After watching the Green Bay Packers game against the Detroit Lions from last weekend, here's my scouting report for the Dallas Cowboys game against the Pack on Sunday night.
Green Bay offense
Even though the Packers found somewhat of a running game last year with Ryan Grant in the second-half of the season, they still do most of their damage through the air. Grant wasn't even their most effective back in the game against Detroit, it was Brandon Jackson who made the majority of big plays in the running game. Grant is suffering from a hamstring injury so the Pack might feature Jackson in this game if they want to establish a credible running threat. The Packers liked to run to the right side of their defense so Marcus Spears and Greg Ellis will have a lot of responsibility in stopping their run game. Green Bay had a lead in the fourth quarter but the Lions were charging fast and eventually took the lead, only to give it back. But the problem for the Packers was they couldn't establish a solid enough run game to milk the clock and take the life out of the Lions defense. While Dallas is very good at doing this sort of thing with Marion Barber, Green Bay is not so fortunate and had to resort back to the passing game and their defense to blow away the Lions at the end of the game.
The Packers make their money on offense in the passing game. After years of mystery surrounding QB Aaron Rodgers as he idled behind Brett Favre on the depth charts, Rodgers has shown in the few games he's started that he has the tools to be a good QB in this league. His arm is plenty strong and his accuracy is very good. He's also a bit like Tony Romo, if you flush him out of the pocket he can run for yards or he can throw the ball on the move and he does it very well. While on the move in the backfield he does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield and delivers the ball as well as he does from the pocket. The Cowboys have to do a good job of containing him on the edges. DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis can not lose contain on the outside during pass rushes because Rodgers can make the Dallas defense pay. The Cowboys would benefit greatly from an inside pass rush that could flush out Rodgers into the waiting arms of Ware and Ellis. Blitzes from the middle by Zach Thomas or a strong game from Jay Ratliff could go a long way towards slowing down the Packers.
Green Bay wasn't afraid to send five receivers into the pattern on a regular basis against the Lions. Last week, the Eagles were running a max-protect scheme much of the time. It will be interesting to see if the Packers decide to go with the 5-man pass protection or will they go more conservative and keep in backs and TE's to help in protection. If they elect to send five into the pattern, the Cowboys front seven have to make them pay. It's very difficult for a defense to cover five receivers if the QB has time in the pocket, the Cowboys can't afford to sit back and let this happen. The Packers scored a couple of their TD's from that formation. Their passing attack is heavily centered on the slant pattern. They run that play over and over and the Lions defensive backs were late getting up on the pass and Green Bay played pitch and catch. Dallas has to be hyper-aware of the slant patterns. Green Bay opens up the lanes for the slants by running a back or TE underneath to drag the linebackers out of the lane. Dallas needs to counter by having their linebackers delay their coverage of the short dump-offs and clog the slant lanes. One note of caution, after the Packers have lulled you into covering the slant pattern tightly, they will run a double-move off the slant. Disciplined defense is a must by the linebackers and defensive backs this week.
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Green Bay defense
Green Bay believes in man-to-man coverage in the secondary and use it often. With Charles Woodson and Al Harris on the outside, they believe they can cover you long enough for their rush to get to the QB. It's a gambling defense in that respect but they pull it off very well. There are ways to counter it. One is getting your WR's in motion pre-snap, even if it's just a couple of yards of motion. The Green Bay corners need to jam the receivers off the line of scrimmage so they don't get a free run in the secondary; this is a basic tenet of man-to-man. Motioning the receivers can help to defeat that strategy. The other is using double-moves like a stutter-and-go pattern. Of course plays like those require good pass protection but the Cowboys have shown that they are very capable of protecting Tony Romo. I would expect T.O. to try a number of double-moves to shake free and get behind the secondary.
The other way to attack the Green Bay secondary is over the middle where they were extremely soft against the Lions. Unfortunately for Detroit, they don't have a top-flight TE that can exploit those holes. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Dallas does. Jason Garrett should pay a lot of attention to working matchups where the Green Bay linebackers are forced to cover Jason Witten in the middle of the field. This is a matchup the Packers can't win. Also, slants and digs across the middle by the wide receivers can be very effective. With SS Atari Bigby unlikely to play this week because of injury, this part of the field should be an easy target for Dallas.
The Packers have a lot of guys up front who can rush the passer and they did get a lot of sacks on Lions QB Jon Kitna. But quite a few of them were coverage sacks where Kitna couldn't find a receiver and held the ball to long. From watching the tape, I think the Cowboys line should be able to handle the pass rush. But they need to watch for A.J. Hawk on the blitzes, he was a very effective pass rusher in the game. The absence of Deon Anderson means the TE's in the backfield or the running backs need to know where he is on the field. Also, Tony Romo needs to consider running the ball this week if he's flushed out of the pocket. Against a defense that runs so much man-to-man, the defensive secondary will have their backs turned to the line of scrimmage often and that should leave plenty or running room for Romo.
Against the run, the Packers were pretty solid but the Lions offense is a poor running team. It made it hard to accurately gauge how well the Green Bay defense truly is against the run but they'll get a stern test this week with the Cowboys running game. One thing I did notice is the linebackers were extremely aggressive in shooting the gaps on running plays and that could be used against them. The Cowboys running backs need to be patient and let the holes form instead of slamming into the line and hitting the Packers front seven. Let the Packers defense take themselves out of the play with their aggressiveness and make them pay. Once you can establish a running game, then play-action passes should work extremely well, especially over the middle when the linebackers are jumping the run.