Dallas Cowboys: Charles Woodson
IRVING, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, but with three games to play in the 2013 season both are on the outside of the playoff chase and in need of a win.
The Packers have fallen on hard times without Aaron Rodgers but won last week against the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys are coming off a humiliating loss to the Chicago Bears and have a short week to get ready.
ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the matchup in this week's Double Coverage.
Archer: I'll skip the "What's Aaron Rodgers status?" and ask about Ted Thompson's approach to the backup quarterback. The Cowboys pay Kyle Orton a lot of money to hopefully never throw a pass. Is there any regret form the Packers that they did not have a better backup quarterback situation behind Rodgers, considering their struggles without him?
[Editor's note: Rodgers was officially ruled out for Sunday's game on Friday.]
Demovsky: Thompson admitted at the end of training camp that he probably should have signed Vince Young much earlier than he did, although after watching Young for about a month, I'm not sure he would have been any better had the Packers signed back in the spring. Where they probably erred was in not drafting a quarterback. They overestimated what they had in Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, and neither one developed enough. When Ron Wolf was the GM, he made it a regular practice to draft a quarterback in the middle-to -late rounds. Not all of them worked out, but guys like Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through the Packers' system.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Tony Romo is "playing probably as good as he has in his career." Do you agree with that assessment?
Archer: I'd agree with that, sure. It's hard to argue against his numbers. He has 3,244 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's taking care of the ball. He had one really careless throw and it cost the Cowboys big-time in their loss to the Denver Broncos. Romo gets most of the blame for the December/January woes this team has had, but in his last 16 games he has 34 touchdowns and seven picks. It's hard to play better than that. But you know what? He has to. This defense is so bad that Romo has to be nearly perfect. There can be no poor drives. If they don't get points they at least need to chew up time because there's not an offense the Cowboys can slow down right now.
When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium they were able to overcome so many injuries, especially on defense as we talked about. The difference this year is Rodgers missing time, but is there anything more to it than that?
Demovsky: They did end up with 15 players in injured reserve in their Super Bowl season, and then during that game itself they lost Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone. But you know what? This defense played fine early this season and even during the stretch Clay Matthews missed because of his broken thumb. Capers said last week that losing Rodgers had nothing to do with the Packers' defensive slide, but I'm not buying it. The Packers' defense got four turnovers in the Thanksgiving game at Detroit and still got walloped 40-10 because the offense couldn't do a darn thing with them. To be sure, there are issues on defense. Their failure to address needs at safety has hurt them up the middle, where their inside linebackers also haven't played well enough.
It sounds like Monte Kiffin is already taking heat, but how much of it is personnel? When I saw Packers castoff Jarius Wynn playing Monday night against the Bears, to me that was a red flag that there are talent issues, perhaps some of them caused by injuries.
Archer: There are talent issues and there are depth issues. Blame the owner and GM who constructed this team. Blame the coaches -- Kiffin and Rod Marinelli -- for saying the line was a position of strength. The Cowboys thought they had pieces to fit Kiffin's scheme at the start of the year. DeMarcus Ware has not been DeMarcus Ware in part because of injuries, but he acknowledged he has to play better. Bruce Carter was supposed to be the ideal weak-side linebacker and he just has not made any plays. The corners are more man corners and Kiffin has tried to play more man but all of them -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick -- have had issues. Sean Lee has been hurt and could miss Sunday's game with a neck injury. He's been good but the defense has been lit up with him on the field, too. It's just a mess. Until Jerry Jones realizes he needs better players, not necessarily better schemes, it will be a mess.
Let's stick with the defensive coordinators. From the outside looking in, it appears Capers is catching a lot of grief too. Are the Packers committed to the 3-4 regardless or could they pull a Dallas and move to a 4-3 in the future?
Demovsky: When the cornerstone of the defense is Matthews, an outside linebacker, I would think they'd have to stick with the 3-4 even if they part ways with Capers, which I'm not sure will happen anyway. Mike McCarthy has continually praised Capers and the defensive staff. It's probably more about personnel. They need a few more playmakers to help out Matthews. They haven't gotten enough production from their defensive front. I'd look for an overhaul in personnel more than a coaching change.
Knowing the temperature in the Cowboys locker room like you do, how do you think they will react to getting steamrolled Monday night? Is this a group that will fight? Or will they pack it in?
