NFC North: Cowboys-Packers

Black and Blue all over: Speed kills

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
10:20
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Is it a bad thing when you roll into your hotel and the next day's newspapers are already stacked in the lobby? Last night was a late one here in the Fox River valley, especially after dropping Mosley off at his hotel somewhere near the shore ... of the Pacific.

During my drive back, I kept returning to one thing: How noticeably faster the Dallas Cowboys were during a 27-16 victory over Green Bay. The Packers have some speed on their roster, but it seemed no one could keep up with the likes of Felix Jones, Miles Austin and the entire Cowboys defensive line.

Part of speed is positioning and alignment, and I'm sure that when the Packers look at the film they'll see more than a few occasions where they lined up wrong and exacerbated the Cowboys' advantage. But you can't coach players to run faster, and if there is a postseason rematch between these teams, the Packers will need to focus more on offensive ball control to help out both their own defense and their offensive line.

The Packers used eight running plays and 14 passing plays in the first half Sunday night. Swapping that ratio, while out of character for coach Mike McCarthy, would have left the Cowboys' speedy offense on the sideline longer and given the Packers' offensive line an opportunity to wear down Dallas' pass rushers.

Instead, the Cowboys had possession of the ball for 18 minutes, five seconds in the first half and 32:12 overall.

We'll have our takes on all four NFC North games later today. For now, here are some snippets to chew on for a while from around the division:

  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlines the plan Green Bay employed to stop Cowboy receiving stars Terrell Owens and Jason Witten. In short, cornerback Charles Woodson took Owens and fourth linebacker Brandon Chillar played extensively against Witten.
  • Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal saw the Packers get dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
  • "Fire someone." That was the unsolicited advice from the Chicago Tribune's RosenBlog following the Bears' 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay.
  • Bears cornerback Nate Vasher opened the game on the bench, with rookie Corey Graham starting. According to the Tribune's Vaughn McClure, the Bears preferred to match up Graham against one of the Bucs' tight ends when they ran a one-receiver personnel set.
  • Bears cornerback Charles Tillman claimed he was defending teammate Adewale Ogunleye when he drew a critical personal foul in overtime. But the Bucs player Ogunleye was tussling with said he didn't start anything. "[They] grabbed me in places they shouldn't have grabbed me after the play and that's what started the whole thing," Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • It's time for Bears coach Lovie Smith to make a statement, writes Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times: "Fear is a wonderful deterrent. And the time has come for Bears coach Lovie Smith to put some fear into his team..."
  • Minnesota had never used the blitz package that ultimately resulted in Antoine Winfield's game-changing touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday's 20-10 victory over Carolina. Winfield normally blitzes from the slot, according to the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins, but this time he blitzed from the cornerback position and the Panthers never saw him.
  • Vikings coach Brad Childress said he quoted George Orwell during a Saturday night speech to his players, giving Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan plenty of material. I can't claim to be an expert in such matters, but Souhan researched the origin of Childress' quote and called the reference "bogus." Orwell scholars, we'd love to hear from you.
  • Minnesotans must be well-read. Or something. Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press compares Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to George Bailey of "A Wonderful Life." Something about how none of Sunday's events would have happened were it not for Shiancoe's past mistakes.
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press calls the Lions "the worst they've been in the Matt Millen era." That's saying something.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com offers Lions coach Rod Marinelli a script for saving his job: Emulate former coach Wayne Fontes. "[Marinelli] has to find a very delicate way of separating himself from the failures of the past and attaching himself to the hope of the future." Of course, that's probably not in Marinelli's makeup.
  • Lions quarterback Jon Kitna on his sprained knee: "It feels pretty bad right now."

Packers searching for a swagger

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
1:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

 
 AP Photo/Andy Manis
 Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers struggled during the Packers' 27-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Damage control began shortly after the final gun. Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett gathered his fellow linemen and a few linebackers. They said a few words, shook their heads in disgust and went their separate ways in agreement.

"I'm pretty sure I know how we're going to come back from this," Pickett said. "We're going to come back next week smoking."

The Packers absorbed a sound defeat Sunday night at Lambeau Field, a relatively rare occasion for a franchise that had won 20 of its previous 24 games over the past three seasons. You would be hard-pressed to find an aspect the Dallas Cowboys didn't surpass them in a 27-16 victory. It's only natural to wonder how the Packers will respond.

Pickett is one of the few veterans on a team whose average player is 25.57 years old; the figure ties the Packers with the Kansas City Chiefs as the youngest teams in the NFL. Green Bay's quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has made a total of three NFL starts. So it was up to players like Pickett, cornerback Charles Woodson and receiver Donald Driver to set the appropriate postgame tone after losing a matchup between two of the NFC's early-season heavyweights.

In tough times, a coach I once covered would implore his players to look inwardly first and respond with confidence.

"Do your job," the coach would say. "Do your J-O-B." That's the approach Pickett took Sunday night after the Cowboys ran up 217 rushing yards against his defensive line. Pickett is the Packers' designated run-stopper, and he minced few words as he dressed Sunday night in the Packers locker room.

"What happened tonight won't ever happen again," Pickett said. "They ran for what, 200 yards on us? We have a lot of pride on our defense. We've been good in the past and we'll continue to be good. I can tell you one thing. We will definitely stop the run. It won't be why we lose another game.

