clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

For Cowboys, Rhythm Is Key To Beating Packers

Having everyone in sync is the top task coming out of the bye week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys
These two need to retain their regular season form.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

By now, you may well be getting a bit sick of hearing about how scared the Dallas Cowboys need to be of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. We have all heard about how hot the guys from Wisconsin are right now. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have sat out a bye week, and many of the players, like Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee, will go three weeks between even seeing the field. And several banged-up players are expected back after even longer layoffs. But the upside of that is that the Cowboys may be the healthiest team in the playoffs.

The matchup with Green Bay is by no means an easy one, but while all the focus has been on Rodgers versus the Dallas defense (and it is presented that way for the most part, like those other ten players on the field with him are not much of a factor), there is a very legitimate argument to be made that the Cowboys’ offense has an easier task trying to move the ball and score against a very banged up Packers’ defensive unit. However, the idle time for the Cowboys does raise one very real problem they have to overcome: They have to make sure they still have their rhythm.

This is just a personal opinion, but rhythm is a much more relevant concept than momentum. If momentum was as real a thing as so many argue, it would not be susceptible to such drastic changes as we see. A turnover or big play should not change momentum if it had any real meaning. But rhythm makes much more sense. One of those sudden big plays can disrupt what a team is doing. Get almost any team out of its rhythm, and things start to break down. Mistakes can multiply, and a game can rapidly slip out of control. That has to be avoided, and teams that can stick to their rhythm can more easily overcome splash plays that go against them.

Maybe it is my background (long ago, mostly) as a musician, but rhythm is something that I think is not considered enough in football. There is no other sport that is so tightly orchestrated. Each NFL play is a very few seconds of action, with eleven players on each side having a specific job to accomplish. In most cases, that job has several steps. For instance, the quarterback first makes a read at the line, and may audible to another play. Then he might have a read/pass option to decide on, and if he elects to throw it, he then has a progression to make if the first target is covered. Finally, of course, he has to throw the ball accurately, throw it away if nothing is there, or possibly use his legs to make something out of the play. The quarterback has the most complex job, but similar reads and reactions are required of all the rest of the players on both sides of the ball. And all that will be over and done with in as few as three seconds of real time, and seldom does the action extend as far a ten seconds.

This is where the often used term “being on the same page” comes into play. Each player has to understand his assignment and reads on the play, and then execute them while the opposing players are trying to frustrate him. A busted assignment can blow up on a team, resulting in a failure to move the ball on schedule for the offense or a chunk of yards yielded by the defense. For those that watched the surprisingly entertaining CFB National Championship game, there was a perfect example. Alabama faced a third and long, and had a screen pass set up that would likely have converted it, and might have gone all the way for a touchdown. But the tight end was in the path of the ball when it was thrown, and he reacted with instinct rather than discipline, going up and grabbing the pass. He was tackled short of the sticks, forcing a punt. If the play had gone off as drawn up, Clemson might not have taken home that title. It was a tremendous and athletic catch, but at entirely the wrong time.

The Cowboys cannot afford to start the game against the Packers slow. All indications are that this will become something of a shootout, and it would be very difficult to dig out of a hole if they fall behind by more than a score early. While the Dallas defense seems like a good matchup for Green Bay with their very strong secondary play and emerging pass rush, they are not likely to shut them out for long. Rodgers is playing as well as he ever has. They are still going to score some points. Dak Prescott and the offense have to score more.

That is where the rhythm comes in, on both sides of the ball. Prescott has to come out playing the way he was in the last few games of the season. He is expected to have all the starters back in place (including Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, and Dez Bryant), but he has to be able to connect with them. We saw what happens when a quarterback and his seafaring receivers are not able to connect against the Pack last Sunday. Green Bay is more concerned about opportunistic defensive play than consistent stops, and the Cowboys have to exploit that with protecting the ball, moving the chains, and scoring touchdowns rather than field goals when they get to the red zone. Fortunately, Prescott is used to long layoffs from preparing for bowl games in his college days. And the several defensive players looking to return to action are seasoned pros who should be fully ready to play.

Another aspect of this is the way Jason Garrett focuses on his renowned process. The team is going to practice this week the same way they do for any game, and they are doing so with the advantage of playing at home. That is one very valuable way to keep that rhythm going. And we saw a hint of how the Cowboys may respond in the final game of the season, when Tony Romo came in after not playing a down all season and looked like he had not missed a game. Romo is an exceptional player, of course, but that is a clear example of how the team works to keep its players ready to go.

And Romo is also an ace in the hole if things get rocky in this game. It is Prescott’s game to win, but if he flounders (and I am knocking most vigorously on wood that it does not happen), the team knows they can go to Romo if it looks like the only way to turn things around. No one wants to see it come to that (despite the storybook finish it might give to Romo’s time in Dallas), but it is still there just in case.

However, the plan is for the team to take the field on Sunday and play like the 13-3 team it was this season. And I think that is exactly what will happen. The Packers will get some scores, but the Cowboys should get more. One way or another, it looks like an exciting game. And hopefully, it is just the first of three wins to start 2017 for the Cowboys.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys