The Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 on Sunday, advancing to the NFC Championship Game. However, the Packers’ defense again had a rough go against the Cowboys’ offense, which was exacerbated by the loss of one of Dom Capers’ most versatile players.
Morgan Burnett, who has played safety, inside linebacker, and slot corner at different times this season, played just 16 snaps in the game due to a leg injury that he suffered when colliding with LaDarius Gunter early on. That forced the Packers to shuffle their secondary yet again, and led to another undrafted rookie getting the most playing time of any game in his young career.
Meanwhile, the Packers adjusted to the loss of Jordy Nelson as most expected; Geronimo Allison got the bulk of the extra snaps at wide receiver while Jared Cook picked up a few snaps over his normal workload as well. As far as the targets go, Cook was the biggest beneficiary, with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams having a large volume of passes thrown their way as well.
Here’s how the playing time broke down for the Packers on Sunday.
OFFENSE (67 total plays)
LG Lane Taylor 67, C Corey Linsley 67, RT Bryan Bulaga 67, RG T.J. Lang 65, LT David Bakhtiari 64, OT Jason Spriggs 6, G Don Barclay 2
The Packers had a couple of minor absences at times during the game, as Lang had to leave briefly with an equipment issue (his chinstrap buckle was knocked off) and Bakhtiari missed a series with a knee sprain late in the second quarter. Thankfully, Bakhtiari was able to return, and apparently did so despite the medical staff’s recommendations:
David Bakhtiari coming back from a knee sprain: "It’s my body. They (the medical staff) had their advice, but it’s my body, my choice.”— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) January 16, 2017
QB Aaron Rodgers 67, RB Ty Montgomery 52, FB Aaron Ripkowski 21, RB Christine Michael 4
The Packers barely used Michael at all in this game, preferring the greater versatility of Ty Montgomery. That allowed them to motion him in or out of the backfield at will, forcing the Cowboys into tougher matchups on the perimeter. Where they saw the drawback was in pass protection, as Montgomery struggled on a couple of occasions.
All told, the Packers had just 15 called runs, 11 for Montgomery for 47 yards and two scores and four for Ripkowski. Rip busted out for the longest rush of the game off left tackle, rumbling for 20 yards.
WR Randall Cobb 62, WR Davante Adams 60, WR Geronimo Allison 51, TE Jared Cook 51, TE Richard Rodgers 25, WR Trevor Davis 5, WR Jeff Janis 1
Both Packers tight ends made massive contributions against the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense against that position (by DVOA). Rodgers hauled in the first touchdown of the game after putting a great move on Pro Bowler Sean Lee, and Cook was probably the team’s best receiver on the day. Cook caught 6 of 11 targets for 104 yards and a score, but it was his 35-yard gain up the left sideline that will be remembered for years to come.
Cobb was efficient, catching 7 of 8 targets for 62 yards, while Adams caught 5 of 10 balls for 76. Allison also had a couple of big plays, hauling in 3 of 5 passes for 46.
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 69, SCB Micah Hyde 69, LCB LaDarius Gunter 69, RCB Damarious Randall 67, S Kentrell Brice 52, S Morgan Burnett 16, CB Josh Hawkins 15
The Packers were forced back into scramble mode when Burnett went out with an injury early on in the game. Burnett came back on and off the field at times in the first half, but was eventually removed and ruled out at halftime.
With Burnett unavailable, the Packers were forced to play Kentrell Brice at strong safety when the team was in nickel and dime throughout the rest of the game, with the dime grouping seeing Josh Hawkins coming in to play right cornerback and Damarious Randall moving to the slot. It’s worth noting that Brice had a nice game with a few big hits, but dropped an interception at the goal line. However, Brice was helped out by Micah Hyde a few plays later.
Hyde made one of the plays of the game on defense, stepping in front of a screen pass that he saw on film and picking it off. He added a sack early on a blitz out of the slot, and broke up two passes to go with four total tackles.
Gunter had a tough assignment, playing a lot of one-on-one coverage with Dez Bryant. Bryant had a monster game, catching 9 of 12 targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
ILB Joe Thomas 67, ILB Jake Ryan 53, OLB Clay Matthews 49, OLB Julius Peppers 45, OLB Nick Perry 37, OLB Datone Jones 31, ILB Blake Martinez 1
The Packers clearly have settled on Thomas as their preferred inside linebacker, with Ryan as the second player at the position in base and nickel. Thomas only had two tackles on the day, but he did have a hit on Dak Prescott in pass rush and added a pass breakup in the end zone.
The Packers got one sack from their linebackers, as Nick Perry was able to get to Prescott. However, Perry was the only player at the position to get to Prescott at all, adding the only other QB hit. Peppers did add one significant play in his 45 snaps - when he bullrushed Tyron Smith back into Prescott, forcing an incomplete pass that led to a punt.
Mike Daniels 43, Letroy Guion 27, Kenny Clark 26, Dean Lowry 21, Christian Ringo 2
The Packers chose to use a lot of nickel and dime once again, even starting out in nickel despite the Cowboys’ strong running game. They got a stop on that drive, forcing a field goal, but allowed another big game by Ezekiel Elliott - 125 yards on 22 carries.
Clark had arguably his best game as a rookie, recording a tackle for loss, chasing down Elliott on a screen pass, and recording four total tackles. Daniels was disruptive again, but was kept in check a little bit better by the Cowboys’ excellent line. Daniels ended with a total of three tackles on the day.