Can Pack Stun the Desperate 'Boys Again?Posted:Oct 6th, 2017 4:48 pm
No matter how many more Packer games I watch, last year's final minute, 3rd and 20, Rodgers to Cook masterpiece will forever have a place on my Mount Rushmore of memorable Packers plays. The Cowboys players are still shaking their heads about it, as Mason Crosby then came in and delivered the epitaph on their once magical season.
Now here come the Packers again, and last year's 13 win season seems like a distant memory. The 2-2 'Boys are coming off a home loss to the Rams and view this one as a must win. This is not the same Dallas team: they've dealt with the Ezekiel Elliott suspension story for months, they let their entire secondary walk in free agency and lost 40% of their top-rated offensive line.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Cowboys have not run the ball nearly as effectively so far, with Elliott averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and notching just two runs of 20+ yards. Dak Prescott has also looked mortal, still very dangerous when on the move, but struggling a bit in the pocket and not in sync with the dangerous Dez Bryant.
Defensively, they've been mostly a mess. But they do have pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, who is probably the defensive player of the year leader, with 7.5 sacks and a bushelful of hurries already. He'll be a big problem, especially if Bryan Bulaga misses another game with the high ankle sprain. But their leader is Sean Lee, who appears likely to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury. They are completely different when he's not on the field. Second year guy Jaylon Smith is still not 100% back from his horrific injury but he may get some relief with the likely return of linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who's missed the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason. With the Cowboys' bye coming up next week, they'd likely prefer to give him another two weeks to heal, but may not have that luxury with Lee out and Rodgers and company in the house.
Their secondary is still trying to figure things out (with '16 starters Mo Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Barry Church wearing different uniforms). Their corners are young, short and susceptible to giving big plays. Toss in the nugget that Rodgers owns Rod Marinelli's defense (13-2 with 29 TDs and 8 picks) and it's hard to believe the Pack won't move the ball through the air.
Of course, Rodgers will have a much easier time if the Packers are able to line up their starting tackles for the first time this season. My guess is that Bakhtiari returns, but Bulaga doesn't, which would certainly be a shot in the arm for the line, even though Taylor and Patrick acquitted themselves well last week. A road game in Dallas in an entirely different scenario.
The Pack's running game is the biggest question mark heading into this one. Ty Montgomery has practiced in a limited fashion, while nursing broken ribs. He did not participate in the team periods on Friday and I find it hard to believe that the notoriously conservative medical staff would clear him, even with the extra days between games. Jamal Williams practiced fully this week, so he seems to have dodged a serious knee injury. I get the feeling Aaron Jones will get the lion's share of snaps in this game: I'm okay with that. Let Ty heal up and let's see what the rookies have to offer.
If the Packers are to spring the minor upset, it will because the defense is able to contain Zeke and keep Dak from making big plays. The unit is getting healthy, with both Davon House and Nick Perry full participants on Thursday. Mike Daniels is still a question mark. Sounds like he's itching to get back out there but has not yet been cleared--we may not know until 90 minutes before kickoff. The run defense has been impressive with and without him, but this will be their stiffest test until the prime timer in Pittsburgh next month. Kenny Clark and Quinton Dial have looked great and will be tested big time on Sunday.
A lot of things point the Pack's way: the extra time off, the injured players starting to heal up, Rodgers' domination over Marinelli's defenses and the Cowboys sluggish start. But Dallas comes in still smarting over their home playoff loss, embarrassed by their home loss last week and knowing that they'll have two weeks to think about whatever happens.
I expect to get their best shot, in the teams' third meeting in the last 12 months, with Elliott busting a couple of big runs and Dez making a big play or two. I'm looking at a high scoring affair and I think we'll be talking about the Pack's productive tight ends when it's over. Once again Rodgers gets a chance to seal the deal and he delivers late.
Pack 31 Cowboys 28
Next Friday, October 13th, is the annual "Border Battle" golf tournament at the beautiful StoneRidge Golf Club. Noon shotgun. Feedbag before and after and lots of trash talk in between, with the Pack and Vikes set to meet that Sunday at US Bank. For more info, call the pro shop: 651-436-4653