Mike McCarthy comes home with a 6-2 Cowboys team that has defied all odds this season. They lost their All-Pro left tackle, their quarterback, starting left guard and safety all before it hit September 12th on the calendar. Not many teams can come back from those losses. Yet somehow, these Cowboys did.
In previous matchups with Green Bay, the last three being in Dallas, Aaron Rodgers and company always found a way to be the better team. Not this time. Looking at their recent losses in the 2016 Divisional game and Week 5 matchups in 2017 and 2019, you can see that the Cowboys were not good enough.
Here’s how the 2022 team compares to what happened in those games.
2016 NFC Divisional Round: Green Bay 34 Dallas 31
This one hurts the most because of how good the Cowboys were that season. They were able to get the first seed, rest during Wild Card weekend and lock homefield advantage. The Packers were a familiar opponent as rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott took it to Rodgers in Green Bay Week 7 that season.
Why did the Cowboys lose?
- First, 2016 was a team that caught lightning in a bottle, with Prescott being so good as a rookie quarterback. The tandem of 214 took the NFL by storm. Elliot stepped up in their first playoff game while Prescott struggled in the first half. Midway through the second quarter, the Cowboys were down 21-3. They did come back to make it 21-13 by halftime, but the pressure took its toll on the rookie quarterback early.
- The offense was the best part about the 2016 squad and kept the Cowboys in games when the defense struggled. The Cowboys were ranked well in overall defense (No. 5 in points allowed) but could never create turnovers or rush the passer. The reason that Rodgers made the perfect throw to Jared Cook on a 3rd and 20 was because the Cowboys pass rushers couldn’t get a sack when they needed a big play. That season, the team leader in sacks was Benson Mayowa with six, and Malik Collins was second with five.
2017 Week 5 Matchup: Green Bay 35 Dallas 31
The 2017 season will always be summed up by the Oakland Raiders game, where the index card was brought out to measure the spot of the ball. It was a season where if a few more things went in favor of the Cowboys, they would probably make the playoffs. The Packers game was a close one, but once again, the Dallas defense couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers.
Why did the Cowboys lose?
- Ezekiel Elliott did not look like the same runner from a year before. Of course, he was dealing with the pending suspension and trying to sort that out, but the offensive line was the same from a year ago, outside of Jonathan Cooper at left guard. Elliott finished the game with over 100 yards but didn’t show up enough in the first half to make a difference on offense.
- Nick Perry was public enemy No. 1 whenever he played the Cowboys. In six games against Dallas, Perry has 3.5 sacks, 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits. Even though the numbers aren’t impressive, Perry always gave Tyron Smith trouble, and he did in this game.
- DeMarcus Lawrence was heading towards an All-Pro season, but there was absolutely no help across from him. Randy Gregory was suspended, and the Cowboys first-round draft pick, Taco Charlton, never developed as a rookie. Rod Marinelli had Damontre Moore starting at defensive end. Go ahead; I’ll wait until you look up who that was. On 3rd and 8 in the fourth quarter, Rodgers escaped from the pocket, away from Benson Mayowa, and ran for the first down to keep the game-winning drive alive.
2019 Week 5 Matchup: Green Bay 34 Dallas 24
Mike McCarthy was out the door, and in came Matt LaFleur for his first season as an NFL head coach. The Cowboys also made a coaching change after firing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and replacing him with Kellen Moore. Dallas was coming off a postseason loss to the Rams but had Amari Cooper in the building for year two and build a potential offensive juggernaut. Whatever plan they had was nuked in this game.
Why did the Cowboys lose?
- Dallas started the season 3-0, beating terrible teams by 30 or more points. Then they couldn’t score more than ten points in New Orleans, which carried into the Packers matchup. Before the offense could establish a rhythm, Green Bay was up 24-0 at halftime and extended it to 31-3 in the third quarter. Outside of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup late in the game, there was no offensive production. It looked like Kellen Moore would be up for a head coaching job in his first season as OC, but that quickly dissipated.
- The playoff loss in 2016 was a bad first half for Prescott, but this was the worst he’s ever played against Green Bay. He was forcing the ball into tight windows and should have had a fourth interception if not for a defensive penalty negating it. In his defense, this was also the worst offensive line he has played behind. Cameron Fleming and Brandon Knight were his left and right tackles, rookie Connor Williams at left guard and Travis Frederick at center, who was coming back from a season lost to Guillain-Barré syndrome. Za’Darius Smith was tormenting Fleming and never allowed Prescott to be comfortable.
- Aaron Jones had a great game against the Cowboys in 2017. As a rookie, he finished the game with 19 carries for 125 yards and one touchdown. In 2019, Jones had an All-Pro day in Dallas. He had 182 total yards with four touchdowns. Dallas finally caught a break when Davante Adams was ruled out of the game and could face Rodgers with no receiver help. Instead, the game plan was to attack the porous defense, whose only talented player was Robert Quinn, and run them out of the building. This was the lowest point of any matchup with the Packers.
So why are the current Cowboys better?
- Dak Prescott has learned from his past mistakes and has been humbled this season. After he saw Cooper Rush lead his team to a 4-1 record, he seemed to realize that he doesn’t have to throw for 400 yards a game. Just play efficient football and don’t turn the ball over. That’s what helped Dallas during their two-game win streak.
- The run defense hopes to be fixed with Johnathan Hankins getting involved more. The Cowboys addressed their most significant need by trading for him and will see what they have in Damone Clark this weekend. The rookie linebacker from LSU should get meaningful snaps with Anthony Barr out of the game. The three-headed monster at safety has also been reliable when defending the run. Against a banged-up Aaron Jones and Packers offensive line, that should favor the Cowboys.
- The Cowboys are returning to the formula that made them successful in 2016—running the ball. Even with Elliott trending toward not playing, Tony Pollard says he’s more than capable to handle the bulk of the carries. He’s not lying as he had a career game before the bye week against the Bears rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Green Bay is also ranked 28th in run defense allowing almost 1250 yards. The Detroit Lions are better than that at No. 26 and Dallas managed to run for over 130 yards.
- The Packers also have a compromised offensive line that was known to be dominant when they played the Cowboys. In 2016, David Bakhtiari took DeMarcus Lawrence out of the game. He’ll have to face Lawrence and Micah Parsons on Sunday, playing at a Pro Bowl level. Rodgers has never met a dynamic player like Parsons, among the league leaders in pressures.
- Rodgers clearly misses Adams being his go-to guy. When Adams was out in the 2019 game, it looked similar to the Packers current struggles—a bunch of no-name guys at receiver, which forces them to lean on the run game. When defenses know you are one-dimensional, they’ll load the box and force you to make throws in man coverage. Right now, no receiver is winning in Green Bay, and Rodgers can’t make the throws he used to.
From top to bottom, the 2022 Cowboys are the better team traveling into Green Bay. For all the praise Brian Daboll is getting about guys wanting to win for him, it feels like the Cowboys locker room wants to win this one for McCarthy.
They know that if their record can improve to 7-2 with a road win, you can feel the playoff talks will be around the corner. If the Cowboys can beat the Packers at Lambeau on Sunday, they can finally put their playoff hopes in doubt and exercise the ghosts of Green Bay’s past.