Green Bay Packers battle for playoff life against Dallas Cowboys

By
Updated: December 15, 2013

Aaron Rodgers will be watching from the sidelines as backup quarterback Matt Flynn attempts to lead the Green Bay Packers over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15.

Buoyed by a narrow victory over the Atlanta Falcons (3-10) last week, the Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) canter into AT&T Stadium to confront the Dallas Cowboys (7-6), who are still smarting from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears (7-6). Kickoff for the contest, which will be broadcast on FOX Sports, is at 4:25 p.m.

Incredibly, despite all the adversity they have faced this season — most notably the loss of starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a fractured collarbone — the Packers still remain in theoretical contention for the NFC North divisional title.

Sitting half a game behind the Bears and Detroit Lions (7-6), Green Bay will have to finish with a better season record than either of the front runners if they hope to make an appearance on Wild Card weekend.

Quarterback woes

Rumors flew early in the week that Aaron Rodgers might return to take the reins in Week 15, but he has been officially ruled out. Physicians remain concerned that the collarbone has not fully healed and that playing would expose Rodgers to the risk of injuring himself more severely.

Backup Matt Flynn will get his third start of the season in relief. Since arriving in Green Bay, Flynn has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 615 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He has also fumbled three times, losing all three.

To say that Flynn has been disappointing so far would be both an understatement and an exaggeration. Certainly, he hasn’t lived up to the brilliance he flashed against the Lions in 2011, when he set franchise records for passing yardage (480) and touchdowns (six).

By the same token, this is a player who couldn’t beat out rookie Russell Wilson in Seattle, establish a foothold in Oakland, or hold down a backup job in Buffalo. It’s not a stretch to think he might struggled behind a patchwork offensive line with a receiving corps depleted by the loss of tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and wide receiver Randall Cobb (leg), both of whom are on injured reserve.

Fortunately for Flynn, he is going up against a Cowboys defense that ranks dead last in passing yardage given up per game at 298.5 and 26th in yards per attempt given up at 7.8. They rank 31st in the league in passing touchdowns surrendered with 26, while coming up with just 13 interceptions (13th) on the season.

Dallas has also been terrible rushing the passer, mustering just 27 sacks (26th) and allowing opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of 95.1 (24th).

This is good news for a quarterback playing behind a line that’s given up the 10th most sacks (37) and 18th most hits (63).

It’s likely that center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee/ankle) will return this afternoon, which should help anchor a line that has been repeated reshuffled this year.

Rushing struggles

Although no one who has watched him play would deny that rookie running back Eddie Lacy has continued to run hard in Rodgers’ absence, it’s equally apparent that his effectiveness has declined since Rodgers went down.

After posting four games of 90 or more rushing yards in his first eight starts, Lacy has only managed one such game since (110 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12). His efficiency has dropped markedly to 3.9 yards per carry. On the bright side, he has scored three touchdowns in this five-game stretch.

It will be imperative that Green Bay find some way to establish a rhythm in the run game today. Dallas is by no means a dominant pass-rush presence, but this offensive line has a way of making any defense look elite for a day.

Getting that efficiency back over four yards per carry will take some pressure off Matt Flynn, giving him time to set his feet in the pocket and pick apart a Dallas secondary that made Bears quarterback Josh McCown look like an All-Pro last week.

Defensive determination

Much ink has been spilled about the stress Rodgers’ absence has placed upon the Green Bay defense. However, they shouldn’t be let off the hook too lightly.

With Scott Tolzien taking snaps, the offense was still able to move the ball down the field; they simply struggled to finish drives and punch the ball into the end zone. Under the direction of Matt Flynn, long drives have been harder to come by, and the defense has found itself back on the field after frequent three-and-outs.

Nevertheless, this defense’s problems on third down are not new. For several years now, they have struggled to lock down opposing offenses, particularly on third and long, and have been forced to rely on a bend-but-don’t-break mentality predicated on snagging turnovers in the red zone.

This year the turnovers have been hard to come by — Green Bay is tied for 30th in the league with only seven interceptions — and offenses have feasted upon this squad, averaging 5.7 yards per play against them (25th).

Ironically, the defense is only giving up an average of 30:36 in time of possession per game (16th), a sign of how quickly teams are scoring on them.

Ever since Rodgers went down, this defense has looked listless and dispirited. But this unit is out of excuses. They are as healthy as they’ve been all season, with no defensive players ruled out.

Now is the time for a defense that has ridden Rodgers’ coattails for too many years to prove its worth. If they can’t find a way to blunt the effectiveness of a Dallas offense that was virtually neutralized by Chicago, they have no business being in the playoffs and may well fold up the tent now.

Prediction

At this point in the season, it’s impossible to feel confident about this Green Bay Packers team against any opponent. The offense has been impotent, almost moribund, without Rodgers at the helm, and the defense has been sleepwalking.

Yes, they finally snapped their losing streak, but it was against the Atlanta Falcons, one of the worst teams in the league. They tied with the Vikings and lost to the New York Giants, two teams that won’t even sniff the postseason.

They are going up against quarterback Tony Romo, who is having a decent season — 64.3-percent completion rate at 7.1 yards per attempt for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions — and running back DeMarco Murray, who has shredded defenses for 5.4 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.

This looks to be a low-scoring contest with a whole lot of rushing yardage given up on both sides. Green Bay will keep it close for at least the first half, but the defense will lose their focus in the fourth quarter and give up enough big gains to let Dallas sneak out with the win.

Final score: Dallas Cowboys 24, Green Bay Packers 17

About the author(s)

Rourke Douglas Decker covers the Green Bay Packers beat for Water Cooler Sports. He resides with his family in the Twin Cities. He can be reached for questions or comments at . Connect with .

463 comments
The Real CJammin
The Real CJammin

I had the Cowboys scoring 42 and winning by 19.  I think I should've have gone over on both accounts.

robertj72
robertj72

Panthers are playing very nicely.

The Real CJammin
The Real CJammin

Fuck the Cowboys man.  Murray is in beast mode right now and they keep passing.

Niners_Never_Die
Niners_Never_Die

LOL at the Saints fans telling me not to start Stacy this week....

jmac3444
jmac3444

aj hawk fails to make a play? shocking

redzonejones
redzonejones

cam looks like he got a little limp after that tackle

NightStalkerThief
NightStalkerThief

Needa get Brees the ball back so he can start lighting the Rams up

Judge__Smails
Judge__Smails

Hey Jimmy G, some of us need you to make a few catches today!

LaCW
LaCW

MM needs to tell his pass rushers if they get by the olinemen to find the Rb because they didn't beat their man, he let them go by fr a screen. 

BearsSaveLives
BearsSaveLives moderator

There you go. Burnett didn't fuck that one up.

BearsSaveLives
BearsSaveLives moderator

That was awful by Romo. He had all day.

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

Why am I not surprised Chicka is absent while her team is getting schooled?

טיילור סוויפט
טיילור סוויפט

 What's baffling me about Matthews is he is lining up wide and yet seeming to deliberately engage with the tackle instead of running around him.