The Dallas Cowboys were considered one of the hot teams heading into the NFL playoffs. They had won six out of their last seven games and looked very good while doing it. Their opponent on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers were just as hot, winning seven of their last eight games of the season. Their lone blemish was a loss to the Buffalo Bills on the road. In that game, the Bills held Green Bay to 13 points and picked Aaron Rodgers off twice. Was there anything to be learned from that game for the Cowboys defense? I went back and watched the film to see just what the Buffalo Bills defense did to limit the Pack.
One caveat before we dive in, the Cowboys defense is not in the same league as the Bills defense. Buffalo was 4th in net yards, Dallas was 19th. Buffalo was 4th in points per game, Dallas was 15th. And in passing yards per game, Buffalo was 3rd while Dallas was 26th. This is just to give you a framework.
Still, you need to look at what they did that gave them such success against Green Bay. The big takeaway? It's not complicated.
4-3 base or nickel is all you need
The Buffalo Bills were remarkably consistent in what they put out on the field on defense. If Green Bay went two-wide, the Bills stayed in a base 4-3. If the Pack went three-wide or four-wide, the Bills went nickel. And they rarely if ever overloaded a side, shifted guys around a lot, or did anything tricky. They stayed in a static pose pre-snap and were very traditional in their alignments.
Don't rely on the blitz
Out of 60+ plays on defense, the Bills blitzed six times. They relied on a four-man rush, and only an occasional stunt among those four to rush the passer. They weren't really getting a ton of pressure on Rodgers, they only sacked him once, but they kept him in the pocket and did enough so that he couldn't hold the ball forever.
Don't commit a safety to the box
Buffalo never rolled a player for eight-in-the-box against the run. It was either six or seven guys in the box, depending on how the Packers were aligned on offense. They never wavered, they always played pass first.
Run a mix of Cover 1 or 2, and mix zone and man
Always have at least one safety deep and push your corners up on the receivers, don't play off-coverage a majority of the time. Mix it up between zone and man underneath.
Win the "miscellaneous" game
The Bills picked Rodgers twice (once in zone, once in man), and they only threw one INT, thus winning the turnover battle. They also scored a touchdown on special team (punt return) and they won the time of possession by six minutes.
Basically, Buffalo remained very basic, didn't care if Green Bay ran the ball, didn't blitz much and always kept a guy deep. Of course, they have a little better personnel, but it's possible the Cowboys could copy this game plan. It also helps that Green Bay dropped some passes, including a sure TD from Jordy Nelson, and Rodgers had a total mis-read when he threw his first interception, creating a turnover instead of a TD. But those things happen in games. The Bills took advantage and they made Green Bay work for everything.
If I'm Dallas, I might take a similar approach.