Archer: This is where I have to give Jason Garrett credit. This team has fought. Maybe they didn't fight all that much in the losses to New Orleans and Chicago, but they have not packed it in. You saw the last time the Cowboys packed it in in 2010 at Lambeau Field when Wade Phillips was the coach. The Cowboys lost 45-7 and were completely disinterested. Phillips was fired the next day and Garrett took over. There is some gumption to this team. They do work hard. They do the right things. I'll say it again: Most of it is a talent issue. I'd expect the Cowboys to come out with the effort Sunday because they're still very much in the playoff chase. But do they believe they can really make a run? I don't know about that.
|Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the leaked Dallas Cowboys' draft board, Dez Bryant's relationship with Michael Jordan and if Jason Garrett's job will be safe if the Cowboys make the playoffs in 2013.
Say what you will about Garrett -- much of the criticism he receives is warranted -- but he gives this franchise direction. Maybe you don't like the road he's driving down, but at least he's not driving in circles.
Just so you know, these particular decisions don't have anything to do with the Cowboys being tight against the salary cap. They can always find money and salary-cap space when they need it. Nope, this is a definite philosophical change.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/James D SmithIf you look closely, there are signs the Cowboys have changed philosophy and are making progress under Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys, like most teams, finally understand that it's far better for a team's salary cap and long-term development to give draft picks and young players every opportunity to make the team. They provide a cost-effective talent base and help create the salary-cap space for a team to sign a big-money free agent who is in his prime and worth the money.
Garrett is a smart guy. He gets it.
The Cowboys benefit.
This is why I don't rush to join the crowd that assumes Garrett is coaching for his job in 2013. Could a bad season cost him his job? Sure. But it's no sure thing that another 8-8 disappointment or a first-round playoff exit or something like that gets Garrett fired. Firing Garrett at this point would represent a dramatic shift in the plan for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While it's easy for everyone to characterize Jones as impulsive and rash, I think there's real evidence that he's tired of changing the plan every couple of years to little result.
Jones likes and admires Garrett. He respects his intelligence. He recently referred to him as the team's "premier asset," and I don't think that was just a phrase he threw out there. The sense you get when you spend time around the Cowboys these days is that they're striving to build a sustainable, long-term, successful program, and that they believe they're making progress. Last season's ending stunk for them, again, and the 8-8 records two years in a row are an easy reason for people to point and say there's no progress. But if you followed Dallas' 2012 season, the positives were unmistakable. Their comeback from where they were in early November, with half their defense on IR, to get themselves into a division title game for the second year in a row was a half-season's worth of evidence of the kind of heart they're so often accused of lacking.
Garrett coached the team through on-field adversity and off-field tragedy with no hint of locker room discord, and while his in-game decision-making is often a worthy target of criticism, the fact that you never near anything about player discontentment with him says a lot. Tony Romo led fourth-quarter comebacks without a running game to lean on, and the fact that he threw three interceptions in a Week 17 road loss to a scorching hot Redskins team shouldn't obscure that completely. Dez Bryant, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer emerged as star-caliber players. The Cowboys, up until that Week 17 loss, had plenty on which to build hopes for the future, and that's what Garrett & Co. will sell to their players this offseason.
This is why I think Garrett is more to Dallas right now than just a coach-on-the-hot-seat. I think Jones views him as a key part of the long-range plan. And I'm not as convinced as a lot of people seem to be that Jones is ready to ditch the current plan for a new one -- no matter what happens this season.
Let's get to it.
Q: Judging by what we've seen and expect from Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, who do the Cowboys covet more, long-term wise, of the two skilled linebackers. TBro (Parts unknown)
|Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his comments on how Jason Garrett should handle being on the hot seat and not let Jerry Jones get in the way.
Q: Hey what's up Calvin, Can you provide a list of the differences from last year's roster to this years? Zach Emmerick (Phoenix)
A: The difference is in the health of the team. Let's look at the offense: It's basically the same group for the exception of a new center, Travis Frederick, back up running back, Joseph Randle, and a new No. 3 or No. 4 receiver in Terrance Williams. On defense, the front seven is the same for the exception of Justin Durant, who could start at one of the outside linebacker spots. The defensive backfield is the same as well. B.W. Webb could challenge for some playing time on some passing situations during his rookie year. Injuries were a major factor into why the Cowboys struggled on defense and with some key players, Jay Ratliff, Lee and Carter, healthy, things should improve. The offense wasn't a issue, think about how Dez Bryant emerged last season and how badly the team missed DeMarco Murray in the running game. It's a good roster but inconsistency and health affected how the Cowboys played in 2012. If the Cowboys remain healthy and we see some consistent play, I expect a good season.
