It’s time to find out what is happening with this week’s Cowboys opponent. To get the skinny on the Green Bay Packers, we talked to Packers site Acme Packing Company.
Blogging The Boys: Aaron Rodgers numbers don't look like typical Rodgers' numbers this year. What's going on there, and is it something Packers fans are concerned about?
Acme Packing Company: Certainly, Aaron Rodgers' stat line doesn't reflect the player we've seen over the course of his nine seasons as the Packers' starting quarterback. His completion percentage (56.1) comes in more than four points below his next worse figure as a starter, and his 6.30 yards per attempt similarly represent a career worst. For a player that won an MVP award as recently as 2014, those numbers seem impossibly low.
Rodgers carries some of the blame for those figures. His accuracy and ball placement on short throws into the flat and over the middle, plays that used to constitute layups for him, have lagged relative to his performance in past seasons. Rodgers needs to convert more of those passes in order to reach the high level of efficiency with which the NFL world has come to expect from him. He has also developed a penchant for bailing on the pocket prematurely at times, an issue that disrupts the play design and forces his teammates to improvise.
Some exterior elements have contributed to Rodgers' statistical struggles as well. Top wideout Jordy Nelson has played just four games (including the preseason) since tearing his ACL last year and still has some rust to shake off. Meanwhile, the rest of the receiving corps has dealt with bouts of inconsistency, even Pro Bowl wideout Randall Cobb. The chemistry and production should come with time, but outside of a 31-point half against the Detroit Lions in Week 3, the offense hasn't looked like itself.
BTB: Injuries look like they could be a problem for the running game. How has the Packers running game been performing and what's the latest status on Eddie Lacy and James Starks?
APC: The Packers' ground attack has looked great through four games. Eddie Lacy currently averages over 5.5 yards per attempt and looks much like the tailback that garnered All-Pro attention early in his career. Backup James Starks hasn't had nearly that level of success, however, gaining just 1.8 yards a carry at this point in the year.
Injuries cloud the picture for Sunday, but the early indications suggest Lacy could play through his ankle injury. Starks appears more likely to miss the game, having missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with knee and non-football-related issues.
BTB: The Packers run defense against the Cowboys run offense is a big story for the game. Talk about the Packers run defense and how you think they'll perform on Sunday.
APC: Green Bay's run defense ranks No. 1 in the league, but that doesn't quite do it justice. On a per-play basis, the team yields a full yard less (2.0) than the next highest-rated unit (New York Jets at 3.0). The Packers have yet to allow more than 50 total rushing yards in a single contest this season, and held Adrian Peterson to under 2 yards per attempt in their Week 2 matchup. The group could even get a boost this week with the return of defensive lineman Mike Pennel from suspension.
Obviously, the Cowboys' ground attack presents a greater challenge than the Packers have faced to this point in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott looks like one of the top backs in the league, and the offensive line has long reigned as the premier run-blocking unit in the NFL. It seems likely that Green Bay's streak of holding opponents to 50 or fewer rushing yards comes to an end on Sunday, but that doesn't mean Dallas won't struggle in that department.
With a rookie quarterback under center who tends to shy away from passing downfield, the Packers could move safety Morgan Burnett closer to the line of scrimmage and make life more difficult for Elliott and the offense. How well Dak Prescott adjusts to the single-high looks should ultimately decide how long the defense stacks the box.
BTB: What do you anticipate Dom Capers will do to keep Dak Prescott from performing the way he has so far? Blitzes, exotic coverages, or just solid containment?
APC: In previous weeks, Dom Capers has utilized plenty of Cover 2 in order take away the deep passes. That tactic has worked because the Packers' pass rush has proven highly effective without blitzing and the run defense hasn't required extra rushers to shut down opponents. However, because Prescott tends to attack in the short-to-intermediate range, the Packers will likely try a different approach.
I suspect they plan to put more bodies along the line of scrimmage and put Prescott under pressure quicker and more often while slowing down Elliott and the running game. That should force Prescott to work more downfield where he appears least comfortable.
BTB: If the Packers are to win this game, what do you think are the most important things that need to happen?
APC: The Packers need to take advantage of the Cowboys' suspect defense. Their aerial assault has to get on track, and Dallas' 25th ranked pass defense by DVOA seems the perfect opportunity. That means Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff finding ways to scheme their receivers open on a more regular basis and Rodgers breaking out of his funk.
Defensively, Green Bay needs to continue finding ways to hide their injured secondary. Assuming Sam Shields and Damarious Randall don't suit up on Sunday, LaDarius Gunter and Quinten Rollins need to reprise their strong performances from a week ago. With Dez Bryant potentially returning from injury, that could prove a difficult task.
Thanks for the knowledge, Acme Packing Company.