A Scout’s Take on the Packers vs. Cowboys NFC Divisional Round Matchup

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When the No. 4 seeded Green Bay Packers take on the No. 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the NFC divisional round, it will be the eighth postseason meeting between the two iconic teams.

That ties the Cowboys with the New York Giants as the two opponents the Packers have played the most in their postseason history.

It all started on January 1, 1967, when the Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-27 in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl. Dallas came very close to forcing overtime as the Cowboys were at the 2-yard line of the Packers and had a first and goal situation in the final moments of the game.

But on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys, who was facing heavy pressure from linebacker Dave Robinson of the Packers as he rolled to his right, had his pass in the end zone intercepted by safety Tom Brown with 28 seconds to go, as the Packers escaped with a victory.

Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl I two weeks later on January 15, when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

Coincidentally, when the Packers and Cowboys meet this Sunday afternoon, it will be on the 50th anniversary of the very first Super Bowl.

The two teams met again in the 1967 NFL title game on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field, which is better known as the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.

The Packers were down 17-14 to the Cowboys with just 4:50 remaining in the game. It was extremely cold, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero. The offense of the Packers had to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

It came down to this: just 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line.

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Starr followed right guard Jerry Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh, and he found a hole behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown, as the Packers won 21-17.

Two weeks later the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II.

The next time the Packers and Cowboys met in the postseason would be in the 1982 postseason, when they played in a NFC second-round playoff game at Texas Stadium on January 16, 1983.

The Packers rolled up 466 total yards in the game, but quarterback Lynn Dickey also threw three interceptions (all made by Dennis Thurman), one of which was a pick-six, as the Cowboys won 37-26.

This game set a trend in the postseason series between the two teams, as the Packers would lose three more games at Texas Stadium to the Cowboys in the 1990s.

The first occurred in the 1993 postseason in a NFC divisional round game on January 16, 1994. Led by three touchdown passes by quarterback Troy Aikman, the Cowboys beat the Packers 27-17. Brett Favre also threw for 331 yards for Green Bay and had two touchdown passes, but it wasn’t enough to beat Dallas.

The Cowboys would go on to win Super Bowl XXVII two weeks later by beating the Buffalo Bills 30-13.

The Packers and Cowboys met again the very next year in another NFC divisional game on January 8, 1995 at Texas Stadium, but Dallas got off to a quick start and never looked back, as the Boys won 35-9. Aikman threw for 337 yards and had one touchdown pass in the game.

The two teams met again a year later, but this time the stakes were higher, as it was the NFC title game, played on January 14, 1996.

The Packers led 27-24 in the fourth quarter, but two Emmitt Smith touchdowns in the fourth frame led to a 38-27 victory by Dallas over Green Bay. Smith rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns, while Favre threw three touchdown passes for the Packers.

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The Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XXX two weeks later as they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

The last time the Packers and Cowboys met in the playoffs was in the 2014 postseason, when Dallas traveled to Lambeau Field. This game had plenty of controversy. The Cowboys were faced with a fourth-and-two at the Green Bay 32-yard line trailing 26-21 with just under five minutes left in the game, when quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant on a 31-yard pass play to place the ball at the 1-yard line of the Packers.

The play was initially ruled a catch, but after head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers challenged the play, the pass was ruled incomplete since the replay official deemed that Bryant did not maintain possession when he hit the ground.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the Green Bay win.

In the seven games that the Packers and Cowboys have played in the postseason, four times the winner of the game went on to win the Super Bowl.

Although the Packers never fared well at Texas Stadium in the postseason, Green Bay has found the new home venue of the Cowboys to their liking.

The Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV at the stadium, when it was then called Cowboys Stadium. Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the game and was named MVP.

The Packers also played at AT&T Stadium versus the Cowboys in the 2013 regular season, when backup quarterback Matt Flynn engineered a stellar comeback against Dallas, as the Packers overcame a 26-3 halftime deficit and shocked the Cowboys 37-36 in a thrilling victory.

The Cowboys became the No. 1 seed in the 2016 NFC playoffs mostly because of the play of two rookies. The rookies are quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

One of those two players will definitely be named the 2016 NFL Rookie of the Year and both are in the discussion for the 2016 NFL MVP award.

In leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the NFC East title, Prescott threw 23 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions for 3,637 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.9. Prescott also rushed for 282 yards and six more scores.

Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards and he also scored 15 touchdowns. The rookie also caught 32 passes for 363 yards and another score.

Speaking of MVP candidates, Rodgers of the Packers is certainly one. After the Packers stumbled to a 4-6 start in the 2016 regular season, Rodgers led the Packers to six straight wins and the NFC North crown.

Rodgers had another stellar season, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.2. Rodgers also ran for 369 yards and had four rushing touchdowns.

In the last seven games of the season, Rodgers threw 18 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 1,788 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 120.1.

In addition to that, Rodgers was simply marvelous in the 38-13 victory over the Giants at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card playoff game last Sunday, as he threw four touchdown passes without a pick for 362 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 125.2.

