TiVo Time: Dallas Cowboys
It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 45-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Plays are in chronological order.
The Packers started with a squib kick — very odd. Dallas’ return man had just been called up from their practice squad. So, this was either an accident, or Mike McCarthy was trying to catch Dallas sleeping, which isn’t a bad idea.
After two runs gained a total of nine yards, Dallas goes off right tackle to Marion Barber on third-and-1 and gets stuffed by four Packers. With everything that has gone wrong for the Cowboys this year, Barber has actually been very successful in short yardage. Not this time. Cornerback Charles Woodson got much of the credit for the stop on TV, but the biggest contributors were defensive end Ryan Pickett and linebacker A.J. Hawk. The left guard that pulled on the play completely whiffed on Hawk, allowing him and Pickett to hit Barber in the backfield. Linebacker Clay Matthews came off the block of Dallas’ right tackle and finished the play. Running this play in Matthews’ direction was the first of many poor choices by the Cowboys coaching staff.
On the Packers’ first third-and-2, Aaron Rodgers wisely throws three yards to Jordy Nelson. He should be commended for not throwing the football 30 yards downfield, as he’s done on more than one occasion this season.
On the next set of downs, the Packers have third-and-3 and James Jones is wide open after Dallas cornerback Terrence Newman falls down. After making the catch, Jones fumbled for the third time this year, but Nelson saves the Packers on consecutive third downs by jumping on the loose ball.
On third-and-7 Jones makes his best catch of the game, going up high to snag a first down off a simple comeback route against man-to-man coverage.
It initially looked like Rodgers made his first and perhaps only mistake of the game by not reading a blitz and taking a sack that turned a 42-yard field goal attempt into a 54-yard attempt that got blocked. However, the tape reveals I’m wrong. Dallas sent five on the play. Green Bay had six blockers. Usually assignment sure, running back Brandon Jackson ran right by safety Allen Ball, who was blitzing from the left side. Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga double team defensive end Anthony Spencer and let safety Gerald Sensabaugh come clean on the right side. They met at Rodgers, who did a good job hanging onto the football. Once again, the Packers have another drive that gets into scoring territory only to end up with nothing. This has been a problem all season.
Dallas tries a tight end screen on second down. Safety Charlie Peprah makes a great play and stuffs it for a loss.
On third down, Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna throws to Jason Witten on a cross. Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar is slow getting over and compounds his error by not tackling Witten before the first down. Fortunately, just two plays later, Kitna heaves the ball down the left sideline into a seemingly favorable match-up with cornerback Sam Shields covering receiver Austin Miles. Bad decision. Shields shows his wide receiver skills by turning for the ball and collecting a one-handed interception.
Fox displays somewhat comical stats that show the Packers are third in the NFL at picking up third-and-7 or longer and second to last at picking up third-and-3 or shorter. Good stuff.
Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking needs to retire. Rodgers badly outran him for a 27-yard gain on third-and-6. The Cowboys continue to play man-to-man on third down, which opened up running lanes for Rodgers while giving the Packers winnable match-ups all over the field. Strange strategy.
Ouch. Dump screen to Jackson on third-and-2, Jackson badly jukes linebacker Shawn Lee and easily scores when no other Dallas defender makes a serious attempt at a tackle. Packers, 7-0.
The season’s first Atari Bigby sighting. Dallas hands off on first-and-10 after the kickoff and Felix Jones is swarmed by half the Packers defense, including one Atari Bigby. On the next play, defensive coordinator Dom Capers uncorks the first Charles Woodson and Matthews tandem blitz, and Matthews runs right by a dazed and confused Leonard Davis to get sack 10.5.
Rodgers runs for another first down when the Cowboys again blitz and play man behind it. Rodgers takes a shot from Newman and comically spins back into the field of play.
Jackson shows his usefulness around the goal line again, as he pushes his way into the end zone after initially getting stuffed at the two. Jackson was helped on the play by the push of Sitton and tight end Tom Crabtree. Packers, 14-0.
