Way back on October 16th, in Week 6 of the 2016 NFL season, a young Dallas Cowboys team went up to Wisconsin and beat the Green Bay Packers 30-16. Going into that game the Cowboys were 4-1, but nobody was quite sure just how good they were. This was early in the 11-game winning streak, and was still a time when there was doubt about the abilities of Dak Prescott. Could the Cowboys go on the road, to a place like Lambeau Field, and beat Aaron Rodgers? Was the rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott really that good?
The answer turned out to be yes, and even though Prescott did his part, it was the Cowboys running game that really propelled the Cowboys to victory. Heading into that game, the Packers were the number one rushing defense in the league, and they were putting up historical numbers (although it was a small sample size). 42.8 rushing yards allowed per game, a 2.0 yards per carry average, only one rushing touchdown. No rushes over 20 yards, more runs stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage than any team in the league.
And the Cowboys shredded them on the ground. Zeke ran for 157 yards with a 5.6 yards per carry average. Lucky Whitehead added 26 yards on the oh-so-important jet sweep on 3rd and 1 right before halftime. Overall the Cowboys rushed for 191 yards and did all this without the threat of Dez Byant on the field to loosen up the defense.
The interesting thing about that game was that many of the other stats were even or slanted in the Packers favor (except for the all-important turnover battle). You would think with the Cowboys running the ball like that they would have controlled time of possession, but it was almost evenly split - Dallas 29:50, GB 30:10. Both teams had 11 drives on offense. The Packers ran five more plays, and they had over 60 yards more passing. The Cowboys were 3-11 on third down, the Packers were 7-13.
The difference, and part of it shows up in the run game, is the yards per play. Overall the Cowboys were over a yard better per play - 6.8 to 5.6. When it came to running the ball, Dallas only ran it nine more times than Green Bay in the game, but put up a whopping 113 more yards on the ground. Dallas averaged 5.8 yards per rush, Green Bay averaged 3.3. The Cowboys rush defense is still the best in the league, so it probably won’t be a banner day running the ball for Green Bay, especially with their personnel issues at running back.
The Cowboys dominated the game in two ways, they forced the Packers into four turnovers, and they pounded them on the ground. They threw the ball more efficiently than Green Bay, but they really ran the ball down their throats and controlled the tempo, the physicality and the overall yards by handing off to Ezekiel Elliott.
The Packers pass defense is not all that good. They have been hurt by injuries in the secondary and try to compensate by running nickel personnel as their base. Teams love to pass on Green Bay because they give up so many yards. But that leads teams into the trap of trying to beat Aaron Rodgers in a shootout. The Cowboys have no interest in that. Dallas is going to run the ball, and if the Packers can’t stop that and turn the game into a shootout out between Rodgers and Prescott, they will likely see the same results as the game in October.