Rodgers’ Greatest Challenge Versus Cowboys Will Be Overcoming Green Bay’s Greatest Weakness
A bone-chilling wind blew into Tarrant County on Sunday evening, bringing with it a newsflash capable of curdling the blood of every Super-minded fan in the region. Even a day later, the shock factor remains far above the level of paranoia.
A-Rod is coming back to Arlington.
No, not that A-Rod. Not Big Money A-Rod.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s magical gunslinger who is alleged to be capable of doing anything short of weaving straw mats out of white rice, is scheduled for a weekend date at AT&T Stadium against the NFC top-dog Dallas Cowboys. It’s a postseason battle of the brands that has many historians drooling. It’s a matchup that has many fans around Dallas anticipating another one-and-done playoff run for their Cowboys.
That a 13-3 team should have so little respect going into an NFC Divisional showdown is a testament to the strong medicine that Rodgers has been making for the Packers in recent weeks. He is the Big Cheese at quarterback that powers Green Bay’s wheels. Of late, those wheels have been running roughshod over everything and everybody in its path.
During a seven-game winning streak that has seen the Packers go from 4-6 misfits to NFC North champions to Wild-Card winners over a tough Giants team yesterday at Lambeau Field, Rodgers has thrown 22 touchdowns and exactly zero interceptions. It’s the kind of streak that has many media types pondering Rogers’ credentials for league MVP, not to mention the imminent destruction that is sure to strike the Cowboys’ defensive secondary on Sunday afternoon.
But before you or I or Tom Hicks can come up with 252-million reasons why the Cowboys are doomed to waste another strong season, let’s test the waters of pragmatism.
Is there anybody or anything in this whole wide world that has the wherewithal to stop Rodgers? (Sit down, Jerry. Football is not your area of expertise. Never has been. Never will be.)
It’s hard to come up with an affirmative answer when scouring over the Dallas defense, that’s for certain. Sean Lee is an unstoppable force at linebacker, as his first-team All-Pro status indicates. David Irving is a hit-and-miss phenomenon along the defensive line. Other than those two, it’s a unit that makes a living on hustle and attention to detail. It’s a safe bet to say the Dallas defense will slow Rodgers down at times, but not the type of unit you would expect to throw the clamps on the Green Bay offense for 25 minutes running like the Giants did in the first half.
So then how many points will Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott need to post for a Dallas victory?
Or, to frame it in a way that more directly highlights Rodgers’ greatest challenge against the Cowboys, how many points will Green Bay need to hang on the Cowboys to get out of town with the W?
It might be more than you would think.
Because, with Rodgers throwing up ridiculous stat-lines every week, Green Bay’s deficiencies in their own defensive secondary have been largely glossed over. Injuries have forced Mike McCarthy to put three different cornerbacks on injured reserve this season, leaving the Packers’ defense woefully thin on the backend. The trickle-down effect forced defensive coordinator Dom Capers to line up safeties in one-on-one coverage with wide receivers during the season’s stretch run. The Lions were too inept to take advantage of this in Week 17, and Odell & Friends were too distracted to bury the Packers in the first quarter of yesterday’s game.
But on Sunday, the challenges are more serious for the Packers, and certainly more diversified. Green Bay will not only have to account for Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley on passing downs, but pay close attention to Ezekiel Elliott as well. Elliott’s presence behind that massive Dallas offensive line are the ingredients that separates the Cowboys’ unit from those in Detroit and New York. Just like those dominant Cowboy teams of the 1990s, and just unlike the Lions and Giants of the past two weeks, these Cowboys can run over you, or throw over you. Whichever you prefer.
Prescott’s dual-threat capabilities at quarterback will only complicate matters more for Green Bay, and is the one factor they didn’t have to account for in their playoff meeting with Dallas two years ago when Tony Romo was under center for Dallas. This time around, playing soft pass-coverage could very easily come at a price.
The Cowboys scored 30 points in their Week 6 victory over the Packers earlier this season, and it would have been more if the margin had been closer. With a bye week to rest up, and a bludgeoned secondary in front of them, it’s hard to imagine them not having just as much, if not more, success on Sunday in Arlington.
If so, then it will be up to Rodgers to pass the Packers past their greatest weakness and into their second NFC Championship Game appearance in three years.
Either way, the scene on Sunday at Jerry’s Palace will be a grand one. But, then again, that’s to be expected when A-Rod’s in town.