Q: Wouldn't it make sense for Dallas to at least inquire about Charles Woodson? The Cowboys are not very deep at safety and he would be an excellent mentor for the youngsters. It makes sense to me, but maybe I'm missing something. What is your opinion on the matter? Cody Black (Greenfield, Tenn.)
A: I like Woodson, but he's 36 and I don't want a 36-year old safety/cornerback on my football team. It's OK to go with youth and sometimes getting a veteran, no matter what position, doesn't necessarly mean you get success. Woodson is a Hall of Fame player in my view, however, he doesn't fit with the Cowboys. Barry Church, Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Will Allen will compete for starting spots. Church played well until he torn his Achilles tendon and Allen is a veteran player who could start. The team has hopes that Johnson's health won't be a negative this season and McCray is a special teams guy. Wilcox is good close to the line of scrimmage, but he's a year-away from significant playing time. Woodson is a talented player, but he's on the back end of his career and the Cowboys should leave him alone.
|ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys cutting Gerald Sensabaugh in a salary cap move.
As the Cowboys move to the 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, they don’t have a John Lynch-type that worked so well in Tampa for years. They don’t have much of anything at the spot really.
“We upgraded safety when we brought in Kiffin relative to what we’re going to need the safety to do,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine.
Danny McCray is a restricted free agent and showed last year he is a backup as the more he played the more he got exposed. The Cowboys like Eric Frampton, who started the final two games, is an unrestricted free agent. As is Charlie Peprah, who started one game.
Matt Johnson did not play a game as a rookie because of hamstring injuries.
As the names of free agents like Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and other veterans pop into your minds as possible signings, one of the strengths of the draft is the safety position. At the NFL scouting, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro said he will visit with the Cowboys before the draft. Chicago general manager Phil Emery said there could be five or six starting safeties in the draft.
It’s a risky move for the Cowboys, especially with so little in reserve.
|Cowboys DC Rob Ryan on how he plans on working in CB Mike Jenkins, matching up against Seattle, how he and the defense has changed over the past year and much more.
How do they get Mike Jenkins in the mix now that he’s finally fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery?
“Every defense could use Mike Jenkins and so can we, so we’re going to use him,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “We’re going to play Mike Jenkins. He’s going to be a big part of us and we’re looking forward to getting him back. Hopefully we get him back on a full-time basis.
“Right now we have to work him in, but to get him in game shape, get him going again, we’ll have one heck of a problem -- and that’s not a problem at all.”
One solution: Give Jenkins snaps in a safety/cornerback hybrid position in certain sub packages.
This makes sense because the Cowboys like to use Barry Church in a linebacker/safety hybrid position. They could use Jenkins instead of Mana Silva or Danny McCray at safety in those situations, putting another player with good coverage ability and ball skills on the field.
Rest assured that the idea has crossed Ryan’s mind. Don’t be surprised to see it implemented Sunday afternoon in Seattle.
“Jenkins has unique ability,” Ryan said. “When I had Charles Woodson at Oakland, Charles Woodson is an All-Pro corner but he could also do a lot of other things. I think Mike Jenkins has those type of traits.
“With Jenkins, if we are going to bring him in, we’re going to bring him in on our terms, which may not necessarily be the terms that the other team wants. We’re going to move him around and let him do some things that we think he’ll be really effective.”
The Cowboys faced one of the better NFL receivers last week in Larry Fitzgerald, who was covered by Mike Jenkins for the majority of the game. Jenkins, making his first start since being sidelined several weeks with a hamstring injury, was outstanding. Where the Cowboys had the biggest problems was allowing down-the-line receivers big days catching the ball.
Five weeks ago, Terence Newman was playing at a high level. In the last three games, however, he's really struggled in his off coverage. Newman was one of those players that were driving on the ball and make plays. Orlando Scandrick, starting in place of Jenkins, didn’t struggle as much as Newman, but we didn’t see the plays that we had when he was in the nickel role.
|ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen hops on to preview this weekend's Cowboys-Giants matchup.
Giants' Bradshaw will find hole, punish tacklers
There are two areas of the Giants' offense that can hurt you -- running the ball with Ahmad Bradshaw, and Eli Manning throwing the ball to an outstanding group of receivers.
When you watch the Giants, Bradshaw is a real difference-maker for this team. He's a physical back that is difficult to get on the ground. He doesn’t have the elusive moves of a Reggie Bush, but instead tries to punish tacklers. Bradshaw has a low center of gravity, and he doesn’t give defenders much to hit. If you don't hit him hard, he will run over you. He's like DeMarco Murray in that he likes to cut back when he sees a hole.
