Packers' front seven gets after Elliott, Prescott after focusing on fundamentals
ARLINGTON, Texas – Some raw numbers won’t look that good when Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is given a stat book on his way back to Wisconsin on Sunday night.
The Dallas Cowboys rolled up 563 yards of total offense and averaged 8.3 yards per play. They rushed for 122 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
But it’s an example of the sum being greater than the parts for his group in a 34-24 victory at AT&T Stadium, as they shut out the Cowboys in the first half and didn’t allow a touchdown until the two-minute mark in the third quarter.
All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line was a focus for Pettine’s front seven, and he rushed just 12 times for 62 yards – and two carries and 21 yards came in the final 13 seconds of the first half.
Pettine said the issues with his group’s run fits up until Sunday were about fundamental errors, and while his players first noted they had to watch the film to properly review their effort, it felt like they had tightened up some issues.
“I think we’re taking a step in the right direction in that aspect,” Packers defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster said. “There are definitely a lot of things we’ve got to clean up. There’s no perfect game. I know there were some runs that go through and a lot of explosive plays so there’s definitely a lot we need to clean up. But going back to fundamentals I personally felt better with hands so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
What also helped on the front lines was an opportunistic secondary getting after the ball on the back end. After the Packers offense went three-and-out on the game’s first possession, the Cowboys immediately went to the air to try and throw the Packers out their run-heavy front. Dak Prescott moved the ball 37 yards in three plays – but a Jaire Alexander intercepted a ball off the hands of Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper and his ensuing 37-yard return set the offense up for its first score.
Dallas drove to the Green Bay 34 on its next possession thanks to a 46-yard pass play, but Za’Darius Smith beat Cowboys backup left tackle Cameron Fleming with a bull rush to sack Prescott and force a punt. The Packers responded with a scoring drive, and by the end of one quarter it was 14-0.
Suddenly the game looked like the first three contests of the season for the Packers, where they played freely with a multiple-score lead.
“I told the guys this week that we need to just hold our gaps, set the edge and everything will happen,” Za’Darius Smith said. “You can probably see that in the third quarter and we got a chance to get after them on third down. We had a chance to have fun in the first half.”
While the Cowboys did move the ball and were very efficient on first and second down – they only had eight tries at third down – but that down was a winning one for the Packers defense. Of the six third down stops Green Bay made, two were sacks, one was a throwaway forced by pressure from Kyler Fackrell and Adrian Amos on a blitz and one was a throwaway forced by pressure from Za’Darius Smith.
“That’s a credit to our offense,” defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “You put them in plus-2- points in the second half and that’s not really who they are, a passing team like that. That was a good part of the game play was getting up on them to make them one-dimensional.”
The Packers hit Prescott eight times, recorded four tackles for loss and three sacks – all by Za’Darius Smith (two) and Preston Smith. The two were shutout last week against Philadelphia.
Despite the playmaking from the front, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary were flagged for four combined penalties in the fourth quarter, too, which aided two Cowboys touchdown drives and a possession that led to an eventual missed field goal.
“I got ticked off and that’s not me, I’m not that type of player and I apologize to my fans and my teammates because that wasn’t acceptable,” said Za’Darius Smith, who was penalized for illegal use of hands and unnecessary roughness.
The Packers, who lost safety Darnell Savage Jr. (knee) and linebacker B.J. Goodson (neck) for the game and saw Kevin King (knee) and Za’Darius Smith (knee) miss snaps with injuries now have a week before hosting Detroit on Monday, Oct. 14.
“Someone (former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis) had said something about our defense and our leadership and that really hit home,” Za’Darius Smith said. “As you can see, we are going to keep doing what we have to do to help this team and this defense and we are going to keep doing it. We are going to enjoy this win and prepare for Monday night football.”