"We're very confident that nothing like this will every happen again," he added. "If somebody wants to run it, they can try."

The Packers have the NFC North's most well-rounded roster and are one of several teams that ultimately could challenge the Cowboys for NFC supremacy. Sunday night, however, they learned just how hard they're going to have to bring it. And if they didn't have one before, the learned they will need the kind of confident swagger the Cowboys bring to every stadium they play in.

"The reality is that it's the third game of the season," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was a big game. It's a great measuring stick for our football team. And I'll tell [the media] exactly what I told them. The Dallas Cowboys are further ahead than we are right now. That's the facts and that's Week Three. How far ahead, time will answer that question."

Someone asked Driver if he thought the Cowboys were a better team.

"No." Driver said, a clip in his voice.

Why not?

"They're just not a better team," he said. "They are 3-0. We're 2-1. Yes. But let's not get too down about this. I think they're a good team, but I also know that the only team that can really beat us is ourselves. I've said that all year. So now we have to go watch the tape and fix ourselves."

All eyes will be focused on Rodgers, who lost his first game as a starter after producing the NFL's sixth-best passer rating during the first two games. Rodgers' final numbers were respectable -- he completed 22 of 39 passes for 290 yards -- but he was sacked five times and managed only 10 yards on five scrambles as the Cowboys kept him flustered and uncomfortable for most of the night.

"It's disappointing," Rodgers said.

"You'd like to win them all, obviously, but Dallas is a good football team and we unfortunately didn't play our best tonight."

There's worse things than losing to the Dallas Cowboys in prime time. As long as you come back from it stronger -- and with a little swagger.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 27, Packers 16

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
11:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Based on this night, at least, the Green Bay Packers are not yet one of the NFC's elite teams.

That conclusion seemed indisputable Sunday after a thorough 27-16 defeat at the hands of the elite Dallas Cowboys. The Packers kept it close for the first two-thirds of the game but ultimately were manhandled and out-run by a team with more athletes and better explosion.

A few big statistics will jump out to support this theory. Rushing yardage is always a good indicator of which team imposed its physical will, and the Cowboys unofficially finished with 217 yards on the ground. Explosive plays are also important; Dallas had five offensive plays of 25 yards or more.

No one expected the Packers defense to shut down the Cowboys, but it was a little surprising that the Green Bay offense wasn't able to keep pace better. The Packers, in fact, managed just seven first downs and 191 yards through the first three quarters before churning up some garbage yardage late.

I'm headed down to the Packers locker room and will follow up with a post on how the Packers deal with their first adversity under new quarterback Aaron Rodgers.


Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers returned from the halftime locker room with a decent idea on stemming the Cowboys' pass rush, but game circumstances appear to have nullified that strategy.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy opened the third quarter with five consecutive running plays, giving the Packers two first downs and setting up a 50-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Driver. The Packers, however, couldn't do more than a 33-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.

Now trailing by 11 points (20-9) late in the third quarter -- the Cowboys responded to the field goal with Marion Barber's 2-yard touchdown run -- the Packers might not be in position to stick with the running game.

We're going to focus in on the finish here. Look for our Rapid Reaction shortly after the final gun followed by an extended post a few hours later.

Woodson matched up on Owens

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
8:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers have been hinting at a few defensive wrinkles this week, and the first one was evident on the third play of the game tonight against Dallas.

When the Cowboys lined up for their first offensive play, it was cornerback Charles Woodson -- and not Al Harris -- who was matched up against receiver Terrell Owens. The Packers typically pit Harris against their opponents' best receiver, but last season Owens lit up Harris for seven receptions and 156 yards at Texas Stadium.

Woodson is playing with a fractured toe, but he'll probably get some help while Harris matches up in single coverage against Patrick Crayton. We'll see how the Packers play it for the rest of the game, but it's an interesting departure from their standard approach.

Packers have an early opportunity

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
7:59
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's not often that one team can take charge of a division when it's still officially summer, but so goes the situation tonight in the NFC North.

(Monday is the first official day of fall, according to my information.)

With a victory over Dallas, the Green Bay Packers could take a two-game lead over the 1-2 Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. We're not crowning anyone kings tonight, but needless to say the Packers have an early chance to separate themselves from the rest of the division.

Note: The rapper Jay-Z was on the field before the game. I'll defer additional commentary to Mr. Mosley as he was standing behind the Cowboys bench.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Wells

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Beautiful night here at Lambeau Field, and it's even better with NFC East colleague Matt Mosley sitting a few seats to my right here in the press box. Make sure you check Matt's blog for a Dallas-centric view of tonight's matchup.

One interesting pregame development: Center Scott Wells is active for the game but as of now is not in the starting lineup. The Packers announced no pertinent changes on a lineup card that lists Jason Spitz as the starting center.

Wells did not play in the first two games while recovering from a back injury. He probably isn't 100 percent tonight but has made enough progress to play if needed.

The only starting lineup change for the Packers is at fullback, where John Kuhn will start for the injured Korey Hall (knee). Hall is inactive. As expected, Aaron Rouse will start for the injured Atari Bigby (hamstring) at strong safety.

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