The Packers start the second quarter of the 2017 regular season with a big test on the road against one of their oldest NFC rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers are 3-1 this season and are also 3-1 in their last four meetings against the Cowboys. Here is how they can continue their winning ways…
As we enter the second quarter of the regular season, we must acknowledge the abysmal effort that the Packers have put forth in the second quarter of each game so far this season. In three of the four games thus far, the Packers have scored zero points. Last week against the Bears, the Packers scored 7 points. Overall, they have been outscored 41-7 in the second quarter. Frankly, that’s brutal. The chances that the Packers keep winning with such a lame and lopsided effort going into halftime can not be good.
It will be crucial for the Packers to stop second year running back Ezekiel Elliott. The easiest way to make him a non-factor is to jump out to an early lead. We saw it happen last week against the Bears, when the Packers took a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter and immediately forced the Bears into more throwing situations. This same thing needs to happen against the Cowboys. The Packers have scored touchdowns on their opening drive the last three games. They must once again start fast, but this time make it continue into the second quarter in order to put pressure on the Cowboys and force them to look to others besides Elliott on offense. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott hasn’t been as sharp as he was last season and he and star wide receiver Dez Bryant have yet to find much chemistry through four games, even though Bryant leads the team in targets. The Packers have the offensive weapons to start fast and keep pressing to not only put pressure on the Dallas offense, but also keep them off the field.
Through four games this season, it is the Packers passing defense that is leading the way, not their run defense. This may surprise people as it is the opposite of what has been the norm for the Packers defense over the past few years. Currently the Packers are 5th best in the league in passing defense, but only 19th best at run defense, allowing 111 rushing yards a game. The Packers faced Elliott and the Cowboys twice last year, and both times Elliott found plenty of space to run, going for 157 yards in the Cowboys week 6 victory and 125 yards in the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Packers can do what they’ve been doing so far this season and keep Elliott at or under 111 yards, that may just feel like a victory in and of itself!
The offensive line for the Cowboys was dominant last season, in pass protection and even more so in run blocking. This season however, they’ve lost two starters and it has taken it’s toll on both the passing game and the running game. Prescott is a mobile quarterback and can easily move around both in and out of the pocket, but Elliott has struggled to find the same success running the ball behind this line as he did last season. With the possibility that big Mike Daniels returns this week, there’s a good chance that Elliott will once again have problems finding running lanes through the strong and scrappy defensive front seven of the Packers.
AARON RODGERS vs. ROD MARINELLI
Aaron Rodgers has faced Rod Marinelli 15 times, dating back to 2008, Rodgers first year starting in the league and Marinelli’s last year as head coach of the Detroit Lions. (You might recall that the Lions went 0-16 that year.) In their 15 meetings, Rodgers has dominated the match-up, going 13-2 including three playoff victories. Rodgers has played exceptional as of late, dominant in the second half and overtime against the Bengals and mistake free and effortless against the Bears even with an inexperienced and young offensive line protecting him. Against the Bears, it was crystal clear early on that Ty Montgomery was the focus of the offensive game plan. When Montgomery went out before the end of first series, it took the Packers a couple turns on offense to adjust and find their rhythm again. Coming out of halftime, the Packers, led by Rodgers, dominated the third quarter. With many key players on offense questionable once again with injuries, it will fall back on Rodgers and his play-making abilities to lead the Packers on offense. Both offensive tackles Brian Bulaga and David Bakhtiari remain on the injury report, as well as Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery. There is a real chance that all four of these key players will not see the field on Sunday.
With Rodgers past success against Marinelli, it is still easy to like the Packers chances. Rodgers has to look forward to match-ups like this. You have to believe that if the game is on the line and the Packers get the ball, Rodgers has a very good idea of what he is going to be facing on defense and where he will be going with ball. The Cowboys have been dealing with their own list of injuries and suspensions on the defensive side of the ball, so it is difficult to know exactly who will be on the field come Sunday. Perhaps the Cowboys biggest weapon on defense, linebacker Sean Lee, didn’t play last week and continues to nurse a sore hamstring. Watch for Martellus Bennett to have a big game, matching up against a depleted Cowboys linebacking core. If Bulaga or Bakhtiari are back, Bennett would then be relieved of some of the pass protection duties that have been necessary as the Packers have navigated injuries so far this season, allowing him to run more routes and be more involved in the passing game. Same can be said for the other two tight ends, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers. But once again, this game will come down to the other Rodgers, Aaron.
The Packers and the Cowboys have once again become very familiar foes, playing four times in the last three seasons, with the Packers leading the way with three wins, including two in the playoffs. Even with the Packers banged up, the Cowboys still seem to be a bit out of sorts so far this season. Between Rodgers success against Marinelli and the Cowboys struggling to run the ball behind a banged up offensive line, I like the Packers in this one.