There was so much to like about the Packers’ 34-24 beatdown of the Cowboys in the house that Jerry built on Sunday.
The two biggest takeaways for me: the resurgence of Aaron Jones and the confidence, swagger and physicality of Mike Pettine’s defense. Both were on full display on a day the Pack made a statement to the rest of the NFC. This is a new team. There’s a new vibe. Last year, this team was lucky to win one road game and one division game all season. Five weeks in, they’ve eclipsed both of those marks and if they can stop losing guys to injury, the sky’s the limit.
The offense was short-handed, missing Davante Adams and Jamaal Williams and I figured it would be a receiver-by-committee approach. While Rodgers completed passes to nine different players, non-running backs caught a total of 11 passes on the day. Jimmy Graham caught three, Geronimo Allison two and nobody else had more than one reception.
This was a game won on the ground, with Aaron Jones reprising his role from his 2017 appearance at AT&T Stadium, when he rushed for 125 yards. His whole family was in the house and he provided a game for the ages, tying the Pack’s franchise record with four touchdowns and befuddling the Cowboys’ defense all afternoon. Most impressive was his inside running, where he and the offensive linemen dominated, gashing the defense all day, especially late, when the Cowboys made a run to make things a little too interesting.
Just as impressive was the defense pitching a shutout into the third quarter, helped by a couple of interceptions that stalled Dallas drives. Pettine’s unit had ten days to hear about how overrated they were, after the Eagles torched them at Lambeau. They responded by taking advantage of the loss of Tyron Smith and making sure Zeke didn’t run wild. My only concern is the lack of discipline at times. Za’Darius Smith, battling a sore knee, had a great day getting after Dak Prescott, but his three penalties were unnecessary and could have caused big problems. I didn’t like seeing him trash talking Dak on one occasion. He’s the defensive captain; he needs to lead by example.
Jaire Alexander had a tough time with Amari Cooper, but he’s not alone there. He also made some big plays and we have to salute Kevin King, who was listed as doubtful on Friday but played the whole game, though he aggravated that groin injury late. The Pack even got solid play from Will Redmond, who replaced Darnell Savage, when he exited with an ankle injury.
The injuries are piling up. Corey Linsley’s ironman snap streak ended when he left with a concussion, but it looked like Lucas Patrick did a nice job in his place, other than a couple of wide snaps that fortunately went right to Aaron Jones. Add in Savage, King, Za’Darius, Robert Tonyan and BJ Goodson and the Pack have some issues as they get ready to face a healthy Lions team, coming off a bye, next Monday night.
Big picture: the Pack corrected much of went wrong in their loss to the Eagles: they won the turnover battle, were much better on special teams and were more productive in the red zone. They proved they could go on the road in a tough environment, without their best (and some would say only) receiver and take care of business.
Gone are the days that the Packers will go only as far as Rodgers can carry them. He’s still an elite QB who can put the team on his shoulders–and he’ll likely be called upon to do that once or twice this season. But with a talent like Aaron Jones and with an opportunistic, nasty defense to complement his elite play, the Packers appear poised to be a contender in a wide open NFC.
With a first-time rookie head coach, they’ve managed to get past NFC powers Chicago, Minnesota, Philly and Dallas and come out with a 4-1 record. If they can take care of business these next two weeks at home, they’ll likely be sitting on top of the NFC at 6-1, with seven of their final nine on the road, including a four out of five stretch to start. Impressive road wins in Chicago and Dallas have given us reason to dream that this team will be able to handle a grueling back half of the schedule.