PFF Preview: Cowboys @ Packers, Divisional Round
The Green Bay Packers and their perfect home record face a tough test as the Dallas Cowboys and their 8-0 road record travel to Lambeau Field to duke it out in below freezing temperatures. The winner will either move on to Seattle or host Carolina, but both teams are talented enough that if one gets caught looking ahead to next week it could be lights out for them this season.
When facing a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber (the PFF’s first-team All-Pro QB and Offensive Player of the Year), the best defense may just be keeping the ball out of his hands, and a heavy dose of DeMarco Murray has the potential to do just that. Held to just 75 yards (his third-lowest total) and 19 carries last week against the Lions, Murray should find more room to run against a Packer defense that’s not quite on par with that of their division rival.
On a line that before the season looked to be poor at best, Mike Daniels has helped elevate its play with a line-leading +9.4 run defense grade. His 31 defensive stops (25 against the run) are third on the team. Leading the team with 37 stops is run-stuffing safety Morgan Burnett. Recording a defensive stop on 10.8% of run plays when he’s lined up in the box (fifth-highest), Burnett combines efficiency with volume, as his 56 tackles in run defense are second-most among safeties.
As great as Murray has been this year, some of his success has to be attributed to Dallas’ fantastic offensive line. The lowest-graded of the bunch, Ronald Leary, is still firmly in the green, and his run blocking grade is sixth-highest among guards. You would be hard pressed to find a weakness in the game of any of the others, as any lineman playing over 100 snaps on the year has graded at or above +4.8 for his run blocking, and the unit has only been responsible for nine sacks. Both Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick (a second-team PFF All-Pro) are near the top of the charts for run blocking at their respective positions.
With a trip to the NFC Championship on the line, whichever team can brave the elements and keep their streak alive will end up a game away from a Super Bowl berth.
Dez Bryant – When Dallas isn’t pounding the rock, Tony Romo is slinging it to Bryant. The fifth-year receiver has more catches, yards, and touchdowns than the rest of Dallas’ wideouts combined. He is second overall with a +20.8 grade this year.
Tyrone Crawford – One of the reasons the Cowboys’ defense exceeded all expectations was the play of Crawford. He graded in the green as a pass rusher eight times this year, and has recorded pressure in all 16 games he’s played. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Josh Sitton, who’s allowed pressure in just six games in 2014.
Tyron Smith – One of four tackles this year with both his pass blocking grade and run blocking grade above +10.0, Smith will be tasked with continuing his great season by shutting down Clay Matthews.
Orlando Scandrick – He’s been flying under the radar this year, but Scandrick has been a solid performer, allowing more than 50 yards receiving in just three games. Despite a nearly full workload (885 snaps), 55 corners have allowed more receiving yards.
Ronald Leary – Though his +13.0 run blocking grade is nothing to sneer at, he leads the team with 27 total pressures allowed. He’ll see a lot of Daniels, Green Bay’s best interior pass rusher, who has more than half of the line’s knockdowns with 17 (six sacks, 11 hits).
Green Bay Packers
Corey Linsley – A major question mark coming into the season, Linsley has been one of the biggest steals in the draft. Taken in the fifth round, the Packers’ rookie center has played every snap this year, earning a +10.0 grade in his debut season.
Eddie Lacy – Transitioning to an every-down back, Lacy has excelled in every area of his game. He’s allowed just two hurries on 72 pass blocking snaps, dropped only one of 43 catchable passes, and has forced 49 missed tackles (sixth most) on the ground.
Casey Hayward – He might not see the field much if Dallas goes with a run-heavy approach, but the third-year corner is excellent in coverage. On 276 coverage snaps, Hayward has surrendered just 17 catches (16.2 coverage snaps per reception), the fourth-best rate of 115 qualifying corners.
Randall Cobb – When targeting the former Kentucky product, Rodgers has completed nearly 73% of his passes, averaged over 14 yards per completion, and has a passer rating of 134.3. Cobb leads the league in catches, yards, touchdowns, and Yards per Route Run from the slot and has a significant lead on second place in each category.
Sam Shields – He’s struggled at times with injuries, but Shields has both the raw speed and the ball skills to stick with Bryant. Prior to his knee injury in Week 6, Shields had the sixth-highest coverage grade among corners, recording two interceptions and four pass defenses over that span.
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