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Dallas and Green Bay Take Centerstage Today in Rematch of 2016 Playoff Thriller

Posted on October 08, 2017 by Chris Kent

Call it a rematch.

The Dallas Cowboys host the Green Bay Packers in week five of the NFL season today. While revenge will be the intent of the Cowboys, the Packers will be looking for their third straight win and with it claim early season supremacy over their NFC brethren.

Green Bay’s 34-31 win over Dallas in last season’s NFC divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium – AKA Jerry World – ended the Cowboys unexpected storybook season at 13-4. Dallas won the NFC East for the second time in three years, buoyed by a franchise-record 11-game winning streak. While the Cowboys were in control of their eventual division championship throughout the season, their season came to an abrupt end when Aaron Rodgers worked his late-game magic with a one-of-a-kind throw that has been firmly entrenched in the storied lore of this matchup.

Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook connected on this clutch play in last's year's dramatic playoff win over Dallas.

Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook connected on this clutch play in last’s year’s dramatic playoff win over Dallas.

Facing third-and-20 from his own 32-yard line with 12 seconds left to play, Rodgers rolled out of the pocket to his left and spotted tight end Jared Cook running toward the side line. Rodgers fired a long pass to Cook who caught it while bending at the knees and dragging the tips of his two feet inbounds before falling out of bounds. Three seconds remained which then ticked away as Mason Crosby drilled a 51-yard field goal to send the Packers to the NFC Championship game and Dallas into the offseason one-and-done. It was a bitter defeat for the Cowboys and their fans who have waited nearly nine months for the two teams to meet again.

The defeat was even more deflating for Dallas when you consider that the game was full of drama, something the Cowboys’ franchise has always been known for. Dallas went up 3-0 – its’ only lead of the game – at the 11:28 mark of the first quarter before Green Bay scored 21 unanswered points to take a 21-3 lead with 8:14 left in the second quarter. Playing from behind nearly the whole game – a position they were rarely in the whole season – the Cowboys were taken out of their normal comfort zone. The Packers lead 21-13 at halftime.

Rodgers three-yard touchdown pass to Cook gave Green Bay a 28-13 lead early in the third quarter, a score which remained entering the fourth quarter. Dallas continued its’ rally by scoring consecutive touchdowns 7:31 apart in the fourth. The second one came when Dak Prescott connected with Dez Bryant on a seven-yard scoring play. Prescott’s two-yard run provided the two-point conversion and the game was tied 28-28.

The Packers retaliated on their ensuing drive with Crosby’s 56-yard field goal putting Green Bay up 31-28. That left the Cowboys with 1:33 following the ensuing kickoff. Prescott took Dallas on a 6-play 47-yard drive in 58 seconds to set up Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal knotting the score at 31 apiece. There were still 35 seconds left and Rodgers used it to put the Packers in position to win it behind his now legendary play.

Rodgers finished the game 28-for-43 for 355 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception while compiling a 96.6 quarterback rating. Prescott, in his first career playoff game, was 24-for-38 for 302 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, and had a 103.2 QBR. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott – who lead the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards during the 2016 regular season – ran 22 times for 125 yards. Mistakes were relatively even as each team had one turnover while the Cowboys had a slight 3-2 edge in sacks.

This drama-filled game was right on cue with what has come to be expected in this matchup. From the iconic Ice Bowl meeting in

Dez Bryant and Sam Shields battled in this controversial play during the 2014 NFC Divisional Playoffs.

Dez Bryant and Sam Shields battled in this controversial play during the 2014 NFC Divisional Playoffs.

1967 to the dramatic third-down conversion between Rodgers and Cook back in January, the Dallas and Green Bay series history has been among the most revered in NFL history. Between the two aforementioned games that bookend this series history there have been classics like the three straight playoff meetings in the 1990’s – all won by the Cowboys – when hall-of-fame quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Brett Favre dueled. There was also the catch/no catch game that concerned Bryant on a fourth-and-two play with 4:42 left to play in the NFC divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field following the 2014 season. Originally ruled a catch, the call was reviewed and overturned. The Packers took over and ran out the clock en route to a 26-21 victory. Green Bay leads the all-time series 18-17 which includes a 14-13 edge in the regular season. The two franchises are tied 4-4 in eight postseason meetings with the Packers having won the last two. A mere touchdown (6 points) separates the two franchises in the point differential in their 35 all-time meetings with Green Bay up 814-808.

