ReFo: Packers @ Cowboys, Week 15
With a dominating first half performance and a 26-3 halftime lead, it appeared that the Cowboys were well on their way to an easy home win. One that they especially needed with the playoffs drawing close. However, settling for field goals ended up hurting them as the Packers, without their starting quarterback, managed a huge comeback with the help of a pair of late interceptions, taking a one point lead with less than two minutes remaining.
With the win, the Packers remain in playoff contention, though they’re still sitting behind the 8-6 Bears in the NFC North. Conversely, the Dallas lost a chance at tying the Eagles atop the NFC East and are now in must-win mode for the last two weeks.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Matthews Held in Check
Perhaps limited by injuries, Clay Matthews has been held in check a number of times this season, and he was certainly handled in this game by Cowboy left tackle Tyron Smith. He ended with a decent pressure count: one sack and four other hurries in 46 pass rushes, but none of those came against Smith (although he got close a couple of times). Two of his four hurries came unblocked, while he beat tight end James Hannah for the other two. When he did get into the backfield, though, Matthews was disruptive; his sack (with an assist from Datone Jones) ended a Cowboy drive at 0:55 of the third quarter. Even though he butchered the execution at 2:58 of the fourth, his immediate pressure disturbed Romo enough to force a late throw and crucial interception.
Who Needs Rodgers?
Green Bay picked up their second straight win with Matt Flynn at the helm, though it took him a while to get going. The Green Bay offense only managed a field goal – and a 57 yarder at that – in the first half, but they eventually got going in the second half with the help of some favorable field position late. As his +0.8 grade suggests, Flynn was far from spectacular. He only threw two deep passes out of 37 aimed attempts (both incomplete), though he was relatively successful on his eight intermediate passes, completing six of them. Putting a couple of terrible passes behind him (an interception at 4:50 of the second, and one that should have been picked at 3Q, 3:28), Flynn led the team to three fourth quarter touchdowns, though again none of them were overly impressive; his best throw of the day might have been the back shoulder pass from the far hash to Jarrett Boykin at 5:04 of the fourth.
Certainly the team needs to get Rodgers back in the final two weeks. These last two games have shown that the Packers can at least be somewhat competitive with Flynn, who’s bounced back from his useless Thanksgiving display.
Dealing with Dez Bryant resulted in a mixed bag for Green Bay’s pair of corners Sam Shields (+3.4) and Tramon Williams. To start with the good, Shields had a phenomenal game, surrendering just four catches for 67 yards in 10 targets (six against Bryant). Of the incompletions, he got his hand on three of them (each in the fourth quarter): one was intercepted, and two were defensed. His first pass defensed came at 8:53, as he prevented a touchdown knocking the ball away at the goal line, while on the second (4Q, 4:17); he recovered impressively to break up a deep attempt to Bryant.
On the other hand, Williams allowed a reception on seven of nine targets, though he limited Bryant to three catches for 26 yards. His struggles included a missed tackle at 13:17 of the second quarter, allowing a first down, and an illegal contact penalty two plays before that on a 29 route. Williams did redeem himself, though, diving to haul in the game-ending interception.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Late Game Romo
Given that the storyline is dominating some headlines today, it’s worth noting the play of Tony Romo, whose two late interceptions won’t help the perception that he struggles in high-pressure moments. The first one was the case of the QB trying to do too much; when at 2:58 of the fourth, he took a short drop looking for Miles Austin on a slant, and instead found Clay Matthews unblocked off of the edge and in his face. While Romo impressively avoided the sack, it consequently made him late on the throw with Sam Shields having time to recover after initially losing at the snap. Dallas’s second interception was less Romo’s fault as Cole Beasley stopped his route on the play, perhaps more miscommunication than misfire.
For the rest of the game, Romo was inconsistent, with Dan Bailey field goals more frequent than touchdowns for the Cowboy offense. He made several impressive throws, including two to his tight end (1Q, 0:35 and 4Q, 11:08), but was also off target at times, even on passes that were completed. For an example take a look at 1:32 of the second quarter; he hit Bryant deep from the opposite hash, but sub-optimal ball location prevented a bigger gain on a play when Bryant had vertical separation.
Much is also being said about Dallas’ lack of rushing attempts, particularly in the second half with the team carrying a sizeable lead. That’s a fair argument given the outcome when they did run. DeMarco Murray averaged 7.4 yards on 18 carries, taking advantage of some strong run blocking performances up front. Center Travis Frederick was particularly sharp, especially early in the game moving Ryan Pickett, having little trouble even when he had to reach. The rookie did have a couple of issues in pass protection, but otherwise continued his strong first season, following up his big game a week ago with a +2.4 here. Likewise, right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (+3.0) gave up some pressure, but also enjoyed a lot of success in the run game, doing most of his work at the second level against A.J. Hawk and at the line against another player with initials B.J. Raji.
Can’t Stop the Run
Unfortunately, Green Bay had similar success on the ground with rookie Eddie Lacy gaining 141 yards on 21 carries, including a 60 yarder on the first play of the third quarter, perhaps setting the tone for the rest of the half. Lacy did nothing special on the play, rather benefitting from some great blocking and going more than 50 yards untouched. As was the case for much of the day, DT Nick Hayden was too easily moved out of the point of attack, while linebackers DeVonte Holloman and Cameron Lawrence struggled to shed and stop the play in the second level. It’s unfortunate that the Cowboys had to rely on two rookies with very limited experience in a crucial game this late in the season; Lawrence’s 20 snaps in Week 14 was his first action all season, while Holloman hadn’t played since Week 5, logging just 18 total snaps coming into this game. On the other hand, Hayden has struggled all year – he’s now below -27.0 overall – and in this one found veteran guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang too powerful at times. .
– Josh Sitton didn’t allow a single pressure for the third straight game.
– This was the third time this season that Dez Bryant saw 15 or more targets (17) and the fifth such occurrence in his career.
– With just 10 snaps coming into this game, Cowboys DB Sterling Moore played 49 snaps and graded at +3.0 with an interception and two pass defenses in coverage.
PFF Game Ball
Sam Shields gets this one for his big fourth quarter.
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