Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys conjures up thoughts of historical proportions.
These teams have met many times over the past five decades in games that have had huge consequences on seasons and championships.
Once again they meet this coming Sunday, this time in Dallas.
Here’s three things to watch as the 3-1 Packers travel to Arlington, Texas, to face the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys.
1. Covering Cole
Much of the attention this Sunday will be on Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ premier receiver. It will likely fall to Kevin King and Davon House to keep Bryant in check.
But to me, the more interesting matchup comes in the slot. Cole Beasley has started slowly this year, but he’s one of the best slot receivers in the entire league, with exceptional quickness and change-of-direction ability.
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As King and House play the boundaries, the nickel assignment will go to either Morgan Burnett, Josh Hawkins, or Damarious Randall.
Randall seems unlikely to start anytime soon after last Thursday’s debacle, and Quinten Rollins is buried on the depth chart.
Burnett has played surprisingly well thus far in the nickel. He’s also by far the best run defender of those options, which will be crucial against Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas running game.
Meanwhile, the inexperienced Hawkins has much better speed and quickness than Burnett.
Whoever gets the assignment, it will be a stiff test that will go a long way toward determining the Packers’ third corner for the next few weeks.
2. Attacking the middle
Aaron Rodgers loves working the sidelines with out routes, vertical routes, and back shoulder throws to Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams.
But in this game, Mike McCarthy and Rodgers should see an opportunity in the middle of the field.
Just as the Packers did before playing Burnett and Josh Jones in the box, the Cowboys lack elite athleticism at inside linebacker this week.
Sean Lee may not play due to a hamstring injury, and Jaylon Smith still doesn’t seem fully recovered from his devastating knee injury.
The Rams exploited that last week by using Todd Gurley in the passing game in the middle of the field.
If Ty Montgomery plays, he’s not likely to carry the ball extensively. But he might be able to find similar success as a receiver in the middle of the field.
This week is also an opportunity for a Martellus Bennett revenge game, especially if one or both of Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari return and alleviate the need for Bennett to help in pass protection.
3. Offensive tackle injuries
As I just alluded to, the Packers could see the return this week of David Bakhtiari and/or Bryan Bulaga.
Justin McCray, Lane Taylor, Lucas Patrick, and others have battled valiantly in their absence. But those two bookends completely change the Packers’ offense. They allow Rodgers to hold the ball in search of big plays, as he so loves to do.
Meanwhile, Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith is dealing with back tightness and may not play on Sunday. It would be a huge opportunity for the Packers’ edge defenders if backup Byron Bell is forced into action.
Clay Matthews has looked like his younger self so far this season, already racking up 2.5 sacks. Nick Perry, meanwhile, should receive his normal amount of playing time despite playing with a club on his hand.
The uncertain injury report will be a huge part of this game, with stars such as Davante Adams, Mike Daniels, and Ty Montgomery all questionable. But whether and how effectively the offensive tackles play could be the difference between a shootout and a low-scoring affair.
The last time I predicted a Packers-Cowboys, it went pretty well. But I hope this prediction ends up being wrong.
The Packers were impressive at home against the Bears, but the Bears are the Bears. The Packers still don’t seem completely in sync, which is understandable given that it’s early in the season and they’ve been decimated by injuries.
If Daniels, Adams, Bulaga, and Bakhtiari all return, then the Packers will have no excuses for losing.
But given the uncertainty of those injuries and the must-win nature of this home contest for the Cowboys, I’ll pick Dallas.
Cowboys 31 Packers 24