Big runs leave defense's only blemish

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden (20) breaks free in the first quarter.

The topic on the tip of Clay Matthews’ tongue wasn’t his sackless streak ending or how the Green Bay Packers’ defense systematically picked apart Matt Cassel and the Dallas Cowboys’ beleaguered offense.

Afterward, the Packers linebacker repeatedly brought up the one area where the defense fell short in Sunday’s 28-7 win over Dallas – the two times its run defense ruptured against Cowboys and veteran running back Darren McFadden.

McFadden, running behind what’s considered one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, rushed for 95 of his 111 yards on two plays against the Packers. The ground game was really the only thing that worked for Dallas, which was held to only one touchdown on 12 series and finished with 99 passing yards.

The rest of the offense came from the backfield with Cowboys rushing 20 times for 171 yards (8.6 yards per carry) and their lone touchdown.

“We gave up that huge run with some miscommunication, it seemed like,” said Matthews, who finished with a team-high six tackles and registered his first sack in two months Sunday. “In the red zone, we kind of put ourselves in a bad position and they end up getting those points with (us) overall just not executing, really.”

Thumbs up to play-calling, down to run 'D'

The first came on Dallas’ opening series when a hole opened and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix over-pursued the gap fit of McFadden, who then broke free for a 50-yard gain. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers managed to run McFadden down and the Packers kept the Cowboys off the board when cornerback Sam Shields picked off Cassel in Green Bay’s end zone.

In the third quarter, McFadden gained another 45 yards up the sideline shortly to set up Dallas’ only scoring drive of the day. Robert Turbin ran for 22 yards after forcing a missed tackle from rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins and then scored a seven-yard touchdown up the middle on the next play.

It cut the Packers’ lead to 14-7 with 8 minutes, 25 seconds left in the third quarter. The Cowboys’ offense had three chances at tying the game, but each series ended in a three-and-out. A big part of that was production on third and fourth downs with Green Bay allowing only one conversion on 13 attempts.

“We’ve got to make some corrections,” Matthews said. “There’s no doubt about that, but I thought we did a solid job. We’ll continue to improve, but I thought overall we did a very good job.”

The Packers’ defense has rallied back since allowing 1,475 yards and 84 points to San Diego, Denver and Carolina at the midseason point. Over its last five games, Green Bay has allowed only 1,495 yards and 78 points. On Sunday, the defense did it mostly without cornerback Sam Shields, who exited with 7:25 left in the second quarter with a concussion.

The Packers still rank 18th in total defense and 23rd against the run, but feel like they're hitting their stride during the final quarter of the regular season. It couldn’t come at a better time on the eve of back-to-back road games against Oakland and Arizona, which is averaging a league-high 417.5 yards per game this season.

“The goal is to keep going up and keep getting better as the season gets longer,” Peppers said. “This is the time of year where we need the arrow to be pointing up. It was a great start of the December football month. We’re looking forward to building on this next week.” and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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