Every week I’ll share four observations the day after the Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers’ 30-16 loss to Dallas on Sunday night.
First down: The Cowboys’ offensive line is the NFL's best and deserves its share of the credit for the team’s strong start offensively. But for my money, rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is the reason the Cowboys gashed the Packers’ top-rated run defense for 191 yards on the ground. The Packers had a huge problem handling Elliott’s short-area quickness and power. He slid off and around tackles and picked up several yards when it looked like nothing was there. It stood out most late in the fourth quarter when Dallas was trying to take time off the clock in the final seven minutes. Elliott picked up 47 yards on four carries, and then Dallas took him out of the game. Alfred Morris carried on the next two plays, and that’s when the difference became so obvious. Morris (one yard on two carries) was noticeably slower through the hole and unable to shed tacklers and make them miss the way Elliott had all game. He picked up one yard on his two carries.
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Second down: Mike McCarthy threw the kitchen sink at Dallas’ defense when it came to personnel groups Sunday, and some worked better than others. The four- and five-receiver sets showed some promise even if the Packers scored only 16 points. But the jumbo packages, which featured backup tackle Jason Spriggs as a tight end, didn’t do much. On a third-and-one in the first quarter, McCarthy sent out Spriggs and backup lineman Don Barclay as extra blockers, along with two tight ends and fullback Aaron Ripkowski as the lone running back. It failed to get the first down. It’s tough to run in the NFL when defenses know what’s coming no matter how many big blockers you have.
Third down: LaDarius Gunter had a bad game at cornerback a week after his excellent performance against Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants. Gunter gave up two big plays on back-to-back snaps that allowed Dallas to score a big touchdown in the final minute of the first half. On the first, Gunter slipped while covering receiver Terrance Williams, who turned the play into a 42-yard reception. Then on the next play, receiver Brice Butler got behind Gunter on a go route for a 20-yard touchdown. Also, on receiver Cole Beasley’s four-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter Gunter bit hard on Beasley’s inside fake, and when Beasley broke back outside he was wide open for the easy score.
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Fourth down: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers tried everything from the start of the game to stop the Dallas running game, though it didn’t seem to work any better than when he just went with the standard personnel to match the Cowboys’ personnel groupings. The new wrinkle was a nickel defense that featured three defensive linemen and two outside linebackers, as Capers would deploy in his base 3-4 scheme, but only one true inside linebacker, and that was Clay Matthews, who would move from his regular spot at outside linebacker (Nick Perry, Datone Jones and Julius Peppers rotated at the two outside spots in this personnel group). That allowed the secondary to match up with Dallas’ two-tight-end, two-receiver personnel in the passing game but also stack the line of scrimmage with better run stoppers. It was creative, but it didn’t do much to slow Dallas’ run game.