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5 Questions with the Enemy: The Packers and Mike McCarthy are now unrecognizable

The Packers face their old coach in Sunday’s Wild Card game and both have changed significantly.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly a week since the win over the Bears and it STILL doesn’t seem real.

The Green Bay Packers are in the playoffs.

Even the most optimistic Packers fan probably would have had a hard time saying this was going to be a playoff team when they were 3-6. Yet the team stuck together, grew together, and overcame adversity together to reach the postseason the very first year of the Jordan Love era.

That’s something not even Aaron Rodgers did in his season as a starter. A huge majority of Love’s legacy is of course yet to be written but he’s off to one heck of a start.

Now Green Bay can focus on the most miraculous of Super Bowl runs and first up is an old friend in former head coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at 3:30 pm CT at AT&T Stadium.

With Rodgers now in New York, any familiarity advantage McCarthy had over the Packers is now gone. This Green Bay team is totally unrecognizable when compared to the final one he coached in 2018.

So who does have the advantage this week? We sat down with our sister site Blogging with the Boys to discuss this week’s matchup.

1. Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay didn’t end well, obviously. A big criticism against him was that his offense never evolved. How is McCarthy viewed by Cowboys fans after four seasons now? How has he done calling plays?

It feels like the views on Mike McCarthy are all over the place. I don’t think there is any broad consensus agreement on McCarthy from Cowboys fans. So first let’s deal with a few facts. The Cowboys have three consecutive 12-win seasons under their belt with McCarthy, and that is something that hasn’t been done in Dallas for a long time. Needless to say the Cowboys have gone to the playoffs in each of those years. So there is very strong evidence that in the regular season, McCarthy is getting the job done at a high level. There are still criticisms, his time-management skills leave much to be desired, and there are other pockets of criticism that are valid debates.

McCarthy famously took over the play-calling duties this season and Kellen Moore was jettisoned. It’s hard to view this as anything but a positive. Dak Prescott is playing at the highest level of his career and the Cowboys offense is among the elite in the league. McCarthy shifting away from what Moore did in calling running plays predominately on first down has been a major improvement. There are some West Coast timing elements to his scheme that have been a benefit for Prescott. The Cowboys also altered their blocking scheme somewhat and it seems to also be working as efficiently as we’ve seen. But... it’s all about the playoffs and McCarthy is 1-2 in the tournament so far in Dallas. That is where he is going to be judged. No matter how many wins he’s stacked up in the regular season, only success in the playoffs will win over all of the fanbase.

2. There are rumors McCarthy could be fired if the Packers win on Sunday. Would that decision be more about McCarthy or a way for the team to keep Dan Quinn in the building?

I think that would be a combination of things. One is what we discussed above, and that is success in the playoffs. Jerry Jones desperately wants another Super Bowl and this year is seen as being as good as any lately to get it. If McCarthy crashes out in the Wild Card round, all alternatives are on the table. Heck, we’ve even heard rumors that if the Cowboys lose on Sunday and fire McCarthy, they may be planning to chase Bill Belichick. Of course keeping Dan Quinn in house would also be an option. So as crazy as it seems to fire a coach who has three consecutive 12-win seasons, there are definitely rumblings around it. I think most of it goes to Jones’ desperation to win another title and his unwillingness to wait at his age.

3. Speaking of Quinn, his defense has been lights out. What are his secrets to success and how do you think the Packers matchup against them? How should Green Bay attack them?

Dan Quinn’s secret is that he is not tied down to any specific scheme and he is not tied down to certain types of players having to play in certain positions. Take Micah Parsons. Quinn lines him up everywhere along the defensive line and sometimes as an off-ball linebacker. He has Markquese Bell, a safety until the start of this year’s training camp, starting at linebacker. He is willing to play guys all over the field and isn’t too concerned about what position their body-type is built for. He’s also a fan of a fast, attacking defense and that plays well in today’s pass-heavy offenses. The players love him, they play hard for him, and he is so adaptable that the offense can’t really know exactly what is coming.

Of course, there are downsides to that style of defense and that is defense against the run. The Cowboys defensive line rarely lines up in a normal configuration, and they stunt probably more than any team in the league. That can sometimes cause a loss of gap discipline and over-aggressiveness that takes guys out of the play. They are also a light defense so a powerful running game can gash them. That is how you attack Dallas. Run the ball, take advantage of their aggressiveness and try to get a lead to neutralize their pass rush.

4. Dak Prescott is an MVP candidate this year. What’s been the big reason for his strong season and what’s the secret to slowing him and the receivers down?

As funny as it might sound, Mike McCarthy might be the offensive coordinator that Prescott has been waiting for all his career. They worked a lot on his footwork and timing in the offseason for the West Coast elements of the scheme, and this looks like what Prescott needed. He was a quarterback in the past that wouldn’t settle in the pocket and his footwork/mechanics could get out of whack. He was also much more of a gunslinger trying to fit the ball into tight windows. McCarthy has got him settled in the pocket and willing to take the easy option when it’s presented. Prescott still takes his shots downfield, but the Cowboys are content to throw short and let the YAC work for them. Dak’s accuracy, hitting guys in stride, opens up the YAC. As a bonus, when Prescott does get off platform and breaks the pocket, he’s been deadly with his passing.

The thing that seems to work best against Prescott is to take away his initial reads and run a shell over the top. Make him lose that timing element and rhythm he develops and try to keep him in the pocket. If Dak has to sit in the pocket and then try to work through his progressions, his footwork suffers and he sometimes can get loose with the football. Also get a lead, the Cowboys love to play from the front, and seem to get more flustered when having to catch up. That’s not to say Prescott can’t lead comebacks, but the Cowboys offense gets less efficient, as you might expect, when they become more one-dimensional trying to catch up.

5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Cowboys as a touchdown favorite. Do you think that’s fair and what’s your prediction for how this game plays out?

I think that’s pretty fair. The Cowboys are just a different team when they play at home, both on offense and defense. They routinely score over 30 points at home and have blown out a lot of teams at AT&T Stadium. They haven’t lost at home for 16 straight games. Obviously some of that has to do with the level of competition they have faced, but at home the Cowboys look as good as any team. If the Packers can run the ball like they have been able to do recently, they should make this a competitive game. Even so, Green Bay is ahead of schedule right now and probably need this roster to get a little more experienced and add a few more playmakers for Jordan Love. The Cowboys just have the more talented roster right now. Cowboys 31- Packers 20.