Week 15 Football: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys – preview and prediction
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6) ★★★★
Late game on FOX; Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
Opponents have torched Monte Kiffin’s porous Tampa-2 ‘over’ defense all season long, and the Packers should be able to do the same – especially with no Sean Lee for Dallas. Kiffin likes to have a two-deep secondary with zone coverage, but the abysmal Dallas defense which has made every opposing running back look like the second coming of Jim Brown has forced him to bring one safety close to the line of scrimmage. DE DeMarcus Ware missed time with a quad injury, and since his return has not looked like his old self. The adjustment from Rob Ryan’s 3-4 to Kiffin’s 4-3 is definitely a work in progress, to put it nicely or it may be that the scheme has become outdated. Clubs that utilize the Tampa-2 (Dallas, Chicago, Minnesota, Jacksonville) are among the worst defenses in the NFL; it may have become a scheme that others have figured out how to exploit, and now needs to be discarded as it has past its expiration date.
The ‘Boys are not getting much of a push from their defensive line (four of their top six linemen from training camp are out), and they’re hurting at linebacker. Besides MLB Lee, WLB Bruce Carter is also out after pulling a hammy Monday night. That means undersized draft bust Ernie Sims gets the start. Despite the crew they have on defense the Cowboys have somehow been adept at inducing turnovers. They rank fifth in the NFL with 25 takeaways; since they can’t tackle well they will need to force a turnover or two in this game. Dallas ranks last in the NFL in yards and first downs allowed and is 31st in sacks.
Offensively it is a different story for Dallas. Tony Romo has drastically cut down on bad decisions and forcing throws; the result is just seven picks (versus 27 touchdowns) after a 2012 season in which he led the league in interceptions with 19, and turned the ball over 25 times. RB DeMarco Murray is healthy, and when he is he can run over or around would-be tacklers. Murray ran for 146 yards on just 18 carries last week, and has rushed for seven touchdowns on the season; that is not good news for a Packer defense that has allowed over 200 yards rushing in three of their last five games. With Murray healthy the running game has quickly transformed from an area of weakness to a strength as Dallas has rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games.
Green Bay has had one of the NFL’s worst running games over the last three years, but this year the Packers are rushing for a 10th-best 129 yards per game. Eddie Lacy has rushed for 887 yards but has been in a walking boot this week. Even if Lacy can’t go Green Bay should still be able to gash the soft Cowboy defense with James Starks, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
With Matt Flynn at quarterback Green Bay will rack up plenty of yardage and points, but Dallas holds on thanks to turnovers. The porous Dallas defense made Josh McCown look like Dan Marino last week, allowing the Chicago backup to complete 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. It would not be a surprise if Flynn duplicated McCown’s proficiency, especially with Jordy Nelson (67 receptions for 1,046 yards and 7 touchdowns) looking like a receiver that Dallas will struggle with. Even so, I think that Tony Romo and the Cowboy offense rebounds against a banged-up Green Bay defense that has allowed 26 or more points in six of the last seven games.
Pick • Cowboys 31, Packers 27
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