Packers' next opponent: Confounding Cowboys present problems
The Green Bay Packers hit the road for the first time since opening night Sept. 5 to play in Dallas and try to secure a key NFC victory.
Basics on the Cowboys
The Cowboys ran into a wall in New Orleans, as Ezekiel Elliott was held to just 1.9 yards per carry on 18 rush attempts in a 12-10 loss in the French Quarter. Elliott ran for 35 yards – the third lowest total of his career and lowest total with at least that many attempts. The Cowboys' defense played well again, however, keeping the Saints out of the end zone and allowing just 266 yards of total offense.
The Cowboys went young and innovative on offense in 2019 by promoting quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. Moore, 31, has updated the Cowboys' scheme to run more of the motions and multiple formations seen around the league while also making sure to utilize play action heavily.
The defense is a base 4-3 and it’s coordinated officially by Rod Marinelli – one of the better defensive line coaches in football – but the game-day plays are called by Kris Richard. Richard, who holds the title of passing game coordinator, once was the DC in Seattle.
Games Robert Quinn has played since coming off suspension and he has recorded three sacks.
League rank of the Cowboys’ offense and scoring defense.
League rank of the Cowboys’ rushing offense and the number of touchdowns their defense has given up.
Rushing yards the Cowboys have rushed for on four 3rd-and-1 plays.
Players to watch
Cameron Fleming, LT
The Cowboys lost starting left tackle Tyron Smith to a high ankle sprain Sunday night, and he left New Orleans in a walking boot. Not that replacing a two-time All-Pro is ever easy, but Fleming is in his second year in Dallas after spending four in New England.
Jason Witten, TE
Many were curious what Witten would have left after spending 2018 in the broadcast booth, but the 37-year-old has returned to form – at least to the degree that he’s a safety blanket for quarterback Dak Prescott. Through four games Witten has been targeted four times in each game, catching 14 passes for 144 yards (10.3 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB
The No. 19 overall pick in last year’s draft lived up to the billing with a Pro Bowl rookie year and he has built on that through four weeks with a half-sack and 32 tackles. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 256-pound outside linebacker has speed to track running backs and tight ends and is sure-handed when wrapping up.
Reasons to worry
Dallas is headed home after being handed their first defeat, and it is the first bit of adversity the offense has faced under new coordinator Kellen Moore. But, Dak Prescott has tremendous comfort there as he is 19-7 in his career at AT&T Stadium with a 100.4 rating. Also, after being bottled up in one of his worst performances as a professional, one would think Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line is motivated to get back on track. Which should be a scary proposition for a weak Packers run defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys feature two excellent edge pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, so if Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga can’t play – or is severely limited – the Packers pass game will have another disadvantage to work through behind potentially missing Davante Adams. The Cowboys are also the league’s No. 7 defense and No. 3 scoring defense and are 12th against the run. With several sure-tackling, athletic linebackers Aaron Jones might not have much daylight.
Reasons to relax
Aaron Rodgers found a rhythm last Thursday night for the first time all season, topping 400 yards passing and spreading the ball around to nine different receivers. Even after Bryan Bulaga left the game with an injury, Rodgers was able to use his legs to create time to throw or find running lanes (46 rush yards) against the Eagles. Perhaps the Packers did find something in their passing attack that can carry over going forward.
Defensively, the Packers will have to contend with another mobile quarterback – and one who protects the ball – in Prescott. The Dallas QB has only been sacked three times this season but he had been sacked 113 times his first three seasons in the league, so the Green Bay pass rush could have some opportunities to get after him on a fast surface.
Contact Jim Owczarski at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @JimOwczarski or Facebook at facebook.com/JOwczarski.