The Giants' offensive line doesn't blow defenders off the ball. They're more likely to grab and run with you. This fits Bradshaw's style as he doesn't need much of a hole because of his ability to burst through tacklers with power.
Receivers Nicks, Cruz will give fits to Cowboys
On the outside, other than the Eagles, this is the best group of receivers that the Cowboys have faced all season. What makes Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz outstanding is their ability to sell routes to get open and their ability to adjust to the ball and make large gains with the ball in their hands.
I was very impressed watching Nicks on film. He's the Giants' version of Dez Bryant -- physical receiver who can make plays all over the field. His hands are outstanding and his footwork and body control are even better. Nicks has no fear where to run his route and he will make defenders pay for having to cover him. He can be dominant in the red zone using his body position and his leaping ability. Last week, Nicks outfought Green Bay's Charles Woodson -- one of the most physical corners in the league -- for a ball on a fade route where Woodson was in perfect position to defend, but the result was a touchdown.
On the opposite side, Cruz has become a special player for the Giants. With Mario Manningham struggling with injuries, Cruz has taken the opportunity and has excelled. He's tough, instinctive and slippery in the way he plays. I know this is going to sound like too much praise, but he is very similar to the Patriots' Wes Welker in the way he plays. Cruz is able to adjust to any ball and, like Nicks, will take his route inside, catch the ball in traffic and take a big hit.
Cruz lines up all over the formation and, when the Giants need to convert on third down, he is usually running the route that will get them the first down. Manning has a great deal of confidence in Cruz and will do everything in his power to get him the ball on the move. Cruz has the speed and the quickness to get down the field on vertical routes and will make big plays in this way.
Different looks could expose Giants' offensive line
The Giants' offensive line has been shuffled around due to injuries. Against the Packers last week, left guard Kevin Boothe moved to center to start for David Baas, who has struggled with a neck injury. In Boothe's place at left guard has been backup Mitch Petrus. LT David Diehl has had many a battle with DeMarcus Ware, and on the right side is Kareem McKenzie.
This isn't an outstanding offensive line but, much like what is going on here with the Cowboys, Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly and Bradshaw's rushing has helped to hide the ills of some less-than-perfect blocking. Where the Giants have struggled is when teams make them move their feet in pass protection. McKenzie will struggle with this more than Diehl.
Look for Rob Ryan to attempt to make the Giants' line adjust on the move. I believe there will be plenty of times where Ryan's defense will have different looks. Where Manning struggles throwing the ball is with pressure in his face. He'll tend to throw the ball off his back foot with no regard for where it might end up.
Don't sleep on Giants' defensive front
I have read throughout the week that the Giants have struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks as opposed to years' past. After studying the Giants, I really don’t understand where all this is coming from. The Giants' front four really does a nice job of creating problems for blocking schemes. The one game they were blocked well was against the Saints. Last week, it was the skill and the mobility of Aaron Rodgers that allowed the Packers to make as many plays as they did.
In the past, Osi Umenyiora has made the most plays. This season, second-year DE Jason Pierre-Paul has caused the most problems for blockers. Pierre-Paul is an explosive player that has outstanding first-step quickness. He is able to get on blockers immediately, which doesn’t allow the tackle much time to adjust. Pierre-Paul is a good technique player, and his hands and feet work very well together.
Justin Tuck plays on the opposite side, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is using him in an interesting way as a stand-up player inside at linebacker. Where the Giants are most effective in the rush are when they use twist stunts with their defensive linemen. As mentioned before, this group has the ability to get four-man pressure, which allows them to use their linebackers in coverage to help a secondary that has had its share of struggles.
Where the Cowboys have been weakest this season is when pass rushers have used twist stunts inside. Last week, the Cardinals were able to attack the middle of the pocket because Phil Costa and Montrae Holland have had their problems adjusting. The Cardinals were also affective slanting their defensive line one way and then bringing a rusher the opposite way. The Giants have shown the ability to use these types of stunts.
Cowboys should target Giants' secondary
If the Giants have weaknesses, it's in two areas -- linebacker and secondary.
Michael Boley is the Giants' best play-making linebacker, but he's struggled with a hamstring injury. This is not an athletic group of linebackers, and you can see it when they play. Look for the Cowboys to play one-on-one in coverage or running the ball outside to take advantage of that.
In the secondary, the Giants took some huge hits in the preseason by losing guys to season-ending injuries. Where this group has been able to make plays is when quarterbacks have underthrown passes. CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster will miss play balls in the air. They will also miss tackles in the open field. Safety Kenny Phillips is more of a hitter than a cover guy. Antrel Rolle covers a little better, but backup Deon Grant struggles the most. Rookie Prince Amukamara had an interception vs. the Eagles and is dealing with a back issue, but he really isn't ready -- and he plays like it.