The game this Sunday looks to be another classic confrontation between these two storied franchises in the NFL. I wanted to make sure that I was able to get an opinion on the game from one of the very best in his business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I was able to speak with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show this past Wednesday.

Before Landry gave his take on the game, Duemig interjected and asked me how the Packers would be able to overcome the loss of Nelson. That was an excellent question, at least based on how sorely the team missed Nelson in 2015 when he tore his ACL in the preseason and then how Rodgers and the offense of the Packers struggled at times in the passing game throughout the season without No. 87.

I answered by saying that the Packers would be better off because of the play of Adams, who in my opinion had a breakthrough year in 2016 (75-997-12) and who now would be the No. 1 receiving option on a number of NFL teams.

Coincidentally, Rodgers was asked a similar question at his locker on Wednesday after noon.

“We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better,” Rodgers said. “I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point, and Richard [Rodgers] and Jared [Cook] are making plays for us, and I think we’re a little deeper at receiver now with the emergence of Geronimo [Allison]. Davante [Adams] is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well.”

It’s also important to know that the 38 points the Packers put on the Giants last week came after Nelson left the game with the rib injury. Rodgers was on fire from late in the second quarter on, as he threw for 362 yards  and four touchdowns.

Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Cobb had five catches for 116 yards and three scores.

Landry then weighed in with his analysis of the game.

“Well, I felt going into last week, that Green Bay would win last week and Green Bay would also beat Dallas this week,” Landry said. “I felt that is was going to be Atlanta hosting Green Bay in the NFC championship game. That was the way I felt before the playoffs started.

“I would feel a little more comfortable with that, had Jordy Nelson didn’t get injured. That’s a big factor. This game to me is pretty simple. If it gets into a shootout, Green Bay is going to win it.

“They [the Packers] have the most talented quarterback in the league. No one, I mean no one, throws the ball outside the pocket better than Aaron Rodgers, ever, in the history of the game. Better than [Fran] Tarkenton. Better than anybody.

“It’s uncanny, and we talk about getting your feet under you and squared away [as a quarterback], this guy does things with his body in unsound ways that just puts it in spots that are unbelievable. He can extend plays as well as he can with his protection.

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“Last week the Giants lost a corner early, I get that, but they still had great cover ability. But you just can’t cover when this guy can run around and scramble. So if it’s a shootout, Green Bay wins.

“But it comes down to this. Dallas wants to make it a short game. To use a basketball analogy, a half court game. They want to run the football. So if they can run the football and keep Green Bay’s defense on the field, and obviously keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, than that’s a big advantage for Dallas.

“To me, it’s look at the style of the game, the flow of the game. It’s two different styles. You have one team which clearly excels one way, while the other in another way. To me, it’s real simple how you deal with that.

“If Dallas can control the football, protect it and not turn it over, and they can keep Green Bay off the field, than it’s a huge advantage and a great chance of shorten it and make it simple. Not succumb to any of the pressure and all that.

“But if they get into a matchup where it’s a shootout, I’m telling you, Green Bay, Atlanta, whoever Dallas plays, they [the Cowboys] will not win a shootout type of game. Because their defense will get exposed. They haven’t been exposed, because Dallas has been able to control the football on the offensive side.

“It’s going to be interesting to see. I like Green Bay’s chances. I liked them better with a healthy Jordy Nelson, but I still think their chances are pretty good. But again, the style is the key as to who is going to win. The style will determine [the winner].”

When the Packers hosted the Cowboys in Week 6 at Lambeau Field, the Packers had the No. 1 run defense in the NFL going into the game. But you wouldn’t have known it, based on the way Elliott ran that day. Elliott rushed for 157 yards that day (a 5.61 average) and just kept gashing the Green Bay Front 7.

I asked Landry how he thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would try and stop the run in this game.

“Well, they have to load the front, there’s no question,” Landry said. “They are going to play some more Bear fronts. I think that they are going to be very aggressive bringing in an extra guy in the box. Particularly on early downs. Force them into the air and that’s where Dallas will have to make plays.

“I think if Dallas is going to have success throwing the football, as they can, it will be because they [the Packers] will have removed the safety out of the middle of the field. And they are going to have one on one on the outside, outside of the hashes. Plus they will be able to work the middle of the field to [Jason] Witten.

“Again, the run game will dictate it. There can be big plays by Dallas in the passing game, but that will be because the Packers are overplaying for the run. You have to stop the run. If you don’t stop the run, you have no shot. And if you can, you have to hope that maybe you can create enough pressure and force enough bad throws where you can make enough plays on the back end.

“You just can’t let them [the Cowboys] get into a rhythm in the running game. You are going to have to switch things up a little bit. But again, you are going to have to crowd the front most of the day.”

Bottom line, the game between the Packers and Cowboys looks to be a classic battle between two teams who will attempt to try and impose their will versus their opponent.

Which ever team accomplishes that goal will be playing in the 2016 NFC title game.

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