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Looking at the recent Packers-Bears game through a Cowboys lens

It wasn’t pretty. That may actually make the first game of the NFL season more interesting to mine for lessons.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Sacks are good for the defense.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL hoped to kick off its 100th season with a classic matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. They got the teams alright, but the “classic” element was really missing. The ratings were still very good, but the play on the field was mostly a complete mess, with penalties, failed drives, a ton of punts, and a paltry 10-3 final score in the Pack’s favor. It is still a game that is of considerable interest to the Dallas Cowboys and their fans. It is said you learn more from mistakes than successes, and that can apply to studying someone else’s performance as well. Here are some takeaways for your consideration.

You have to be ready

As was mentioned frequently by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, neither Aaron Rodgers or Mitchell Trubisky threw a single pass in preseason this year. The point they were making was that all the starters for both teams saw little to no game action to prepare for the regular season, and it showed. Trubisky was just bad, Rodgers was not up to his standards, the teams each had ten penalties accepted against them, with several more declined, and there were 17 punts overall. The only thing that didn’t show up were a lot of turnovers, with just one interception thrown by the Trubisky. Even that was influenced by an apparent lack of preparation, as several of his other throws clunked off the hands of defenders.

Whether preseason work is really necessary or not, it was obvious that both teams were not really ready for prime time. For so many NFL clubs, the first two or three games have become the substitute for preseason reps for their starters. However, the games still count, and in a season limited to 16 games, most teams cannot afford dropping even one game they should have won. (That’s not to say Chicago should or could have won this game if they had prepared better, just a general observation.)

That may be good news for the Cowboys, because while Dak Prescott and most of the starters were very limited in preseason games, they did get some series in. And they looked pretty good during those snaps. The glaring display of ineptitude in the kickoff game certainly hints that could be very important against the New York Giants.

Pay Dak ASAP

It may not have been a true indication of how capable Trubisky really is. After all, Rodgers only completed 60% of his passes as well. But based on this example, the Bears have a real problem now. They are trying to build the offense around Trubisky. If he doesn’t get significantly better, they are not going anywhere this season.

One problem that stood out were the many inaccurate throws during the game from him. Even on some of his completions, it took a big adjustment from the receiver to get to the ball. Seldom did they get it in stride, and yards after the reception were fairly scant.

It is a bit risky to say that Dak Prescott is going to be clearly better since we haven’t seen him play in a real game yet. Still, everything that came out of camp and preseason says he should be. If you have a true franchise QB, the sky is the limit. The Cowboys believe they do, and it is time to figure out how much it will take to lock him up. Waiting is just going to drive the price higher.

The defensive lines controlled the game

Each team got five sacks, and several pressures. There is an axiom that defenses usually get up to speed faster than offenses. This game absolutely fit that idea. And the sacks came from all over. Khalil Mack didn’t have one for the Bears, while bookend OLB Leonard Floyd had two, and DT Roy Robertson-Harris snagged one. On the Packers, free agent acquisition Preston Smith notched 1.5. Green Bay undertook a defensive rebuild in the offseason, and the results were good in the game.

Part of the high number of sacks was the QBs holding the ball too long, particularly Rodgers. That was also a bit of a compliment to the secondaries. But to pick on Trubisky a bit more, he also missed some wide open targets as he seemed to have a real problem seeing the field.

This bodes well for the Cowboys, whose defensive line is seen as arguably the deepest and most talented unit on the team. The Giants have some issues still on their offensive line. That could lead to a big game for DeMarcus Lawrence and company. And we all know what tends to happen when pressure is applied to Eli Manning.

Not only sacks, but interceptions are common results. And with the Cowboys showing a sudden affinity for picking the ball in preseason, that is another way we could see some very good things.

Play-calling is going to be huge

We all knew this applies to the Cowboys, but neither of the teams on Thursday night did a good job. One observer tweeted something that I was thinking at times.

While Trubisky might not have done any better with more effective calls, Rodgers certainly wasn’t helped, either. There were runs where passes made more sense, and passes when a run would seem the better option, including some like third and short where analytics point to a handoff. One of the most egregious came inside the two-minute warning, when the Packers were trying to get to the win with the seven-point lead, and they elected to throw the ball on second and five, stopping the clock and giving the Bears a brief, if eventually futile, hope to tie it up. Sometimes running the ball does make sense, but no one on the Green Bay sideline saw it in that instance.

Now we are about to see the advent of the Kellen Moore offense. This game is a great example of how to not call things, and hopefully he at least watched some of it. There is little doubt that his success or failure will be one of the biggest factors for the season. He has to do better than the coaches did in that game.

Implications for the schedule

The Cowboys will certainly be studying both these teams at some point, because they host the Packers in week 5, and go to Chicago in week 14. What we saw in this first game for the NFL is hardly likely to be what they will see in those games, but it is unquestionable that both of the teams looked very beatable.

Those are some easy takeaways from that game. Sunday, we get to see how things really go for the Cowboys. Let’s hope for a big, much more competent, win.

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