If the Cowboys can block this front in the passing game, there are plays to be made down the field. Watch early in this game if the Giants try to attack the Cowboys on passing downs by moving the front. The Cowboys receivers are better than what the Giants have in the secondary, but the Giants' pass rushers are better than this Cowboys offensive line.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- At halftime, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson tried to speak with his teammates, but couldn't.
He was in tears and fighting through the pain of a broken collarbone, suffered toward the end of the first half of the Packers Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Charlie Peprah, the Plano native, who is the starting strong safety for the Packers, said the locker room scene was emotional.
"Charles tried to address the team and he could get about five words out," Peprah said. "He was choked up. He was disappointed but also he knew that we could finish it off and he let us know how bad he wanted it. He was like, 'You know how bad I want this guys.' And that's all he could really say. And he got choked up and he couldn't say anymore. And we went out there and tried to get the win for him."
Woodson, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the game, walked into the Packers locker room holding the Super Bowl trophy in one hand while his left arm was in a sling.
"I think I let everything out when I found out I couldn't play at halftime," Woodson said. "I'm a little dried up right now. But it's everything I wanted it to be. It's been a long, tough season for us. We fought through a lot and we won in the biggest moment of our lives, so it feels good."
ARLINGTON, Texas – Green Bay’s two oldest veterans, players who had done so much to put the Packers in position, had their seasons end during the second quarter.
Receiver Donald Driver, a 12-year veteran who suffered a high ankle sprain, said he ran out of tears at halftime. Cornerback Charles Woodson, a 13-year veteran who broke his collarbone, also got choked up.
The two old heads, men who had worked their entire career for these opportunities, delivered passionate speeches in the Green Bay locker room at halftime. They essentially implored their teammates to protect the Packers’ lead and put championship rings on their fingers.
“I’m going to tell you, at halftime, it got very emotional,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “I had to walk out a couple of times. They put so much work into putting us in a game like this. To not be able to finish …
“I told them, ‘Don’t even worry about it, because at the end of the day, you’re going to be able to hoist that trophy.’”
The Packers delivered on that promise, managing to withstand a ferocious Pittsburgh comeback attempt. The Packers never lost their lead, bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.
Driver and Woodson didn’t easily accept that they couldn’t come back after their injuries. Woodson participated in another play, his left arm dangling by his side, after he broke the collarbone. The team doctor made the decision on Driver after watching the receiver fail when trying to cut with his left foot.
“I broke down,” Driver said. “The doc came over there and told me that I’ve got to be the strong one and rally those guys.”
Jordy Nelson had the game of his career with Driver on the sideline, catching nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. The Green Bay secondary managed to survive despite nickel corner Sam Shields also missing some time due to injury.
The Packers’ perseverance, of course, shouldn’t come as any surprise. Several starters are among the 15 photogenic players that Green Bay put on injured reserve this season.
“Just like all season, somebody stepped in and they stepped up,” Woodson said. “That’s what this Green Bay Packer team is all about.”
Woodson’s introduction to Brown, the Dallas native who is a Hall of Fame finalist this year, at training camp did not go so well.
“Tim might’ve ran a triple move on me or something like that,” Woodson said “Actually I was pretty embarrassed. We were running one on ones and there’s no pass rush and he kind of left me in the dust a little bit. I had some great battles with Tim. He’s a guy that they always used him in motion and he did a great job of understanding leverages and getting open coming out of his routes, so I learned a lot, playing and going against him every day. That’s what prepared me to play in the games, going against a guy who hopefully is a Hall of Famer.”
Brown will learn on Saturday whether he will get selected and we will have more on his candidacy n Wednesday.
What did he remember about Woodson?
“I was happy when training camp was over, I can tell you that, so we didn’t have to go up against each other anymore,” Brown said.
"A lot of guys, probably names you haven't heard this season, have come up big for us," Packers Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson told reporters following Sunday's win over the Bears. "Walden had a huge day for us. You haven't heard his name a lot this year. He's a new guy on this team, but he stepped up big.
"That has had to happen with the amount of injuries we've had. We haven't had guys that have been out two weeks, three weeks. We've had guys on [injured reserve] who couldn't come back. Backups and practice squad guys who have been called up, they've had to play and play well in order for us to get into the playoffs."
The Eagles will have to focus a lot of their attention on Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on Sunday, so Walden will probably have plenty of opportunities against one-on-one blocking. Everyone talks about the Packers being a dangerous No. 6 seed based on their offense, but their defense has been equally (if not more) impressive this season.
