3 Key matchups Green Bay Packers must win vs. Cowboys

Sep 18, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers find themselves at 3-6, and unfortunately, things won’t be getting any easier as they now welcome the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys, who have one of the best defenses in the NFL, to Lambeau Field.

As is the case each week, there are a few key matchups that the Packers will have to win, or at the very least be competitive in, if they hope to pull off the upset against Dallas. Here is a closer look at what those matchups are.

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Dallas defensive line

If the Green Bay Packers are going to have any hopes of moving the ball against the Dallas Cowboys’ defense, it begins with establishing and finding success in the run game.

Dallas has been the best team in the NFL in both pressuring the quarterback and converting those opportunities into sacks. They also have an opportunistic and aggressive secondary that benefits heavily from this pass rush and is led by Trevon Diggs, who is third in pass breakups and tied for second in interceptions this season.

On the flip side, the Cowboys are surrendering 4.7 yards per carry this season, which ranks 22nd in the NFL, and by ESPN’s run block win rate metric, Dallas ranks 29th.

If Green Bay ends up becoming pass-heavy, things are likely not going to end well for this offense against this Dallas defensive front. Aaron Jones and his 5.6 yards per rush this season needs 20-plus touches in this game and should be the focal point, as is often the case. Success on the ground will also benefit the passing game, particularly downfield, and free up Matt LaFleur as a play caller.

Just as Detroit did this past week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dallas trying to crowd the line of scrimmage, daring Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball while trying to eliminate the run game. If the Cowboys can make Green Bay one-dimensional, it’s over.

Micah Parsons vs. Packers offensive line

On his own, Micah Parsons is a legitimate game-wrecker and a big reason why this Dallas defense does so well at getting after the quarterback. Through eight games, Parsons ranks fourth in pressures, third in sacks, and ninth in win rate, per PFF ($$).

But in addition to his ability to get after the quarterback, the other challenge he presents is his ability to line up all over the field. From one play to the next, quarterbacks don’t know where Parsons is going to be lined up or how he will be utilized.

"“I don’t know if there is anybody (who can do what Parsons does),” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday. “I think Dan (Quinn) does a great job of using him in a lot of different personnel packages. He’s on the line of scrimmage in some of them, he’s off the ball, and he drops in coverage. He’s got a lot of things you just can’t coach, you can emphasize, but the effort that he plays with is incredible. He’s made some incredible effort plays. He’s definitely one of one in this league, and I don’t know if there is anybody doing as many things as they’re asking him to do.”"

The Green Bay Packers offensive line has struggled to stay healthy this season, and as a result, their play has been very up and down. The Packers rank about league average in terms of pressures allowed–although this group has benefited from tight end chips and the quick passing game.

When the Packers do throw the ball, I’d expect them to lean heavily on the quick passing game just as they have for much of the year to try to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly in an effort to avoid the pass rush and put less strain on the offensive line. However, as we saw against Buffalo, the Packers will need a few downfield attempts sprinkled in as well if they hope to put up points–expecting this group to put together multiple 12-plus play scoring drives isn’t realistic. Now, with that said, Rodgers can’t be forcing these downfield attempts to happen, either.

On the ground, wherever Parsons is lined up, I’d expect the Packers to be trying to run the ball in the opposite direction, which unfortunately, does add some predictability to the offense.

There really is no stopping Parsons, the hope is that the Packers can at least limit his impact.

Packers run defense vs. Cowboys running backs

As Reid Hanson told us in a recent article, a weak point of this Dallas offense is their pass protection, which is a big reason why they lean so heavily on the run game. Entering Week 10, the Cowboys rank 26th in pass attempts per game.

Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard have a relatively split workload, but Pollard has been the far more explosive running back, averaging 6.2 yards per rush, along with being incredibly difficult to bring down. His 5.2 average yards after contact is the best in the NFL, while the Dallas offensive line ranks seventh in run-block win rate.

The Green Bay run defense has been porous at times this season, allowing 4.8 yards per rush, although they deserve some credit for their performance in Detroit against a very good Lions run game. Having another strong performance is going to be a must and may require Joe Barry to break away from his ‘defend the pass first’ approach by playing with more defenders near the line of scrimmage.

If the Packers can put Dallas in some obvious passing situations, it will allow Kenny Clark and Preston Smith to tee off against a sub-par pass protection unit. If not, it’s going to be a long day for the defense, with Dallas likely controlling the clock and the game.