NFL Preview - Dallas (6-2) at Green Bay (4-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo can't like the "Mr. November" tag, a back-handed moniker related to his ability to win games at the time of the year when they are less meaningful.
Though as he heads back to his home state of Wisconsin to lead Dallas into play against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Romo has to hope that the nickname sticks for at least one more week.
Romo moved to 13-0 in the 11th month of the calendar last Sunday, when he wiped away the residue of an embarrassing 44-6 loss at the Eagles last December by leading the Cowboys to a 20-16 win in Philadelphia.
Against a talented Philadelphia defense with a strong secondary and pass rush, Romo was a crisp 21-of-34 for 307 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a win that was the Cowboys' fourth straight and put Dallas (6-2) alone atop the NFC East as the 2009 season made the turn. The big blow for the Cowboys was a 49-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin in the fourth-quarter that broke a 13-13 tie.
Romo's 13 straight wins in November are the most for an NFL quarterback during that month since 1950.
The quarterback trying to end Romo's streak, Aaron Rodgers, would be happy with a one-game winning streak of any kind at this stage.
Rodgers presided over a stunning 38-28 loss to first-time rookie starter Josh Freeman and the formerly winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, the second straight loss for the Pack and one that dropped them to a disappointing 4-4 on the year.
Rodgers looked to be on the way to leading Green Bay to a much-needed victory when he hustled into the end zone for a 12-yard score that gave the Packers a 28-17 lead with roughly 13 minutes to play in the fourth-quarter, but a cacophony of errors over the remainder of the game would sink Mike McCarthy's team with another bitter loss.
An 83-yard return for Clifton Smith on the kickoff that followed the Rodgers score gave the Bucs a short field, which Freeman cashed in three plays later for a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow to make the score 28-23 with 11:34 left (the two-point conversion attempt failed).
After the Packers punted on their next possession, Freeman engineered his best drive of the day - an eight-play, 72-yard drive culminating with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Stroughter on a 4th-and-4 play with 4:14 left. After cashing in the two-point conversion, the Bucs suddenly led, 31-28.
Rodgers would get three more cracks with the football as he tried to keep the flood waters from receding and get Green Bay into overtime, at least. But the former first-rounder was just 4-of-9 for 44 yards the rest of the way, taking three sacks and throwing an interception that was returned 35 yards for a game-sealing touchdown in the final minute by Tanard Jackson
For the day, Rodgers was 17-of-35, 266 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a whopping six sacks.
Green Bay, which is now three full games behind Minnesota in the NFC North, has allowed an NFL-worst 37 sacks on the season.
The Cowboys lead the all-time regular season series with the Packers, 12-10, and have won each of their last two meetings against Green Bay. Dallas was a 27-16 road winner when it visited Lambeau Field in Week 3 of last season, and was a 37-27 Thursday night winner when the Packers visited Big D in 2007. The former win was Dallas' first all-time win in six trips to Green Bay. The Packers last triumph in the series was a 41-20 win at Lambeau in 2004.
In addition to their regular season history, the clubs have met six times in the postseason, with Dallas holding a 4-2 edge. The Cowboys have won four straight playoff games against Green Bay since the 1967 NFL Championship, better known as the "Ice Bowl." Dallas' most recent playoff win over Green Bay was a 38-27 triumph for the 1995 NFC Championship.
Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is 3-1 in his career against the Packers, including wins over the last two years, a triumph while with the Bills in 2000, and a loss while with the Broncos in 1993. The Packers' McCarthy is 0-2 against both Phillips and the Cowboys as a head coach.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Romo (2215 passing yards, 13 TD, 5 INT) has been sensational during the Cowboys' four-game winning streak, going over 300 yards three times during that stretch and throwing nine touchdown passes versus just one interception. His ascendancy has been matched by that of Austin (27 receptions, 7 TD), whose touchdown catch provided the decisive moment in last week's game and also moved him into a tie for the NFL lead in touchdown catches. Six of those TD grabs have come in Austin's last four games. Though former No. 1 target and tight end Jason Witten (44 receptions, 1 TD) has been quiet of late, logging fewer than 50 receiving yards in four of his past five games, the team did get an encouraging contribution from wideout Roy Williams (19 receptions, 2 TD) last Sunday. Williams, who had been at the center of controversy after blaming his poor numbers on bad throws from Romo, tallied five catches for a team-high 75 yards against the Eagles. Dallas enters Week 10 ranked a healthy eighth in NFL rushing offense (138.6 yards per game), with Marion Barber (447 rushing yards, 4 TD) continuing to serve as the primary ball carrier with Felix Jones (298 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Tashard Choice (249 rushing yards, 3 TD, 14 receptions) sprinkled in. Barber had 12 carries for 50 yards against the Eagles, and Choice chipped in with a touchdown. The Cowboys o-line has surrendered 17 sacks on the year, including four last week.