When studying the Packers, the one question that kept popping into my mind was how were the Packers managing to hold things together with all the injuries that they had suffered throughout the first half of this season and still be so competitive in the games they had played in 2010?
Despite all those injuries, the Packers still were going to present problems for the Cowboys because there were no phases of the game that the Cowboys were playing particularly well coming into Sunday night.
The one big play that he had was on a twist when Colombo worked outside to pick up a blitzing Charles Woodson and Matthews worked inside over Leonard Davis, who got picked off by Andre Gurode blocking his man into Davis. It was an outstanding call by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his staff to understand that the way to attack the Cowboys is through the middle because the center and guard have difficulty adjusting to stunts.
Another area that Capers hurt the Cowboys was in the use of Woodson as a blitzer out of the slot. When you play the Packers, there are two areas that you really have to prepare for, Matthews and Woodson coming off the edge. There are players in the NFL that are good blitzers from the secondary and then there is Woodson.
I can’t understand scheme-wise why Jon Kitna did not see that Woodson was going to come off the edge by his alignment. If Stephen McGee is in the game, I understand it, but not a quarterback with 14 years of NFL experience. On the play, Woodson is lined up to Kitna’s right along with Matthews. On the snap, Kitna never looks his way and Woodson takes a free run at him. To the side of the play Jason Witten reads “hot” and looks for the ball. Kitna’s head and eyes never see Woodson to his right and Woodson jars the ball loose. Felix Jones who was running a route in the middle of the field dives on the lose ball.
Speaking of Jones, why is he being used as a pass blocker? The best pass blocker for the Cowboys as far as the running backs go is Marion Barber. If I was doing advance scouting against the Cowboys, I would pass along to my coaches to make Jones have to play in the pass game as a blocker. His technique is very inconsistent. One time he will try and hit you square, the next he will fake like he is going to cut block then lunge at his man and miss.
Jones’ missed assignment in the passing game caused a sack and fumble on a max protection situation. Witten is lined up right and stays in to help block on Matthews. On this play, Jones is responsible for the end man on the left, which is linebacker Desmond Bishop. As Kitna takes the snap, Jones steps forward, never looking to the outside but keeping his focus inside Bishop with a free run at Kitna, and by the time he sees what is happening, it’s too late.
Just for future thought, the opportunities that Tashard Choice got later in the game to pass block were not much better technique-wise. Again, if I was scouting the Cowboys, I would make these running backs block in the passing game.
*Let’s be honest, Jerry Jones didn’t fire his head coach, but he fired his defensive coordinator. Jones grew tired of watching his defense struggle under Phillips, who for some reason could not get his 3-4 defense to play with the same skill, technique and passion that he had for the years that he ran the defense.
Jones brought Phillips in to build him a shutdown defense, but as the losses piled up and the mistakes occurred from play to play, series to series and game to game, Jones could not stand by and continue to watch it happen.
These are the same players that Phillips made excuses that let him down and cost him his job.
Missed tackles in the secondary; linebackers that don’t maintain contain and allow the quarterbacks to run for large gains, safeties that don’t react to plays in the red zone when they know that they have that receiver one-on-one. It’s defensive linemen that point the finger at the offense about running the football but do nothing to get off blocks to keep the opponent from running the ball on him.
Where does new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni start in trying to once again bring this defense back to some NFL respectability? First off, the players need to do what is asked of them scheme-wise. It’s one thing to get beat physically but another to not know what your assignment is.
“Street ball” is never a good way to play defense. If you have man coverage, then take your man and do your job. If you have contain, don’t jump around the block and get pinned inside, keep your outside leverage and force the play back inside to your help.
I would not be a bit surprised to see Pasqualoni try to find some areas that this defense might be good in and hammer those at practice. Instead of doing too much, try to find things that they can be successful at and build from there until you get some kind of confidence.
There is plenty of bad to study and eliminate that from the plan. The Cowboys need to get back to those things that got this defense off the field on third downs in seasons past.
A look at the matchups for Sunday's Cowboys-Packers game at Lambeau Field:
Cowboys right tackle Marc Colombo vs. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews: The Packers are one of the top teams in the NFL when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback and converting that pressure into the sacks. The Packers can get a tremendous push from its front of Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, but the player that seals the deal is linebacker Clay Matthews.
Matthews is leading the NFL in sacks with 9.5 and truly is one of the best young players in the league. He is relentless with his effort, but more impressive is his technique and how he works to the quarterback.
