Saturday, December 19, 2015

Packers kick Cowboys to the curb, get ready to rip Raiders

As noted in our Packers vs. Cowboys preview last weekend, we said we expected RB Eddie Lacy to have a big game. He did. After being in the doghouse the prior week for missing curfew, he and fellow running back James Starks generated the best ground game -- more than 200 yards rushing combined -- that the Packers have seen in years. Kudos to the offensive line for opening lanes and for Lacy and Starks for running with a passion that hasn't been present in quite a while.

After being a tight 14-7 game deep into the third quarter, the Packers finally went on to win 28-7. The Packers offense, with head coach Mike McCarthy once again calling plays, looked more in sync than it had since before the bye week. And the Packers defense once again was stellar in shutting down the opposing offense. The Packers lost CB Sam Shields early in the game to a concussion; he will reportedly be held out of Sunday's game against the Raiders as he still has not passed the league's concussion protocol. Shields was replaced by rookie Damarious Randall who, as Shields did, shut down Dallas WR Dez Bryant all day long.

Packer Jeff Janis greets Cowboy Lucky Whitehead on punt returns.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Another perhaps overlooked aspect of this victory was the performance of the special teams. While K Mason Crosby was not called upon to make a game-winning field goal, P Tim Masthay had a great day punting aided in no special measure by the tremendous coverage play of WR Jeff Janis, who was clearly the fastest man on the field. In one fantastic play, Janis was pushed about 5 yards out of bounds by the defender, but ran around and by him to meet Dallas punt returner Lucky Whitehead at the same time the ball arrived. No fair catch? Meet Mr. Janis! Not so lucky, Lucky! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Janis had three coverage plays in total that were superb. If he can only learn to run his pass routes as effectively as he covers punts, the Packers will at long last have their deep downfield receiving threat.

This the performance Packer fans have been looking for. Combined with the ViQueens loss, it increased the Pack's lead in the NFC North.

Next up: the 6-7 Oakland Raiders. In Oakland. Some interesting story lines emerge with this game: Charles Woodson playing where he started, but against his old Packer compatriots; Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie building a team with the lessons he learned while in Green Bay; WR James Jones playing against the team for which he was the leading receiver just last season before being cut in the offseason; Packers QB Aaron Rodgers trying to outwit Woodson...lots of possibilities for drama. Not to mention the Packers offensive line having to take on one of the better young defenders in the league, Khalil Mack, who had five sacks last week in a 15-12 Raiders upset win in Denver. The Raiders are still in the AFC playoff hunt and will be playing like it.

This trip to the West Coast is an important one for the Packers. With another away game coming up at Arizona (currently 11-2 and arguably the best team in the NFC despite the undefeated record of the Carolina Panthers) before the final home game at Lambeau Field against the ViQueens, the Packers need to win this game against the Raiders. If they play as they did against the Cowboys, that should happen. If they revert to the level of play of some recent weeks, it could be a challenge. The Packers, at the time of this writing, are favored by 3 points. It could very well be that close. But more on that in our game day preview on Sunday. Please check back then for more on the Packers vs. Raiders.

In the meantime, Go Pack Go!!!