It’s December, a time when Mike McCarthy and company typically strut their stuff. We desperately want to believe the Pack will close the season the way they usually do: steamrolling to the division title and getting ready for a deep postseason run.
It’s just hard to believe we’re going to see it. The Packers have had precisely one dominant, scintillating performance in the las six weeks–at Minnesota. Will the Miracle in Motown serve as the springboard the team needs to get over the funk. Let’s hope so.
The season’s final quarter begins with what looks like the easiest game left on the schedule, the 4-8 Cowboys, who are somehow still alive in the wretched NFC East, despite winning just once in the ten weeks they’ve been without Tony Romo. Their win in Washington keeps them in the race and they’ll likely treat this one like a playoff game. The Packers need to match their intensity from the start. In fact, we need to see the Pack dominate in the first quarter, jump out to a lead like they usually do at home.
Coming off back to back home losses to the Lions and Bears, the Packers must get back to what served them so well in the Vikings win. A strong, suffocating defense that stuffs the run and pressures Matt Cassell and an offense led by a punishing ground game, with Eddie Lacy leading the charge (more on him in a moment).
Let’s start with the defense: they have a huge edge in this matchup against a Cowboys team that is not running the ball consistently with Darren McFadden and can’t generate much through the air. Look for the Cowboys to target Dez Bryant early and often. He’s been complaining about his lack of targets this week and you know his last visit to Lambeau still haunts him. Will the Pack have Sam Shields shadow Dez or will they play him straight up? Cole Beasley is another guy who has a big game every few weeks and the Packers can’t lose sight of him, especially on third downs.
But the biggest edge the Packers have in this game is at quarterback. If you allow Cassell to come into your house and beat you in December, then what do you think your January prospects are? I expect the Pack to intercept Cassell a couple of times and force him to continue to take chances. The likely return of Damarius Randall will be a nice shot in the arm for a unit that really saved the team’s season last Thursday night.
Where we need to be reassured is offensively, where the puzzling saga of Eddie Lacy’s season took another curious turn last week, with the news that he lost track of time on the night before the game and missed curfew.
When the Pack lost Jordy Nelson in the preseason, we expected them to lean more heavily on the running game this season, but Lacy has not been up to the challenge. His future in Titletown beyond next season will be determined in large part, by how he plays in these four games. Can he be the 100 yard rusher we saw in weeks 11 and 12? Can he hang on to the football? If he can do both, it should alleviate some of the concerns with the passing game. McCarthy said Lacy was rejuvenated in practice this week. Let’s hope that translates on the field, beginning this Sunday.
Look for the Cowboys to use the recipe they employed in Washington, blitzing much more often that they were earlier in the season. They haven’t been able to get much of a pass rush without blitzing and they think they can force Rodgers to look mortal if they can make him make quick decisions. The fact that the receivers have had a hard time getting open makes Rodgers’ job more difficult and the Cowboys have the physical corners who can disrupt the rhythm of the offense.
How will Richard Rodgers follow up his breakout performance. He was having a career game before the Hail Mary catch. If he can suddenly become a legitimate threat, it might open some things up for Cobb and Adams.
I’d like to see the Pack do more no huddle in this game and push the tempo, rather than milk the clock and waste their timeouts as we’ve seen them do so often in recent weeks. Their aggressive defense should be more susceptible to Rodgers’ hard counts and quick snaps, with the noise at Lambeau serving as a nice accompaniment.
Barring disasters on special teams, the Packers should have plenty of advantages in this game to take care of business. They’ve had 10 days to heal, and the battered offensive line should be good to go, save Corey Linsley who hasn’t practiced this week as I write this.
The Cowboys are coming off a road game on Monday night, and a hard fought emotional win and have to turn the page quickly: Advantage Pack. Rodgers vs. Cassell: Advantage Pack. Under McCarthy, the Pack is 17-3 at home in December and they’ve won the last four against the ‘Boys: Advantage Pack.
I gotta believe.
Packers 23 Cowboys 13