3TFO: Packers @ Cowboys, Week 15
Matt Claassen gives you a trio of matchups between the Packers and Cowboys to keep an eye on during the game.
3TFO: Packers @ Cowboys, Week 15
Green Bay kept their slim playoff hopes alive after pulling off a win for the first time this season without Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys wish to put their awful performance against the Bears on Monday Night Football behind them. Despite the loss and being one game out of the NFC East lead, the Cowboys can still make the playoffs without outside help—a luxury that the Packers lack.
The Packers won Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium, but it has been nearly 24 years since the Packers last beat the Cowboys in Dallas. Can the Packers emerge victorious and continue their playoff push? Or will the Cowboys bounce back to start some momentum of their own? Let’s take a look at three key matchups that could be deciding factors in Sunday’s game.
Dallas Cornerbacks vs. Green Bay Receivers
The Cowboys’ defense has allowed more passing yards than any other team this season, and unfortunately for them, that number does not seem to be skewed from other teams trying to catch up. Cornerback Brandon Carr’s performance has been erratic to say the least. He has had impressive games, such as the back-to-back games against Washington and Philadelphia where he combined for a +7.0 coverage grade and allowed just seven receptions on 21 targets. However, sandwiched around those two games are a rough game against Peyton Manning and a career-worst performance against Calvin Johnson in which he earned a -9.6 grade combined.
Orlando Scandrick has been their most consistent defensive back and the only with a ‘green’ coverage grade on the season. Still, he is coming off his worst outing of the season after he allowed 9 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown, while missing three tackles after the catch last week. Finally, Morris Claiborne has been battling injuries the last several weeks and his status remains in question this week. They may be better off without him though since he owns the team’s worst coverage grade even though he has missed four games.
Although the Packers will continue to be without Randall Cobb and (possibly) Rodgers on Sunday, they still boast one of the most talented wide receiver corps in the league. With only three games remaining, Jordy Nelson is two receptions away from a new career high and on pace for a career high in receiving yards as well. Despite the inconsistency at quarterback in recent weeks, his 72.8% catch rate ranks third among wide receivers with at least 50 targets.
Nelson has adjusted well to playing more snaps as the slot receiver in Cobb’s absence. Over the last six weeks, his 24 receptions from the slot are behind only Harry Douglas’s 26. While James Jones is not the scoring machine he was last season, but when he does catch the ball, he has been productive with 24 of his 41 receptions going for first downs or scores. Meanwhile, Jarrett Boykin has stepped up nicely when needed, compiling five or more catches in five of the nine games since Cobb went down. Boykin has seen fewer targets the last couple weeks, but remains an adequate third option.
Murray vs. the Packers’ Run Defense
The Cowboys may rank in the bottom third of the league for rushing yards, but their low output has more to do with game situations and DeMarco Murray’s health than their effectiveness. The Cowboys rank fifth in our team run blocking grades and, when healthy, Murray has been one of the most productive running backs in the league. Murray, our sixth-ranked running back, has the highest yards-per-carry of all running backs with at least 100 carries with a 5.3 yard average. His 30 missed tackles forced on rush attempts ranks 10th even though 20 backs have more carries. Murray is coming off his second-highest rushing total of the year, albeit against a porous Bears defense.
Murray will have the opportunity to face another struggling run defense. The Packers have allowed over 1,000 rushing yards in their last six games. Two of their most well-known defenders, A.J. Hawk and B.J. Raji, rank second-to-last in run defense at their respective positions. The Packers may have turned it around last week with a much better performance against Atlanta, including just one missed tackle. But with four of their top six linebackers either limited in or not practicing at all this week, depth may once again be an issue for the Packers.
One position to keep an eye on is the safety opposite Morgan Burnett. Sean Richardson, who was recently activated from the PUP list, played nearly two-thirds of the game last week in place of M.D. Jennings and tallied three tackles, including one run stop. Richardson is bigger than Jennings and the Packers may think he is better suited for defending the run.
Romo Under Duress
Tony Romo has limited his turnovers and is in the midst of another productive season. Without defenders bearing down on him, Romo has been outstanding. He has a 72% completion percentage, 22 touchdowns to four interceptions, and a +21.2 pass grade with no pressure. His production, like many quarterbacks’, drops considerably when pressured, though. Romo’s Accuracy Percentage when under pressure ranks 24th and has earned a -11.3 pass grade. Luckily for Romo, his offensive line has held up reasonably well with a sixth-ranked 79.8 Pass Blocking Efficiency.
Pressuring the passer has not been easy for the Packers this season. Second-year Mike Daniels has been the Packers’ most consistent and effective pass rusher this year with a +10.3 grade, even though he has been a sub-package player. The rest of the defensive line has failed to make much of an impact. Clay Matthews has not had a bad year by any means, but his +0.1 pass rush grade would easily be the lowest of his career if the season ended today. Fellow outside linebacker Mike Neal leads the team in total pressures, but most have been hurries while Nick Perry (+5.2) has shown glimpses his talent but cannot stay healthy.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @PFF_MattC