NFL Preview - Green Bay (6-6-1) at Dallas (7-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - An increasingly desperate Dallas Cowboys team is trying to tip-toe past a sleeping giant this weekend.
The Green Bay Packers haven't had All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers since he fractured his collarbone in early November and remain pessimistic he can play on Sunday in North Texas.
The veteran said he was still in too much pain when "trying to push it" to get back for Week 14's game against Atlanta, and the Pack's doctors have refused to medically clear the superstar to this point.
That doesn't mean Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy can't play a few mind games, though, and news surfaced Wednesday that Rodgers took at least a few snaps with the first-team offense in practice.
"Twelve (Rodgers) looked real good today," tight end Andrew Quarless told ESPNWisconsin. "It was good to see him out there, really working with the offense. He was out there before but wasn't working as much with the offense, but today he took some offensive reps, which is a great thing for the team."
Great indeed because the Packers remain in the NFL North race, standing one- half game behind both Detroit and Chicago with three games to go, despite being a dismal 1-4-1 since Rodgers went down on the first series of a loss to the Bears.
The Packers probably need to win out from here to have any chance but that scenario is highly unlikely without Rodgers, although Green Bay was able to taste victory for the first time without the All-Pro last week, edging a bad Atlanta team, 22-21, to keep its postseason hopes alive.
Matt Flynn threw for 258 yards and a touchdown in that one, shaking off an interception which was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by the Falcons' Sean Weatherspoon near the end of the first half. Flynn rallied the Packers with 12 unanswered points, the last six coming on his 2-yard touchdown pass to Quarless with 12:01 remaining.
"Good to win. It's been a while," McCarthy remarked. "I forgot what it felt like."
Quarless finished with 66 yards on six catches, while rookie running back Eddie Lacy added 65 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, enter Week 15 a game out of first place in the NFC East behind Philadelphia after getting routed by Chicago, 45-28, on Monday night.
Dallas, however, still controls its playoff chances and would claim the division by winning its final three games which includes a Week 17 matchup with the Eagles in North Texas.
"It feels like you've got to win out is what it feels like," said Romo.
Romo went just 11-for-20 for 104 yards against the Bears with three touchdown passes for the Cowboys, who had won their past two coming in but fell to 11-16 in December with Romo under center.
"Certainly, it was a disappointing loss and the loss stings," coach Jason Garrett said. "The worst thing we can do is have a hangover after this loss."
This will mark Green Bay's first trip back to Dallas since winning Super Bowl XLV. Overall the series between the Packers and Cowboys is deadlocked at 12 apiece with Green Bay taking the last meeting, a 45-7 destruction, on Nov. 7, 2010.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Facing Rodgers could be an untenable situation for what has proven to be the NFL's worst defense. Dallas is ranked 32nd in the league, allowing 441.9 yard per game and has an outside chance of breaking the league's all-time mark for yardage allowed set by the 2012 New Orleans Saints.
Interestingly enough former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has turned around that unit in NOLA this season while Ryan's replacement in Dallas, Monte Kiffin, has been an abject failure on nearly every level.
"Basically, we will have to make some adjustments in what we are doing defensively," Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones said after the loss to the Bears. "What that usually means is taking more risks on defense. But if you're going to have the kind of match like we had tonight or certainly in New Orleans, you have to take some risks. We have to double up and I'm sure that will be part of the plan on defense; more risks."
Kiffin, though, is one of the godfathers of the Tampa-2 zone-based scheme which by its very nature attempts to avoid risk.
Of course Flynn isn't about to put up big numbers against any defense, even Dallas' but Rodgers -- even a rusty Rodgers -- would likely have a field day against a team which simply can't get to the quarterback. The Cowboys have only 27 sacks on the year and the team's biggest threat, DeMarcus Ware, has just 6 and is on pace for his least productive season.
Lacy is the Packers' bell cow with Rodgers on the sidelines and has rushed for a touchdown in six of his past eight games, setting a franchise rookie record with his seventh rushing touchdown against Atlanta.
The one think the Cowboys are capable of doing on defense is taking away the football, ranking fifth in the NFL with 25 turnovers, something Flynn is focused on if he's called to answer the bell.
"We've got to do our job and go out there and execute," the backup said. "We think they're a talented defense. We know what we've got to do, we've got to try to work out any of the mistakes we're making and play a really clean game."
Against the Bears the takeaways didn't come for the Cowboys and Chicago was able to score on its first eight possessions. Kiffin has pointed to a lack of effectiveness on third down as the main culprit. Dallas is allowing the opposition to convert 42.9 percent of its third downs, 27th in the NFL.
"You've got to keep working," said Garrett. "Green Bay is coming to our place on Sunday and we've got to get ready for it."
It's hard to pick the Packers against anyone with Flynn or Scott Tolzien playing quarterback and it's even harder to imagine Dallas curing its December blues with Rodgers under center.
Green Bay seems to realize it hasn't built a championship-level roster around Rodgers, however, and is loathe to risk his long-term future for a one-and- done playoff appearance.
"(He's) the face of our franchise and until he's medically cleared , just like any other player going through a significant injury, (he's not playing)," said McCarthy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 24, Packers 23
12/12 13:41:26 ET