Matthews has various pass-rush moves and the interesting thing is that he is able to do this while on the move. Matthews doesn’t slow his rush down to work his craft. I have seen him dip, rip, slap and grab a tackle in the effort to get to the quarterback for the sack. He shows a nice burst of quickness and plays with some power as well.
Colombo has been limited at practice with a back problem, but he is tough and fully understands the task ahead. Colombo can get in trouble when his base gets too wide and he becomes overextended. When he plays over the tops of his feet, he struggles to move. If Colombo can get a good punch on Matthews, throw his timing off and make him reset set his rush, he has a chance in the battle.
The health of Colombo has to be a concern because even healthy this was going to be difficult. The Cowboys cannot allow Matthews to control this game if they want to be successful.
Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff vs. Packers center Scott Wells: This is a battle that the Cowboys have to win.
Ratliff is a Pro Bowl nose that has seen his share of double-teams all season, so his production has not been at the typical level that for him. I am going to be real honest, Wells is not athletic or skilled enough to block Ratliff throughout the game. He will need help.
Ratliff and Josh Brent need to control the front of this pocket. Aaron Rodgers loves to move around in the pocket and buy time and chances. If Rodgers has no place to step up and deliver the football, the Cowboys could create opportunities for stops.
Look for Ratliff to use his quickness and strength to give Wells problems. Ratliff can get push on Wells but he can also create problems in the blocking scheme. The more that the Packers have to commit to handling Ratliff, the more others can benefit.
If the front of the pocket is clean for the Packers, they will have success moving the football. But if Ratliff causes problems, the necessary stops can be made.
Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin vs. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson: In my views of the Packers secondary, Charles Woodson is their best defensive player. On base, he plays on the outside, but he will usually play in the slot in the nickel.
In 2009, Woodson covered tight end Jason Witten during certain packages. I have a feeling that defensive coordinator Dom Capers will not allow Witten to beat him in this game, especially with Kitna at quarterback, but he will also try to match Woodson on Austin as well.
One of the best routes that Austin runs is the slant. Woodson is an aggressive corner that is physical on receivers. He doesn’t allow much separation and he does a solid job of reading the quarterback and receiver and driving on the football.
Austin knows what Woodson’s game entails, so he will be ready for some seriously tight coverage. Austin is a physical player in his own right, so he will be up to the challenge.
Will be interested to see if the Cowboys put Austin in the slot or try to work him on the outside in some other matchups. If the Cowboys do this, will the Packers counter by moving Woodson with Austin? Regardless, Woodson will most likely see coverage on the two best weapons on the Cowboys offense.
The last time that these two historic franchises met was in 2009 on a Sunday afternoon contest at Lambaeu Field. The Packers were at a real crossroads in their season with a record of 4-4 and really going nowhere after back-to-back losses to the Vikings and the Bucs. The Cowboys were 6-2 and all seemed right in the world for the team as they prepared for that trip to Green Bay riding a four-game winning streak.
The general manager needs to make a coaching change and the players are not near as talented as we all thought they were. Sitting at 1-6, players and coaches are now left wondering what has happened to their season.
The Jacksonville game was the worst that I had seen this team look all season. I understand what happened in the Giants game because I know New York’s personnel, but to lose to the Jaguars was beyond reason.
The one outstanding thing about the NFL is that Sunday offers you another opportunity to compete for the chance to either improve or continue to have to answer the difficult questions that come with losing. The Cowboys travel to Lambeau Field and will attempt to get a win against a good football team but not a great one.
This is a Green Bay team that has been struck with injuries to key members of their team, such as tight end Jermichael Finley, running back Ryan Grant, safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Nick Barnett. all of whom have gone on injured reserve. Coming into this contest with the Cowboys, the Packers best receiver, Donald Driver, will miss this game with a quad injury.
When you study Rodgers, you see a quarterback that is mobile, decisive and just doesn’t make mistakes with the football. In the Vikings game earlier this year, Rodgers had his first red zone interception in 39 starts.
The Packers are 32-6 when they are ahead in the turnover battle and 6-17 when they are not. Rodgers rarely makes any kind of mistakes.
Where Rodgers is the most effective is when he can get in the shotgun and work in their three-wide receiver packages. He is an accurate passer that throws a pretty deep ball and shows wonderful touch on his passes.
I mentioned how mobile he is in the pocket, and when opportunities to move forward and make throws present themselves, he is more than up to the challenge. Where the Cowboys have to be careful is not allow Rodgers to use his legs to make second-chance plays.