On the Cowboys second third-and-1, Matthews blows by Witten to completely crush Barber in the backfield. This is one of the best plays I’ve seen all year in any football game. If Matthews doesn’t destroy Barber, nose tackle B.J. Raji would have after splitting a disinterested double team at the line and getting two yards into the backfield.
It’s a miracle. On third-and-2, the Packers ran the football and John Kuhn takes a draw through a huge hole opened up by Sitton and picked it up. The Dallas defense looked like it was sleeping.
At this point, Kuhn has carried the ball more than Jackson, which I don’t get. Jackson has looked good every time he’s touched it.
Rodgers is clearly in one of his best rhythms of the year and throws a perfect pass to Greg Jennings up the left sideline. It’s clear at this point the usual second quarter doldrums are not going to affect the Packers. Two plays later, Rodgers hits Jennings over the middle to cap a 93-yard drive and to cues someone to warm up the Cowboys’ jet home. Packers, 21-0.
The fumble return that wasn’t comes on the ensuing kickoff. Jarrett Bush strips the returner, whose knee is clearly down and Nick Collins returns it for a touchdown. Dallas coach Wade Phillips has no timeouts and cannot challenge. It’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things, other than to give Collins a Lambeau Leap. Packers, 28-0.
On the Cowboys’ lone touchdown of the day, receiver Dez Bryant outmuscles Sam Shields in the corner of the end zone. Shields had excellent position on the play, but chose to play the man instead of the ball. Poor choice, 28-7.
In a revelation, McCarthy has Shields return the kickoff and he cracks off a decent return. Unfortunately, the Packers follow with their first three-and-out of the game.
Capers responds to the Dez Bryant threat by putting Tramon Williams on him in the second half. Exit Dez Bryant.
Woodson comes through clean on a third-and-10 blitz and Dallas is lucky to not be down to their third-string quarterback. Kitna has to be wondering if the beating is really worth it. After all, Carrie Underwood is married and Jessica Simpson is a biggie. Playing quarterback for the Cowboys isn’t what it used to be.
The Packers’ passing game completely dissects the Cowboys, culminating in James Jones carrying Sensabaugh into the end zone as the rest of the Cowboys defensive backs watch curiously. The biggest play in the drive is a great back-shoulder pass and catch to Nelson, something Packers fans haven’t seen since the preseason. Packers, 35-7.
The first play of the next Dallas drive is the illegal hit by Collins on Roy Williams. Collins is a clean player, but you can’t drop your head in anticipation of contact. It was a no brainer penalty and fine. That type of hit is simply not allowed in today’s NFL.
Of course, the Packers are driving again, and on third-and-1, McCarthy runs the same play he did twice against the Vikings, except this time he lines up three fullbacks in a T-formation. The two outside fullbacks block outside to keep anyone from streaking into the backfield while Kuhn takes advantage of the push provided by Sitton and Bulaga to get the first down. Good innovation.
The Packers’ methodical and inevitable scoring drive ends when Jones drops a ball at the goal line and the Packers settle for a meaningless field goal. This game has been a microcosm of Jones’ season. Statistically it is his best game, but a fumble and a dropped touchdown are the two worst crimes a wide receiver can commit.
The hilarity reaches Chicago Cardinals-type proportions as Hawk and Woodson fly in on a blitz and bat the football back into the waiting arms of Matthews, who takes off on a weaving scamper to the end zone. Packers, 45-7.
The rest will remain in infamy.
Altogether, the Packers did what they needed to do on every level. If Capers and McCarthy can continue to show the creativity they did in this game, the Packers will win most of their games for the remainder of the season. Frankly, the Cowboys’ horrendous defensive effort and their curious strategy made it difficult to gauge the Packers’ offense. Most teams don’t predominantly play man-to-man against the Packers because of Rodgers’ running ability and the skill of the Packers’ wide receivers. Most teams that blitz the Packers play zone behind it, and it’s against the zone the Packers have had their biggest struggles this season. Regardless, the defense is good. No question about that.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.