Green Bay Packers Vs. Dallas Cowboys: Five Observations From the Game
The Green Bay Packers are far from stamping their ticket back to Dallas for the Super Bowl in February, but they certainly put a championship-level thumping on the Cowboys Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
The 45-7 victory was equally impressive for the Packers and disastrous for the Cowboys, and now Green Bay heads into their bye week with a 6-3 record and a chance to get healthy for another second-half run at the NFC's best record.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, drop to 1-7, and there will certainly be talks of dismissing head coach Wade Phillips after one of the most embarrassing efforts in the history of "America's Team."
Here are five other observations from the Packers' beatdown of the Cowboys.
The Packers Turn Troubles Into Strengths
Some of the Packers' early 2010 miscues—third-down offense, penalties, and turnovers—have been turned into clear advantages the past three games.
On third down Sunday night, the Packers' offense converted 10 of 15 tries (66 percent), an obvious improvement from their 35.1 conversion rate that was 26th in the NFL coming into Sunday. Green Bay wasn't good against the New York Jets last week on third down, but were 6-of-11 against the Vikings in Week 7.
Green Bay only committed two penalties for 20 yards on Sunday as well, extending a streak of three straight games in which the Packers have committed three or fewer penalties. It's safe to say the Packers have corrected the penalties problem (for the time being) that hurt Green Bay so mightily early on.
And finally, turnovers also favored the Packers for a third straight game. Green Bay forced four Dallas turnovers Sunday night and didn't commit one themselves. The Packers are plus-eight in the turnover category the past three games after struggling early on controlling the football.
Is there any wonder the Packers have won three straight?
Sam Shields Shows Why Al Harris Wasn't Activated Sunday
There was a lot of talk on why Atari Bigby was activated before Sunday's game instead of Al Harris, but rookie cornerback Sam Shields made a case for his role in the defense Sunday night even if and when Harris returns.
The undrafted rookie's shining moment was early in the second quarter in what initially appeared to be a huge advantage for the Cowboys. Shields lined up one-on-one across from Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin, and Dallas quarterback Jon Kitna realized the matchup immediately.
Austin ran straight up the field, but Shields stuck with him stride for stride and made an acrobatic interception just as the ball arrived. That helped set up the Packers' second touchdown and was a turning point early on in the Packers' rout.
Shields might not be the starting nickel back if and when Harris comes back, but nothing he did on the field Sunday night will be the reason for it.
Can The Packers Run The Football?
There's no doubt the Dallas Cowboys are a struggling defense, but 138 yards rushing is a promising sign for a Packers offense that has been lacking in that area.
Not one Packers runner was responsible for the majority of the damage, but each brought enough to the table to get the running game established.
John Kuhn ran for 50 yards on 13 carries, Brandon Jackson had 42 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown, and Aaron Rodgers added 41 yards on five scrambles.
In all, the Packers managed eight first downs via the running game—far and away their best total since Ryan Grant went down with a season ending injury in Week 1.
Even third-string back Dmitri Nance saw playing time in the fourth quarter, registering five yards on four carries in garbage time.
I doubt anyone will call the Packers a rushing juggernaut just yet, but improvements made every week are starting to show for Green Bay's running game.
Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers Give a Jolt To Their Award Résumés
Clay Matthews already had a strong case in being the NFL's front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year, but he cemented that position Sunday night.
The second-year linebacker contributed a sack, two tackles for losses, two passes defensed, and an interception return for a touchdown.
His second-quarter sack gave him 10.5 for the season, which leads the NFL. There's no doubt in my mind that Matthews is on pace to give the Packers their second Defensive Player of the Year in as many seasons.
Speaking of awards, quarterback Aaron Rodgers might have finally jump-started his MVP case. Rodgers was 27-of-34 passing for 287 yards and three touchdowns, and his 131.5 quarterback rating was his best of the season.
While he admittedly got off to a shakier start to the 2010 season then he wished, Rodgers has plenty of games left to prove he is MVP material. With 18 touchdowns and seven games remaining, he'll be right in the hunt at the end of the year with performances like Sunday night.
Maybe the Dallas Cowboys were just what the doctor ordered for both Matthews' and Rodgers' respective award chases.
Finally, The Packers Put It All Together
Finally—and I mean finally—the Green Bay Packers put together a full 60-minute performance in which each unit played up to their potential.
In fact, all three phases of the team scored touchdowns: offense, defense and special teams.
The offense looked as deadly and proficient as it has all season, and they were complemented by a defense that for the second straight week looked like a championship-quality unit.
And even though a first-quarter field goal was blocked, the special teams contributed to the Packers' huge win. Nick Collins ran in a fumble from 26 yards out after the Cowboys fumbled a kickoff return, and Shields looked as dangerous as ever on a 46-yard kick return in the second quarter.
Overall, it was clearly the Packers' best performance of the season. Green Bay outgained the Cowboys 415 yards to 205, and it was as dominant as that stat line suggests.
They've earned their bye week, and at 6-3, things are looking as good as ever for the 2010 Green Bay Packers.