Dial and Dean Lowry on early downs. “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. “But like I’ve said before, you can talk a good game with that but if you take him off the field, he’s mad at you on the sideline. You’re taking him off so you can keep him fresh (but) he wants to play every down. That’s just his nature.”
BACK TO BACK TO BACK: With starting running back Ty Montgomery (broken ribs) doubtful, the weight of the running game and backfield protection will fall on rookies Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. It’s likely all three will be active. The question is who’s going to carry the load? Coach Mike McCarthy admitted he didn’t get his young backs enough carries in the exhibition season, but he said he’s not concerned now. “I feel like I know all three of the young guys as far as how we want to play them,” he said. Jones has the best chance of getting double-digit carries based on his production against Chicago (13 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown). McCarthy was impressed with what Jones added after Montgomery and Williams (knee) went out with injuries. “Aaron did some really good things,” McCarthy said. “You just look at the goal line run that he had, I mean, he does a jump-cut and he doesn’t lose stride. That’s what you’re looking for. (He) stayed right in the same time clock as the run pattern and did a nice job of washing the one-technique by.” One big consideration for McCarthy is pass protection. Williams has the edge over the other rookies in that department.
ZEKE-D: If anyone knows how tough it is to stop Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott it’s the Packers. In two games last year, he carried 50 times for 282 yards (5.64 average). The one thing the Packers did do well was keep him from breaking off a long touchdown run. He did not score in either game and his longest rush was 29 yards. Elliott is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry this year and his longest run is 30 yards. You can bet it will be a Cowboys priority to get him started Sunday. The Cowboys’ offensive line could be without left tackle Tyron Smith (back) and left guard Chaz Green (hip), but either way, the combination of an excellent blocking scheme and three Pro Bowl linemen make the running game hard to stop. “They’re not too overly complicated but they have enough changeups in what they do and they execute at a very high level,” linebackers coach Scott McCurley said. “They put a lot of pressure on you just from your gap control and being gap sound because they got a running back who can find it. If you’re soft anywhere across the front, he has the ability to find it, both with his vision and with his ability and his quickness in his feet and his acceleration.”
VIEWS OF THE GAME
Chances are the Cowboys are going to treat this game like it’s the playoffs and will throw everything they’ve got at the Packers, hoping to build a lead similar to their game against the Rams last Sunday. The Packers have to withstand it. If they do, they’ll be able to take advantage of some of the second-half letdowns the Cowboys have had this season. Packers 27, Cowboys 21
This is a tough one. Dallas has a premier running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a good enough young quarterback in Dak Prescott to do some damage in the air. The Packers are getting healthy and won in Dallas in the playoffs last January. Maybe the biggest question is whether the Packers can contain Elliott in the nitro, if that’s coordinator Dom Capers’ go-to defense. The guess here is that Elliott and home field prevail. Cowboys 28, Packers 27
This one should be close in the fourth quarter, and in that scenario I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers as my best offensive player over Ezekiel Elliott. Packers 34, Cowboys 30
With several key players apparently nearing their return, the Packers should have their most complete roster since the opener. With an offense that ranks outside the NFL’s top 10 in points and yards, the Cowboys haven’t been able to mask their warts on defense as they did a year ago. Expect a back-and-forth game that in the end, much like this past January, Aaron Rodgers finds a way to make one more play. Packers 31, Cowboys 27
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense should be able to score on a Dallas defense that has been suspect in the secondary. The question is if their nitro defense can hold up against the Cowboys' running game. Even if Mike Daniels doesn't play, I think it does just enough. Packers 27, Cowboys 23