Packers’ defense slams door on Dallas
The Packers can play a decent game of Texas hold ‘em.
Big D meant Big Defense in Green Bay’s showdown with Dallas on Sunday at Lambeau Field. In a high-stakes matchup — playoff aspirations were on the table for both teams — Packers defenders did not fold in corralling the Cowboys 28-7.
Kickoff at high noon would have been appropriate.
Green Bay improved to 9-4 and moved a game ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North standings. Dallas dropped to 4-9 but remains alive for postseason consideration in the woeful NFC East.
Outside of a few long runs, the Packers defended well. The 270 yards and seven points they surrendered were the second fewest of the season behind the 196 yards and three points they allotted the 49ers in early October.
Green Bay set defensive season bests in third-down conversion percentage and net yards per pass play. Dallas was 1-of-11 on third downs (9.1 percent) and averaged just 3.2 yards per pass play as it gained but 99 yards on 31 dropbacks.
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That’s a snapshot of how the Packers performed using conventional indicators. Invoking a couple of lesser used measures — drive length and plays beyond the 50-yard line — places the defensive effort in an even better light.
The Cowboys had 12 offensive possessions. That’s fairly standard.
What’s unusual is that Green Bay never allowed the Cowboys to string together more than six plays on any drive. That hasn’t happened very often in the 10 seasons Mike McCarthy has been coach.
Green Bay has played 157 regular-season games since 2006. In all but 30 of them, opponents launched at least one drive of 10 or more plays.
Even the most downtrodden of teams tend to muster a 10-play drive. If nothing else, the advance comes during garbage time.
Not so with the Cowboys. Their best were three 6-play advances, none of which netted points.
The first was spurred by Darren McFadden’s 50-yard run to the Packers’ 12-yard line. Packers cornerback Sam Shields squelched it by intercepting a pass intended for Dez Bryant in the end zone.
The second featured a 28-yard reception by Bryant that was overturned on a challenge. Replays showed the ball hit the ground so Chris Jones punted for the second of what would turn out to be seven times.
The Cowboys’ third six-play drive occurred after the Packers went up 21-7. It featured four incompletions, the last of which was a fourth-down attempt that quarterback Matt Cassel threw behind McFadden.
Sunday was just the third time since 2006 in which Green Bay did not allow a drive of more than six plays. The Packers did the same to the Bills in a 24-10 loss on Nov. 5, 2006 and to the Vikings in a 9-7 win on Dec. 21 of the same year.
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Dallas entered the game having put together at least one drive of 10 or more plays in 11 of its previous 12 outings. The Jaguars were the last to hold the Cowboys to a six-play maximum, doing so in a 31-17 loss a year ago in London.
In addition to thwarting sustained drives, Green Bay also limited the number of plays the Cowboys spent beyond midfield. Dallas ran just six plays in Packers territory.
Some perspective is in order. Sunday was only the 15th time since 1970 in which the Packers prevented an opponent from running 10 or more plays beyond the 50.
Six of those games occurred on McCarthy’s watch. Green Bay won all six.
The Cowboys crossed midfield twice. They did so in the first and third quarters.
Dallas ran plays from the Green Bay 12, 2, 3 and 3 after McFadden’s 50-yard burst. The team gained nine yards on those four snaps, the last of which ended with Shields’ interception.
The team had better results in the third quarter. McFadden again led the charge, this time with a 45-yard dash to the 29. Robert Turbin then sprinted for 22 before powering across from seven yards out to cut Green Bay’s lead to 14-7.
After that touchdown, the Cowboys fired mostly blanks. Whether it was defensive back Micah Hyde tackling tight end Jason Witten a yard short of a first down, Clay Matthews sacking Cassel on a blitz or Jayrone Elliott deflecting a fourth-down pass, the Packers gave little ground. Dallas did not venture beyond its own 40 on its final five possessions.
Since 2006, the six regular-season games in which the Packers held the opposition to fewer than 10 plays beyond the 50-yard line.
Dec. 21, 2006
Jan. 3, 2010
Dec. 13, 2015
Nov. 4, 2007
Dec. 21, 2014
Dec. 23, 2012