Rodgers' Calf Will Determine Whether Pack Can Rope Cowboys

Has this not been the longest week in recent memory? Maybe having to wait 14 days for the Packers to take the field for their first playoff test has something to do with it, but we are closing in on the most anticipated game of divisional playoff weekend.

You know all the storylines: Ice Bowl II. 8-0 vs. 0-8. Aaron's torn calf muscle. Romo comes home. DeMarco Murray vs. the Pack's front seven. Green Bay's 1-3 playoff record in its last four at Lambeau. There are enough to fill up the Internet.

But you know as well as I do that the one that matters most is the health of Rodgers' lower leg and even he doesn't know how he'll hold up. If he were 100%, the Packers would be about as healthy as a team could be and their home field swagger would practically dare the 'Boys to try to keep up with them on the scoreboard. After all, the Pack has been historically good at home this season--becoming the first team in history to score 23 first half points in six straight games.

But Rodgers' calf appears to be nowhere near 100% and it will change how Mike McCarthy calls this game. In a perfect world, he would test that 26th ranked pass defense early and then let Eddie Lacy run wild, once Dallas committed to the nickel and dime. He would let the maestro do what he does, move around, extend plays, take deep shots--all the things that makes the Pack's defense lethal.

Instead, we'll likely see a more conservative approach, at least early, to see how the calf is responding. Expect Rodgers to do most of his work from the pocket and expect Eddie Lacy to get a lot of touches early, though Dallas is tough against the run, ranked fifth in the league. The big question is whether longtime coaching foe Rod Marinelli goes against script and blitzes Rodgers to see just how nimble he is. The Lions chose not to test him that way in the second half--Rodgers is a notorious blitz-killer. But a gimpy Rodgers could be forced into rare mistakes if he faces some serious heat.

The Cowboys will no doubt rely heavily on Murray and his Pro Bowl-laden offensive line to try to control tempo and keep Rodgers and company hangin' out by the heaters on the sidelines. It remains to be seen how Murray handles the cold weather. He's had a bit of a fumbling problem--losing five this season, the most among non-QBs. He tends to get a bit careless with the ball and the Pack will no doubt test him all day.

The defense is as healthy as it's been all season, and after recent playoff meltdowns against the Niners, it's their time to step up and dominate. Or at least not let Murray, Romo and Dez dominate. The Lions were able to get pressure on Romo all day long--look for Dom Capers to show him some new wrinkles to keep him out of his comfort zone. He still relies heavily on tight end Jason Witten when he needs to convert a third down: the Pack needs to cover him like a blanket.

We know from recent memory that teams don't come in to Lambeau with any fear--the recent home playoff record attests to that. And this Dallas team went into Seattle this season and got a win (take away that one and the Philly win and their other six road victories came against teams that combined to go 26-70). They're road tested but not cold-tested. This group played no cold weather games this season and very few in recent years. While Romo, a Wisconsin boy, will likely feel at home, it remains to be seen how Murray, Dez and others handle it.

A healthy Rodgers would have me very optimistic and confident. A gimpy Rodgers has me concerned that we may have to rely on Matt Flynn in the second half. That worked out well the last times these teams met (the 37-36 comeback thriller in Dallas last season), but would unlikely provide a similar outcome this time around.

The way I see it, the Packers will get enough from Rodgers, Lacy and company to score points and the defense will be of the bend but don't break variety and take the ball away a couple of times. Ice Bowl II ends the way the Ice Bowl ended, with a Packers victory. Let's just hope we don't have to rely on a Rodgers sneak on the final play of the game.

Packers 27 Cowboys 20

Reminder: "Packer Preview" returns to its previous time slot this week: Sunday morning, 8am-9am on KFAN and kfan.com.

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