On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers face the new-look Dallas Cowboys. David Halprin of Blogging the Boys was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Cowboys and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Dak Prescott now has five starts under his belt. Based on those games, what has the rookie quarterback shown he does well and where does he still have room for improvement?
What he does well is just about everything so far. No one expected him to play this well as a rookie, but he has and the Cowboys couldn't be more thankful for it. His stats on the season look like this: Completion percentage - 69%, yards - 1,239, adjusted net yards per attempt - 7.95, touchdowns - four through the air, three on the ground, interceptions - 0, passer rating 101.52. Those numbers are pretty incredible for a rookie. He's also shown great poise in running the team, an ability to get into the correct play, and has even led a fourth-quarter comeback. He takes what the defense gives him, stays calm in the pocket and will take off running but only if he has to. The one notable thing he doesn't do all that well yet is throw the deep ball. He relies on the short and intermediate game to drive the team, but he does throw an accurate ball that sets up the receivers for the run after the catch.
APC: The Cowboys have the NFL's top ground attack while the Packers have the No. 1 run defense. Which strength do you expect to overtake the other on Sunday, and why?
If the Cowboys are going to win the game, it better be the run game for Dallas that is the winner of that battle. Everything the Cowboys do is based on the ability to effectively run the ball. Not only does it keep the pressure off of Dak Prescott, but it helps to control the clock allowing fewer possessions for the opposition, and keeps the Cowboys defense fresh. The Cowboys offensive line is the engine, and the unit that helped DeMarco Murray to his remarkable 2014 season is together again. The Cowboys will remain true to the run game, even if it is not working at first, they don't abandon it. The addition of Ezekiel Elliott has added an element of big-play potential, but he is also very good at grinding out the 'dirty yards', turning a two-yard gain into a five-yard gain through pure power. He's an exceptional back. It's been rare that a team totally shuts down the Cowboys running game since this line has been together, so it's really a matter of being efficient instead of just amassing volume stats.
APC: As well as Dallas' offense has performed, the defense looks to have struggled by comparison. The unit ranks 25th in DVOA (No. 25 against the pass, 17 against the run) and still does not possess the services of edge rusher Randy Gregory or linebacker Rolando McClain. What do you make of the defense at this point in the season, and does it have realistic hopes for improvement?
The Cowboys run a bend-don't-break defense. So they will give up yards and they will give up volume stats in the run and passing game. But there is one thing they do very well and that is limiting points to the opposition. They rank 8th-overall in points allowed, only giving up 18.2 per game. So I'm not sure how much more they can improve in that department. They are not a great defense, but any unit that can limit the scoring of an opponent to just over 18 points a game is doing okay. They basically make teams work for points, make them put together time-consuming drives to score points. The Cowboys also chew up clock on offense, so the whole game plan works together to limit offensive drives for the opposition, thereby eliminating chances at points.
APC: If changed with game planning against the Cowboys, how would you attack their offense? Their defense?
I would attack their offense by stacking the line of scrimmage, and basically forcing the Cowboys to attempt intermediate to long passes. There is no way I would allow them to get their run game going, I would commit eight men to the box on any down besides an obvious passing down. Also, you can't allow Dak Prescott time, he's very calm in the pocket and will wait to find a receiver, you need to pressure him. When he faces no pressure or no blitz, his QB rating shows a huge increase. Basically, you have to be aggressive and attack the Cowboys, take your chances in some on-on-one situations on the back-end and hope to limit the ability of the Cowboys to grind out long drives.
As for attacking their defense, don't make mistakes on offense that helps them. They will allow completions and will give up rushing yards, but they won't make it easy on you to hit the homerun ball and they do a good job of making the offense work hard to get to the endzone. So don't take stupid penalties, don't turn the ball over, accept what they give you and keep cranking out the first downs. Calm and steady wins the day.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Who do you expect to win on Sunday, and why?
Of course I'm going with the Cowboys! They will win a close game by winning the battle between their run offense and the Packers run defense. They'll be able to control the clock and protect their defense, leading to a 24-23 win.
We'd like to thank David and Blogging the Boys for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Cowboys. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Cowboys vs. Packers.