In the 2009 game, Jay Ratliff did a nice job of playing against Packers center Scott Wells. If Ratliff can break down the middle of the pocket, it will give no place for Rodgers to step up and make throws.
Where the Cowboys also had some success against the Packers last season was the slot blitz with Orlando Scandrick. Would not be one bit surprised if Wade Phillips has that one in his game plan and ready to go.
This game will be won for the Packers if they are able to protect Rodgers. I am not impressed at all with Brandon Jackson at running back and I think this is a handicap for the Packers.
Rodgers throwing the football is the way that the Packers will go but again, protection will be key and the Packers are in the top 10 in allowing sacks per attempt.
* For defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his Packers defense, the rankings have not been all that impressive, but they do stand out in sacks and points allowed.
For a second-year player, he has tremendous skill as a pass rusher. His technique is that of players with much more experience in the league. Swat, swim, rip, duck, spin … but all the time, working his way up the field.
What is interesting about Matthews is that he is doing it from one side the majority of the time. He will line up to the offense’s right and work against your right tackle. For the Cowboys, the blocking assignment will fall to Marc Colombo, who has been limited in practice with the back condition. Matthews against a healthy tackle is a handful, but Colombo is a veteran that plays with a great deal of toughness and much more of that than skill.
When Jon Kitna comes to the line, there is no doubt in my mind that he will use his pre-snap reads to direct protection to Matthews’ side. There is no way that the Cowboys can allow Matthews to take over this game as a rusher if they are unable to run the football. Look for the Cowboys to commit as many blockers as they can to help Colombo manage the game against Matthews.
The Packers secondary does a nice job of playing the ball in the air. Since 2008, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins have 18 and 14 interceptions respectively. Both of these players are always around the football.
Woodson is a master of creating the turnover. He is always punching and grabbing at the football. The Cowboys ball carriers need to be well aware of Woodson when he is in the middle of the tackle.
In 2010, the Packers’ 15 takeaways have been converted into eight touchdowns and the Packers have scored points in 14 straight games off turnovers at Lambeau Field.
In the 2009, it was Woodson that covered tight end Jason Witten in certain situations. Woodson will usually play in the slot on nickel so he could also see some time on Miles Austin.
Kitna and the Cowboys offense need to be aware of Woodson when he is around the line of scrimmage because Capers will use him as a blitzer. Woodson is one of the best in NFL history when he comes on a blitz. He has a real feel for how to separate the ball from the quarterback. When you study him, you can see that he takes a great deal of pride in doing this job for his team.
This will be a difficult task for the Cowboys ahead because the Packers play well at Lambeau, where they are 22-8 in the last 30 home games. But this is an opportunity to restore some pride and move forward for the Cowboys instead of continuing to have to answer the questions of what once again went wrong in a loss.
DeMarcus Ware: With two more sacks Sunday, he's got seven for the season while playing with a stress fracture.
Anthony Spencer: Sure he has no sacks, but he's playing well against the run and providing pressure. Spencer had eight tackles, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry on the stat sheet.
Stephen Bowen: The defensive line is so underrated with the Cowboys. Bowen was busy Sunday with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Patrick Crayton: He 's never going to wow you with his return ability. That's fine. But after scoring two touchdowns on punt returns in consecutive weeks, he had one return for seven yards vs. the Eagles and only averaged 8.2 yards per return against the Packers.
Offensive line: The Cowboys allowed five sacks and had communication issues. Plus, the line lost starting right tackle Marc Colombo for the season. Tony Romo dropped back 44 times and was hit 11 times.
We'll look at one matchup on both sides of the ball:
Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff vs. Packers LG Daryn Colledge
The relentless Ratliff is one of the NFL's premier interior pass rushers. Colledge ranks second in the league in sacks allowed (7.25), according to Stats, Inc.
Of course, the Packers will try to avoid letting Ratliff work one-on-one against Colledge. But look for Wade Phillips to create some of those opportunities for Ratliff in the nickel package, when he lines up over the guard in a four-man front. It helps that the Packers won't want to leave LT Chad Clifton alone against DeMarcus Ware.
Ratliff had two sacks in last week's win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It wouldn't be surprising if he matches that total Sunday in Green Bay. Nickel DT Stephen Bowen is also capable of exposing Colledge's problems in pass protection.
Cowboys WRs vs. Packers CB Jarrett Bush
If Miles Austin gets matched up against Bush, that's a major mismatch. It might look like a replay of his big-play performance against the Packers last season, when he had two catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. There's no reason Roy Williams shouldn't be able to beat Bush, too, especially if Green Bay rolls coverage toward Austin.