More close margins are expected when the two face off today in an early-season battle for NFC supremacy. The Packers are off to a 3-1 start and have won two straight games. They also come in rested as they last played 10 days ago on Sept. 28 when they beat Chicago at home 35-14.

Rodgers is playing at his usual high level. Heading into today’s game, he ranks fourth in the league with 1,146 yards passing and has a QBR of 100.7. He is 107-for-160 on the season with 10 touchdown passes against only 3 interceptions. Thus far, Rodgers has been sacked 15 times which is third most in the league. This is not typical of him when you consider his strong ability to roll out, throw on the run, and evade the pass rush.

The sacks on Rodgers opens up the possibility that Dallas may be able to get to and/or rattle Rodgers. Considering that starting offensive tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) are both listed as questionable on Green Bay’s injury report heading into this game, that could bode well for Dallas. Add in that defensive end David Irving is returning from a four-game suspension for the Cowboys and Rodgers could be facing more pressure. Irving had a huge game last season in Dallas’ 30-16 road win over the Packers. Irving finished with 4 tackles (3 solo), a sack, a pass defensed, a tackle for a loss, and a fumble recovery. While the Cowboys’ defense is young and not the strength of the team, they do have some emerging players. Fourth-year defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is on a tear with his lead-leaguing 7.5 sacks. He also has 21 tackles on the season including 16 solo and has forced a pair of fumbles on the season. Green Bay will likely be missing running back Ty Montgomery who is doubtful due to a rib injury. Wide receiver Davante Adams, who was the recipient of a vicious hit by Bears’ linebacker Danny Trevathan 10 days ago, is also questionable as are cornerbacks Davon House and Quinten Rollins which could make life a bit easier for Bryant and the Dallas receiving corps.

Dak Prescott was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016.

Dak Prescott was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 when the Cowboys went 13-3.

For the Cowboys, Prescott has been solid but not as spectacular as last season. He ranks 15th in the league with a QBR of 90.1. Prescott is 87-for-143 on the season for 941 yards. He has eight touchdown passes and three interceptions thus far. Known in recent years as the best offensive line in football, the Dallas front wall has not been as dominant this season. Two new starters are in place from last year and the unit is still coming together with their chemistry. Left guard Chaz Green and right tackle Lael Collins are both first-year starters who join three first-round draft picks up front. This has made life a little less smooth for second-year running back Ezekiel Elliott. Look for the Cowboys to feed Elliott the ball early in hopes of getting the running game going. This will then translate to more flexibility in their play calling which factors well into them winning the time of possession battle which is what Dallas strives to do. Elliott has 76 carries on the season for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However the telling stat for the Cowboys’ running game is that Elliott is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry thus far this season, a full yard and a half below his 5.1 average in 2016. If Elliott is picking up five-plus yards on runs, it will open things up for their receiving corps which has underachieved so far in 2017. Slot receiver Cole Beasley – who lead the team with 75 receptions last season – has only 11 catches for 86 yards and has yet to score a touchdown.

Defensively, Dallas will likely be without starting linebacker Sean Lee who is nursing a hamstring injury. However starting linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who has yet to play this season due to suffering a fracture of the tibial plateau in his knee in the preseason, will likely return.

While statistics are always important in analyzing a game, they don’t always tell the whole story. The intangibles like leadership, clock management, penalties, turnovers, and situational substitutions can weigh heavily in the outcome of a game. One such intangible for the Packers is Rodgers unique ability to hurry his team to the line when he sees that the defense is trying to get a 12th man off the field before the next play is snapped. Meanwhile the Cowboys have one of the best kickers in the game in Dan Bailey who is supremely accurate even from over 50 yards. This game will likely offer more of the same excitement and drama that it has become known for. In the end another likely thrilling chapter will be written for the storied archives. Prepare room in the hallowed vault.

 

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