Preview: Cowboys at Green Bay Packers

Here's how the Green Bay Packers match up against the Cowboys. Official stats from NFL.com:

Team Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 10 9 9 8
Cowboys 8 6 12 20

I pointed out yesterday in my mid-season analysis that in these statistical categories, the Packers measure up pretty well against some of the best teams in the league. They should be able to run and pass against Dallas's defense. The best matchup might be the battle between the Cowboys run offense, currently ranked No. 1 overall by Football Outsiders, and the Packers run defense, currently ranked No. 2 overall by FO.

Unfortunately those stats don't show the 3 areas in which the Packers have struggled this season:

1. Special teams. According to FO, the Packers rank dead, dead last while the Cowboys have the 5th best unit. The Cowboys are getting in done with kickoff coverage and punt returns (WR Patrick Crayton ran one back for a TD two weeks ago against Seattle). On the other hand, Packer special teams have been giving up a lot on kick and punt returns the past two weeks. How can they expect to fix their kick and punt coverage mid-season when it's been bad all season long?

2. Offensive line. It's amazing the offense has been so productive despite surrendering 37 sacks in the first 8 games. They've gotten beaten by speed rushers, bull rushers, stunts, blitzes, and everything else in between. It's not going to get any better this week since RT Mark Tauscher is not practicing after he reinjured his surgically repaired knee in Tampa, RT Allen Barbre has been held out due to a concussion, and rookie T.J. Lang is getting his first NFL playing time at right tackle in their place. 

3. Pass defense in the red zone. QB Josh Freeman only completed 45% of his passes last week, but he threw 3 TDs in the red zone. The week before; 2 red zone TD passes allowed. Overall the Packers have held opposing QBs to a 75.9 passer rating, but they've surrendered 16 TD passes this season. One problem is that they are giving the opposing QB too much time in the pocket, but that's not likely to get any better next Sunday if LB Aaron Kampman misses the game due to his concussion.  

When LT Chad Clifton started last week with his fellow bookend tackle Mark Tauscher, it was the first time they had done so in 2009. It was a key reason why they didn't allow a sack in the 1st half. But then Tauscher reinjured his knee, he sat out the 2nd half, and the Packers allowed 6 sacks in the 2nd half. Once Tauscher returns, and plays along side Clifton (who has played in only 2 games from start to finish this season himself), the offensive line should improve it's pass protection. But it's not going to happen this week. 

They haven't had good special teams play or a consistent pass rush all season, so until some signs of life appear from those two units, expect their lousy play to continue.

I'm not optimistic about this game at all. I was expecting a big game from the Packers when they went up against the Cowboys last season in Lambeau, but instead they were outplayed in nearly every way and lost 27-16. They fell behind 27-9 in that game. They fell behind 24-3 to the Vikings two weeks ago at home before a late rally made the score more respectable. I'm expecting another flat start, followed by another late rally to keep the score respectable.

The Packers have lost their last two games by scores of 38-26 and 38-28. I'll split the difference this week. Packers 27, Cowboys 38.

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