Quick takes: Aaron Jones scores 4 TDs, Packers beat Cowboys 34-24 to improve to 4-1
ARLINGTON, Texas - So long as Aaron Jones is on the field, the Green Bay Packers are never without a playmaker.
That was never more true than Sunday deep in the heart of Jones’ home state. Without Pro Bowler Davante Adams, the Packers’ top receiver, the offense had to come from somewhere. Jones, the dynamic running back who can dazzle in open space, did not disappoint.
Jones had a career day, rushing for four touchdowns in the Packers’ 34-24 victory inside an AT&T Stadium packed with plenty of Packers fans, who frequently broke out “Go Pack Go” chants. It was clear from the beginning coach Matt LaFleur was intent on getting the football any way possible to Jones, the Packers’ undisputed top skill player without Adams, who was inactive because of a turf toe injury. The final result was 107 yards on 19 carries along with 75 yards on seven catches for the University of Texas-El Paso product. That’s 182 yards on 26 touches with four touchdowns.
"Yeah, he was running well," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It was his typical style: slasher, cut backs, breaking tackles. I thought it was a great game for him, he was obviously the hot hand, got a lot of touches down in the red zones and finished those of nicely."
The run game helped ease pressure off Rodgers, who was better than his numbers indicated. Rodgers finished 22-for-34 with 238 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, an 85.2 rating. But he didn’t force the passing game without his top receiver, made plays with his legs when necessary and, most important, kept the offense out of bad situations.
Here are five more observations from Sunday’s win.
Early statement from LaFleur
The Packers were without Adams, without running back Jamaal Williams and without a lot of reasons – at least on paper – to be all that competitive Sunday. The best thing to do in that situation is jump all over an opponent that might be a little overconfident, and that’s what LaFleur got his team to do. The Packers' offense started with a three-and-out, but then scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. That set the tone for the day. LaFleur deserves a lot of credit to have his team ready to play on the road, especially given what the Packers were stacked up against.
There is one bone Packers fans probably would like to pick with the new head coach. In the second quarter Sunday, the Packers had a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Sound familiar? The Packers had a first-and-goal from the 1 last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and they threw four straight times. This time, the Packers gave the football to Jones for a dive on the first play, but they inexplicably threw it the next two snaps – and both were incompletions. The Packers did get a 1-yard touchdown run from Jones in the second half, but that only makes the reluctance to run from the 1 all that more confusing. Before Jones’ 1-yard touchdown, the Packers had seven plays from the opponent’s 1-yard line in the past two games. They ran it once. That’s not the ideal ratio.
Cowboys air it out
Speaking of running the ball, the Cowboys clearly came out throwing Sunday. It’s a peculiar decision, given the Packers had allowed 523 rushing yards in three straight games, but Dak Prescott had more passes (five) than Ezekiel Elliott had runs (four) in the first quarter. That’s important to remember, because the imbalance between run and pass only increased as the Packers took a 31-3 lead, but that seemed to be coach Jason Garrett’s plan from the beginning. An odd choice it was. Prescott’s numbers looked good. He completed 27-of-44 passes for 463 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed three interceptions and took three sacks and ended up with an 83.8 rating. There’s high risk, high reward when you air it out. As the Packers have shown this season, throwing the ball against them only plays into their defense’s strength.
The Smiths reach double digits
The Cowboys were without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, and starting right tackle La’el Collins dropped out in the third quarter. Against this Packers pass rush, playing a pair of backup tackles is a big problem. It’s unreal how Za’Darius and Preston Smith have transformed the Packers' defensive front overnight, and their pressure on the quarterback was on full display against Prescott. Za’Darius Smith had two sacks and Preston Smith added one. Together, the Smiths have now combined for 10.5 sacks on the season (Preston has 5.5, Za’Darius five). Preston had never surpassed eight sacks in any of his first four seasons, while Za’Darius never surpassed 8.5. Barring injury, both are going to set career highs with ease this season.
"Our defense came up big, especially in the first half, in those critical moments just to keep points off the scoreboard," LaFleur said. "It allowed us to get a little bit of a lead, but again, there's a lot to improve upon."
Not just the Smiths
Kevin King, upgraded from doubtful to questionable Saturday, went through light sprints to test his groin injury two hours before kickoff Sunday. It’s a good thing King’s injury cooperated. King was able to play throughout most of Sunday’s win, giving the Packers’ defense an important presence on the perimeter. King dropped one interception in the third quarter, but he followed with a pick in the fourth that set up a Packers field goal, giving them an important three-possession lead. Jaire Alexander also had a pick in the first quarter, catching a deflection off Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper. It’s the first time in their careers King and Alexander have each had an interception in the same game. It might not be the last.
"The turnovers, that was the difference today," LaFleur said. "When you're plus-3 in the turnover margin, pretty good chance you're going to come out victorious."