When it comes to the Packers everybody knows that the outcome will hinge in large part on the arm of one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, Aaron Rodgers. I don’t need 800 words to tell you that, so in lieu of rolling through a nearly endless list of accolades and attributes that make Rodgers great, let’s take a look at the other side of the ball at a guy many fans may not know, but he is probably the Packers top defensive player, and perhaps one of the best under-the-radar defensive linemen in the league.
A week after being terrorized by Aaron Donald, another undersized, explosive interior defensive lineman comes to town to make life difficult for the Cowboys offensive line in the form of Mike Daniels. Similar to Donald, Daniels is undersized by traditional standards at just 6-0, 310, and again similar to Donald what he lacks in size he makes up for with upfield quickness, timing, excellent leverage, and technique, particularly in terms of his hand use.
Over his first five years in the league Daniels put up an impressive 22 sacks, including at least four each year since 2013. Despite that he has never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, although he looked poised for a true breakout year with 1.5 sacks in the opener against Seattle before only playing a handful of snaps the next week against Atlanta. He missed the next two games but it looks like he will be back in action for the first time in almost a month when Sunday rolls around. (Daniels is listed as questionable on the injury report, but has stated he’s going to play this week).
Given that the Packers run a very multiple defense that looks to get as many extra linebackers and defensive backs on the field in order to bring exotic blitzes in Dom Capers zone-blitz system, you won’t often see many linemen on the field at any given time. Much of their talent is built around the “back 7”, as it were, but Daniels is the one guy among an otherwise run of the mill defensive line who can change a game.
Conversely, one of the main reasons the Cowboys have had so much success running the ball against the Packers (even with Matt Cassel at quarterback and Darren McFadden at running back in 2015) is this tendency to put smaller players on the field, combined with the fact that their best lineman is relatively undersized. In that regard the game plan will be clear as the offense must look to establish the run and wear down guys like Daniels, Clay Matthews, and Nick Perry.
Even aside from the fact that the Cowboys will want to play keep-away from Rodgers and the Packers offense, the plan would be to wear down the undersized Packers front and not allow them to get comfortable defending the pass, which would allow Capers to dial up all sorts of exotic blitzes from all over the field.
Another thing to take note of is that Daniels will line up all along the line of scrimmage, sometimes lining up as a 5-technique further out near the tackles, and other times lining up as a 3- or 1-technique across from the guards and center. The Packers aren’t afraid of moving him around so he should be matched up plenty with whoever it is that the Cowboys decide to start at left guard.
The offensive line had plenty of practice preparing for someone of Daniels’ ilk last week when tested by Donald, and we all saw how that went. Let’s hope they fare better this week against a very similar, much lesser known, but perhaps not that much less talented player.