A Green Bay defense that has infrequently been a credit to the winning cause comes into the Dallas game with major injury concerns as top pass rusher Aaron Kampman (concussion), and linebackers Brady Poppinga (quadriceps) and Brandon Chillar (hand) are all questionable for Sunday. If Kampman (38 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is absent, it will be a major blow to a pass rush that has already struggled to a total of 13 sacks, and the team will need rookie Clay Matthews (22 tackles, 3 sacks) to pick up his production coming off the edge. As that group tries to get to Romo, a secondary that had more trouble than expected against Freeman and a nondescript Tampa Bay receiving corps last week will have to be on-point. Cornerbacks Al Harris (30 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) and Charles Woodson (35 tackles, 4 INT) will likely have primary responsibility against Austin and Williams, with safeties Atari Bigby (19 tackles, 1 INT) and Nick Collins (24 tackles, 2 INT) lending support over the top. Green Bay is No. 8 in the league against the pass (185.8 yards per game), while a run-stopping group led in part by inside linebackers A.J. Hawk (43 tackles, 1 sack) and Nick Barnett (51 tackles, 1 sack), along with rookie nose tackle B.J. Raji (11 tackles), is ninth (97.0 yards per game).
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
The biggest concern for Green Bay over the season's first half was the number of sacks Rodgers (2255 rushing yards, 16 TD, 5 INT) seemed to suffer on a weekly basis, with a spotty, ever-changing offensive line and the quarterback's own tendency to hold onto the football ranking as culprits in that trend. This week, the Packers are expected to be without veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher (knee) up front, and could be without his potential replacement Allen Barbre (concussion) as well. That means Rodgers could be under the gun yet again, and will have to get the ball out of his hand and to wideouts Donald Driver (37 receptions, 4 TD), Greg Jennings (34 receptions, 2 TD), and James Jones (11 receptions, 3 TD). Driver and Jennings have been Rodgers' favorite targets by a large margin this season, though it was Jones who led the way with 103 receiving yards on four catches last Sunday, including a 74-yard first-quarter touchdown grab. Green Bay is quietly 10th in the league in rushing offense (121 yards per game), improving to that rank last week when they rolled up 180 ground yards against the Buccaneers. Ryan Grant (621 rushing yards, 4 TD, 16 receptions) led the charge with 96 yards and a touchdown on 21 totes in that contest, and recently re-signed veteran Ahman Green made his six carries count for 45 yards.
The principles of the Cowboys pass rush, one that had four sacks of Donovan McNabb last week to raise their total to 20 for the season, must be excited at the prospect of working against Rodgers and the suspect Green Bay o-line. Obviously, the main person the Packers have to block is outside linebacker Demarcus Ware (30 tackles, 5 sacks), who did not have a sack against the Eagles but posted five in his previous three games. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (23 tackles, 4 sacks) is second on the team with four sacks, including one of McNabb last week. The Cowboys secondary will look to be the beneficiary of the pass rush's work, though it has not been a particularly opportunistic group. Dallas has just six interceptions through eight games, including one each for cornerback Mike Jenkins (24 tackles, 3 INT) and safety Gerald Sensabaugh (36 tackles, 1 INT) last week. The Cowboys are tied for 11th in the league against the run (102.9 yards per game), and will be counting on Ratliff to set the tone up front, with linebackers Keith Brooking (55 tackles, 2 sacks) and Bradie James (54 tackles, 1 sack) making plays behind them. Brooking, who leads the team in tackles, also notched the second sack of his Dallas career last Sunday.
The Cowboys have not had a great number of consistent fantasy stars apart from Romo, whose hot streak has made him an unquestioned starter. Still, it's tough not to roll with Barber, who remains Dallas' best option near the goal line, Witten, who has gone through a bit of a dry patch of late but won't be marginalized forever, and Austin, who only had one catch last week but has six touchdowns in his last four overall. Roy Williams is worth taking a flier on as well, after posting his best day of the season last week. The Dallas defense is also in line for some points given Ware's presence in the lineup against an opponent that gives up huge sack numbers nearly every week.
Rodgers remains a strong starting play at QB since he has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six straight games, and you shouldn't be too worried about his three picks a week ago since he had a total of two during his first seven starts. Rodgers puts it in the air enough to make Driver and Jennings bankable starters, though the duo has just three 100-yard games between them. Grant has gone over 20 carries and 90 yards in three of his last four games, and seems to be getting stronger. The Packers defense is not a good play, but kicker Mason Crosby is a decent one.
It is always dangerous in the NFL to expect a team on a winning roll to keep winning, and for a team that seems to be fading to continue fading. The red-hot Cowboys are receiving all kinds of adulation for their winning run, but remember, this is a team that little over a month ago needed a big comeback and overtime to beat the hapless Kansas City Chiefs. Dallas is good, but after a monumental win within the division, look for the Cowboys to struggle to answer the bell this week. The Packers, for all of their problems, are still a talented team that simply needs this game more, and will show the focus necessary after an embarrassing loss to right the ship with a narrow, and important, victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 20, Cowboys 19
11/12 14:37:21 ET