4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Cowboys -3.5, Over/Under: 47
A pair of former unbeatens looking to rebound from their first loss of the term meet today in Arlington, Texas, as the Dallas Cowboys host the Green Bay Packers in a potential Playoff Preview from AT&T Stadium. One of the more pleasant surprises of the season, the Packers (3-1, T-1st in NFC North) have opened 2019 revitalized under their new Head Coach, Matt LaFleur, whose gradual assimilation of the Offense has been allowed thanks to a Defense that up until last week’s 27-34 defeat at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, had carried them with their inspired play. Indeed, it could be argued tat no particular unit had shown more improvement than Green Bay’s young Defense, who in the second season under the watchful eye of Defensive Coordinator, Mike Pettine, has been a revelation; in the first three games, they had relegated the opposition to a scant 11.7 Points per Game on 328.3 Total Yards, while forcing Eight Turnovers. While those matchups came against some struggling Offenses, namely the Bears, Vikings, and Broncos, it became clear that LaFleur’s decision to retain the services of Pettine was indeed the correct one. Conversely, even with two-time MVP, Aaron Rodgers (62.3%, 1,069 YDS, 6.53 NY/A, 6 TD, 1 INT, 56.5 QBR) at full health, the transition to LaFleur’s scheme was never going to be a quick one, evidenced by the relatively meager performance by the Offense in that period of time; Rogers looked every bit like a Quarterback finding his way, completing just 61.3% of his Attempts for an average of 215.7 Yards on 6.37 Net Yards per Attempt, with Four Touchdowns and Zero Interceptions, all the while leading a unit that mustered just 19.3 Points per Game on 286.7 Total Yards. However, that early status quo was rocked against the Eagles in a midweek battle that featured a home side that was eerily reminiscent to those that preceded it. In last Thursday’s defeat, the Offense, and Rodgers role in it, looked all-too familiar to past iterations, with the Signal-Caller throwing a season-high Fifty-Three Passes, resulting in 422 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, while rushing for another Forty-Six Yards on Five Carries. When it was all said and done, Rodgers accounted for all but TWENTY-THREE of his side’s 491 Total Yards of Offense. Of course, this wasn’t by design, for Tailback Jamaal Williams (26 CAR 87 YDS, 3.3 Y/C, 0 TD), was lost for the affair after a jarring hit on the game’s opening play from scrimmage, while Pro-Bowl Receiver, Davante Adams (25 REC, 378 YDS, 15.1 Y/R, 0 TD), who exploded for a career-high 180 Yards on Ten Receptions, missed most of the final stanza due to Turf Toe. And with his Supporting Cast decimated, the Offense reverted back into the Aaron Rodgers Show, which was almost enough to get the job done. The hosts had a pair of opportunities late in the game to draw even with the Eagles, the first a 12-Play, 59-Yard Drive that ended at the visitor’s One-Yard Line as a Turnover on Downs, and the latter a 13-Play, 80-Yard Drive that resulted in Rodgers first Interception of the season, on a tipped passed to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (16 REC, 217 YDS, 13.6 Y/R, 1 TD). It was more of the same on the opposite side of the football, where the Defense was absolutely manhandled by Philadelphia in the trenches, where they were gashed for a season-worst 176 Rushing Yards and Two Touchdowns on Thirty-Three Carries, and relinquished an early 10-0 advantage. With the new Coaching Staff turning over every stone in an attempt to move this team into the present, this was a performance that saw Green Bay fall back into old habits, even if those habits were brought on by injury. It remains to be seen how healthy they’ll be heading into this matchup with the Cowboys, for the extra few days of rest should do them some good as the likes of Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga (Shoulder), Defensive Backs Kevin King (Groin), Tony Brown (Hamstring), and Will Redmond (Concussion), along with the aforementioned Adams and Williams, have all been tentative participants in practice due to injury.
Meanwhile, another team fell from the ranks of the unbeaten last weekend, and that was the Cowboys (3-1, 1st in NFC East), who after winning their first three games of 2019 with relative ease, stumbled in their trip to New Orleans, where the Saints escaped with a narrow 12-10 victory. Indeed, it’s not often that your Defense holds the opponent without a Touchdown and you still come up short, but that’s exactly what happened to Dallas, who simply couldn’t make the requisite plays to get ahead of an inspired New Orleans team. After taking an early 3-0 lead, Jason Garrett’s charges couldn’t get out of their own way in Sunday’s loss, fumbling away two drives, before the affair ended with Dak Prescott (72.4%, 1,143 YDS, 8.61 NY/A, 9 TD, 3 INT, 91.4 QBR) launching a desperate Hail Mary deep into what was Quadruple Coverage, ending the night with an Interception. In a contest that would have been better suited for the 1960’s, the visitors could never get the vaunted Running Game going, rushing for a season-low Forty-Five Yards on Twenty Carries, only possessing the football for a meager 23:56. Despite barreling into the End Zone to take the lead midway through the Third Quarter, Pro-Bowl Tailback, Ezekiel Elliott (73 CAR, 324 YDS, 4.4 Y/C, 3 TD), was mostly a non-factor, managing just Thirty-Five Yards on Eight Carries, losing a crucial Fumble in the second stanza. To give you an idea of just how far of a step backward this one was for the Cowboys, they came into this tilt averaging 32.3 Points per Game on 481.3 Total Yards, including 179 Rushing Yards, while converting on a stellar 52.4% of their Third Downs, and scoring a Touchdown on a league-best 76.9% of their trips into the Red Zone. With that said, the aforementioned Prescott still performed well enough to give his side a chance to win, completing 22-of-33 Passes for 223 Yards and an Interception, continuing his torrid start to the campaign. Much has been made of the former Fourth Round Pick’s ongoing negotiations in search of a lucrative Contract Extension, which at this point one would HAVE to imagine is on the way. Sunday’s loss aside, Prescott is having a banner season in which he’s posted career-highs in a slew of categories including Completion Percentage (72.4%), Passing Yards per Game (285.8), Yards per Attempt (9.0), Yards per Completion (12.4), Net Yards per Attempt (8.61), Touchdown Percentage (7.1%), Sack Percentage (2.3%), Passer Rating (113.7), and QBR (91.4), that last figure which leads the NFL. A lot of credit has gone to new Offensive Coordinator, Kellen Moore, who has really modernized the attack in 2019, with his Quarterback flourishing at arguably the most opportune time of his career. There were some other things of note to come out of this game, including a potentially major injury for Dallas, as perennial Pro-Bowl Left Tackle, Tyron Smith, suffered was has been pronounced as a High Ankle Sprain, with Garrett labeling him as week-to-week. Needless to say, the veteran is arguably the most important cog in the Offense, and this is an injury that can linger throughout the season, typically taking anywhere from a few weeks to possibly six or eight to fully heal. With Prescott having enjoyed such stellar protection thus far, the play on the left edge of the Offensive Line will merit watching moving forward. It was also another solid showing from the Cowboys’ young Defense, which has now gone two full games without yielding a single Touchdown, relegating the Drew Brees-less Saints to 266 Total Yards, with the newly-acquired Robert Quinn (6 TKL, 3 TFL, 4 QBH, 3.0 SK, 1 PD) continuing his smooth transition to the club. Quinn, a two-time Pro-Bowl Defensive End, brought his Sixty-Nine Career Sacks to Big D following an Offseason Trade with the Miami Dolphins, whom the 29-Year Old made his debut against two weeks ago, registering a Sacks and a career-high Seven Pressures. In Sunday’s defeat, he was a terror off the edge, logging a pair of Sacks and Three Quarterback Hits.