Behind Enemy Lines: Packers face Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys

Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrate a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrate a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Following a must-win game that ended in a fifth-straight loss, the schedule for the 3-6 Green Bay Packers is only going to get more challenging in the coming weeks, and that begins with a matchup at home against the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys.

With Mike McCarthy at the helm, there is certainly some familiarity between these two teams, but to provide us with some added insight on the field, Reid Hanson of Sport DFW was kind enough to answer five of my questions. I also provided my own thoughts along the way.

At 6-2, what is the biggest strength of this year’s Cowboys team?

Reid: The strength of the 2022 Dallas Cowboys is undeniably their defense. They survived the loss of Dak Prescott, not because their QB2 was good, but because their defense was dominant. They create pressure from multiple players, at multiple spots, and currently lead the NFL in pass-rush win rate. They rarely blitz but stunt often, so running lanes will be open if the packers want to hand the ball off.

Offensively, we’re still trying to learn what we have. Dak has only played two complete games, and there has been a lot of turnover from last year. But Tony Pollard has been the first-half offensive MVP for this team, so I’d point to him this week.

Thoughts: Nine of the current top-12 NFL defenses in points per game allowed are on the Packers’ schedule this season, with Dallas coming in at No. 3. This isn’t exactly a good thing for an offense that on its own, is already not very good.

The Cowboys are the best in the NFL at getting after the quarterback by both pressure rate and sacks. They also rank third in turnover differential. If there is a weak point, opponents are averaging 4.7 yards per carry against Dallas, but like Detroit, we may see the Cowboys try to take that away from the Packers and dare Aaron Rodgers to throw.

I’d expect a lot of the quick passing game from Green Bay and, hopefully, Aaron Jones as well. With that said, if Dallas is shrinking the field, the Packers will have to try to open things up downfield–although it can’t be forced opportunities. Early down success will be a must, otherwise, this Cowboys’ pass rush will be pinning its ears back.

On the flip side, what is the Cowboys’ biggest weakness?

Reid: Pass protection is the biggest weakness on this team. four of five offensive linemen are better run-blockers than pass protectors, and as a team, the Cowboys are dead last in pass block win rate. Dallas has been run-heavy for a reason this year, and it’s not because the running game has been better than the passing game – it’s because things get scary when they’re asked to protect the QB for longer than two seconds.

Defensively, run defense is an issue. They will give up yards on the ground, almost by design, and routinely give up first downs to scrambling QBs. If Rodgers wants to, he should be able to convert downs with his legs.

Thoughts: The Cowboys lean heavily on the run game, as Reid mentioned, averaging just under 30 pass attempts per game, which ranks 26th in the NFL–although that number may be on the rise with Dak Prescott back. The Packers, however, are without Rashan Gary, which greatly hurts their pass rush, as he was the most consistent presence. While it goes against the nature of Joe Barry’s defense, Green Bay’s focus should be on slowing the run and putting Dallas in obvious passing situations where Kenny Clark and Preston Smith can pin their ears back.

The Packers have been struggling and are underdogs; if they are going to pull off the upset, what does that path to victory look like from the Cowboys’ perspective?

Reid: Stop the Cowboys from running successfully on early downs. The Cowboys want to run the ball (for reasons stated above) and don’t care if you pack the box to try to stop them. If the Packers can force the Cowboys into 3rd and longs, they’ll be able to get pressure and possibly get some stops/turnovers.

As a jaded Cowboys fan, I can say with Aaron Rodgers, all things are possible. I’ve seen him pull a rabbit out of a hat too many times to ever feel comfortable playing him. He looks abysmal this season, I get it, but if he can flip the switch, he can do anything. If the Packers can keep the game close late, the odds will tip in their favor.

Thoughts: Step one for this Packers offense to begin turning things around is for Aaron Rodgers to simply play better. The next thing that must happen is that this offense has to stop being its own worst enemy by being called for penalties, dropping passes, and turning the ball over. Lastly, the pendulum needs to swing back closer to the Matt LaFleur offense, which is built around being under center, utilizing motion, play-action, and bunch sets, among other key elements. Right now, there seems to be a lot of Rodgers trying to make everything happen on his own.

Who is one under-the-radar player on offense and one on defense that Packers fans may not be familiar with but could make an impact Sunday?

Reid: Donovan Wilson is an under-the-radar player to watch. He’s technically the third safety, but Dan Quinn plays mostly three-safety sets, so he logs a ton of snaps. He plays mostly in the box, but he’s used in a variety of ways and always finds a way to make a splash.

As I said before, offensively, we’re still trying to find our identity. Last week was heavy 12 and 13 personnel, so Wisconsin’s own, Jake Ferguson, could be a factor. The Cowboys like to bring in their three TEs and go hurry up so defenses can’t substitute. All three TEs can catch and run, so I expect big things from the TE position.

One added nugget – don’t sleep on speedy return man KaVontae Turpin. He’s due for a big play.

Thoughts: As a primary box defender, Wilson may be frequently tasked with trying to slow Aaron Jones, whether that be on the ground or in the passing game. Wilson has nine pressures this season and is allowing just 5.1 yards per catch, but he’s also missed a high rate of tackles per PFF ($$).

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Reid that big things may be in store for the Dallas tight ends. The play from the Green Bay linebackers and safeties this season has been underwhelming, to say the least, and to make matters worse, the Packers could be without both De’Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes on Sunday. Neither practiced on Wednesday.

What is your prediction for how things play out?

Reid: I realize many Packers fans are in tank mode and want to maximize their draft position for a better 2023, but there’s no way the players think that way. I expect a tight game early, but Dallas to pull away in the second half (which has been a trend of theirs).

Both teams will have success on the ground, and third downs will be plentiful. Micah Parsons will dominate, and Mike McCarthy will get an extremely warm welcome back home.

Thoughts: I really do hope that Packers fans give Mike McCarthy a well-deserved welcome home–and I expect that they will.

To keep this short and sweet, the Packers put up only nine points against the NFL’s worst defense a week ago and now play one of the game’s best. I just can’t see a path to victory for the Packers. Even if the defense can help keep things close early on, it won’t be sustainable.

Packers 13 – Cowboys 24