The 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys fate hangs in the balance in the final three games after a deflating 45-28 defeat to Chicago last Monday. Now they face the wounded Green Bay Packers, who will be without injured starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the sixth consecutive game. The Cowboys, who are known for their December swoons, know they need to bounce back Sunday if they have designs on earning their first playoff berth since 2009. Here is a look at how both the Cowboys and Packers match up:
When the Cowboys run
If the Cowboys choose to hold onto any tape from their 45-28 defeat to Chicago last Monday it will be the cutups of their running plays. The ground offense looked as good as it has all season, producing 198 yards and one touchdown. It was the third consecutive game the Cowboys rushed for more than 100 yards, as an area of weakness has suddenly become a strength. Green Bay, which has the eighth-worst run defense in the league, shouldn’t get in the way of a Dallas running game gaining steam.
When the Cowboys pass
The last time the viewing public saw Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback threw for 104 yards and the team’s top receiver caught only two passes. That happened Monday night, when the Cowboys lost 45-28 to Chicago. Dallas’ passing offense, which lacked bite, needs to return to form Sunday. The Cowboys depend on Romo and to a lesser extent Bryant. They should feast on a Packers defense yielding 246.8 passing yards per game, the 12th-highest average in the NFL.
When the Packers run
In the last three seasons, the Packers’ rushing offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league. In 2013, Green Bay’s ground game is producing 128.8 yards per game, the 10th-best in the NFL. The difference has been Eddie Lacy. The rookie tailback has amassed 887 rushing yards – the tenth-highest total in the NFL. But he hurt his ankle last Sunday and is listed as probable. If he aggravates the injury, backup James Starks, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, can still damage Dallas’ weak front.
When the Packers pass
Aaron Rodgers will miss his sixth consecutive game since breaking his left collarbone. The Packers starting quarterback has been ruled out, meaning Matt Flynn, who has been with three teams in 2013, will be behind center again. And while he is not the threat Rodgers is, the Cowboys’ woeful pass defense – ranked dead last in the NFL – appears capable of collapsing. The 141.9 rating produced by Chicago’s Josh McCown last Monday was the latest indictment on this sad unit.
As the Bears were piling up the points against the Cowboys last Monday, Dallas was dealt a big blow when return specialist Dwayne Harris aggravated his pulled hamstring. Now he will be out for the second time in three games. Just like Harris, the Packers’ Micah Hyde provides a jolt on special teams. This season, he took a punt back 93 yards for a touchdown. But the Packers haven’t fared well on kickoffs, producing the worst return average in the NFL.
The Cowboys are still smarting from a deflating defeat to Chicago in which receiver Dez Bryant said Dallas was “outplayed.” But the Cowboys have shown resilience throughout the season. They suffered a bitter 51-48 loss to Denver in October and came back to beat Washington the following week. They were annihilated by New Orleans before the bye in November and responded by beating the New York Giants in their next game. Expect the Cowboys to circle the wagons again and come out focused.
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When: Sunday, December 15th, 2013 at 3:25 p.m. (Dallas time)
Where: AT&T Stadium | Arlington, TX
Watch on TV: FOX | DirecTV
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