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Previewing Cowboys-Packers: Coaching and Preparation Keys to the Game

As we continue looking ahead to Sunday's game, we identify a few areas that will require extra attention and a few ways in which the Packers' coaching staff will impact the final result.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the offensive and defensive comparisons of the Packers and Cowboys reveals how similar they are, at least on paper. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky has the full breakdown here, but the Cliff's Notes version says both teams have a top-5 offense and a middle of the pack defense. Both teams also convert third downs at a 47% clip, which was good for top-3 in the NFL, and a key component of the up-tempo style both offenses run. With that in mind, here are a few areas which should stand out as game-changers on Sunday.

Red Zone Efficiency

The Cowboys have the league’s second-most efficient offense in the red zone, scoring touchdowns 64% of the time (Green Bay was tenth at 57%). In the last three games, however, both teams have scored TDs on exactly half their trips inside the 20. It will take quite an effort from the Packers' defense and the Lambeau Field crowd to disrupt Jason Garrett’s offense when it matters most, considering the Cowboys were actually better in the red zone on the road than at home this year.

Splash plays on special teams

For better or for worse, special teams may play a role on Sunday due to the frigid Green Bay weather.  Blocked kicks have become a serious problem for the Packers, who have allowed more blocks in 2014 than in the rest of coordinator Shawn Slocum’s nine-year career combined, including two baffling extra points.  On the good side, Micah Hyde stood out with two punt return TDs and a 70-yard kick return. While the Cowboys’ Dwayne Harris has returned over 2000 yards worth of kickoffs in his career, he has never broken one for a touchdown.

Keeping it fresh

Mike McCarthy and the Packers proved their ability to adjust this year by injecting fun and effective wrinkles to the game-plan, including Randall Cobb in the backfield and Clay Matthews at inside linebacker.  Both teams spread the ball well, but the Packers have two receivers with 90+ receptions, while the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant had 88 and Jason Witten had 64.  DeMarco Murray caught the ball 15 more times than Eddie Lacy this year, but Lacy’s 40+ receptions show there’s a high possibility of the screen game making an impact on Sunday.   Another possible angle would be to involve TE Richard Rodgers early in the game, as he’s proven to be a reliable target with 20 catches and 2 touchdowns in his rookie campaign and he had several big receptions against the Lions in week 17.

Coaching Experience

McCarthy is in his ninth year as head coach in Green Bay, and we may only be halfway through his career.  There’s a lot we’ll never find out about the "self-scouting" project McCarthy put his coaching staff through last week, but it sounds encouraging. Since he took over in 2006, this is how the Packers have finished in the NFC North: 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st.  McCarthy has had many bites at the apple, and its possible he is on the verge of breaking through a plateau as a head coach.  At the very least, he has more experience than Dallas’ Jason Garrett, who took over in 2010 and only made his first playoff game this year, beating Detroit.  That’s an extra 10 games or 600 minutes of playoff coaching experience for McCarthy, including 6 wins and a Super Bowl.