After a two-week hiatus, the Dallas Cowboys host the red-hot Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The Packers travel to Dallas fresh off a decisive victory against the New York Giants, the same Giants squad that beat the Cowboys during both regular season matchups. Will the time off for the Cowboys prove to be a blessing or a hindrance in successfully scheming against an Aaron Rodgers who is known for being both dangerous and clutch come playoff time?
Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson has officially been ruled out for Sunday’s game. As a result, Rodgers is left without his go-to receiver, and fellow receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Ty Montgomery are expected to see an increase in targets. Nonetheless, there is still an obvious void in the passing game without Nelson, as Rodgers’ QB rating reflects the presence of Nelson. During the 2015-16 season when Nelson was out with a knee injury, Rodgers had a QB rating of 92.7, his lowest rating in the nine years that Nelson has been playing alongside Rodgers. With Nelson back in play this season, Rodgers has a QB rating of 104.2.
On the other side, Cowboys cornerback Mo Claiborne makes his long-awaited return to the lineup after a nine-game absence due to a groin injury suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles back in October. Claiborne’s return and Nelson’s absence give the Cowboys’ underrated secondary a degree of flexibility that will prove pivotal in the matchup against Rodgers. Up front, defensive linemen DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Terrell McClain have been given the green light to play. Rodgers thrives and executes flawlessly the act of improvisation—he is a mastermind at rolling out of the pocket and finding his target downfield. Thus, the Cowboys will look to provide constant pressure on both ends with a healthy front seven.
All eyes will be on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. After a highly successful regular season that awarded the Cowboys the top seed in the NFC, how these two explosive rookies respond to their first ever playoff game and the pressure that comes with it will be key. At least, the pressure for Prescott decreases immensely if Packers cornerbacks Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall are both ruled out for Sunday’s game. Currently, Rollins and Randall are listed as questionable, with Rollins still completing the concussion protocol and Randall battling a groin injury.
Sunday’s matchup boils down to a battle between the poise of Rodgers and the moxie of Prescott. Furthermore, we all know that Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has not yet forgotten what happened two years ago against the Packers—who knows what havoc a fired-up Bryant will unleash upon the Packers?
Photo: Mike Schultz (Sports Interaction)