NFL Preview - Dallas (1-6) at Green Bay (5-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Eight weeks later, the world's upside down.
Republicans are replacing Democrats on Capitol Hill. Giants of San Francisco are scaling heights last reached by their decades-gone namesakes in upper Manhattan. And a potential showdown for supremacy in the NFC has become...well, something else.
Rather than a midseason hors d'oeuvre for a late January main dish, Sunday's primetime matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau is now more trail mix than tempura.
Already in a 1-4 hole through mid-October, Jerry Jones' Cowboys plunged even further in two subsequent weeks, seeing quarterback Tony Romo sent to the sidelines with a broken collarbone in a loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 25 and replacement Jon Kitna picked off four times in an 18-point debacle against Jacksonville this past Sunday.
Vultures were circling amid reports earlier this week that Wade Phillips would be the initial casualty of the 1-6 start, but the fourth-year head coach has at least temporarily survived, thanks in large part to Jones' reluctance to make such a drastic in-season move.
"Frankly, I've never been this disappointed. I've never been more surprised," said Jones after the 35-17 loss to the Jaguars. "I think anybody has and would have the emotional or knee-jerk thought about just changing something to be changing it. What has got to be taken into consideration is how effective those changes can be.
"When you start talking about changing, you start talking about changing philosophy, so that's why I don't go there."
Meanwhile, the Packers play the host after returning from their most impressive road win of the season, a 9-0 blanking of the New York Jets in which they committed no turnovers for just the second time in 2010 and moved into sole ownership of first place in the NFC North.
It was Green Bay's first road shutout since 1991 and it yielded NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for Tim Masthay, who put five-of-eight kicks inside the 20-yard line to become the first Packers punter to earn the award in 16 seasons.
It was also the Packers' second straight win since a maddening two-game dip earlier in October that had seen consecutive losses via overtime field goals. Now 5-3, the Packers are just a half-game off the conference-leading pace being set by Atlanta, Tampa Bay and the Giants. They'll be on a bye next week before returning for road dates at Minnesota and at the Falcons.
"[At] 5-3, we have a chance to get things done and get a win here at home, which is what we want, then head into the bye and get healthier," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 170 yards on 15-of-34 passing against the Jets. "So are [the Cowboys] a team that needs a win with the situation they are in."
The Cowboys own a 12-11 edge in the all-time regular-season series with the Packers, but were handed a 17-7 loss at Lambeau Field during Week 10 of last season. Dallas had defeated Green Bay two straight times prior to that result, claiming a 27-16 decision in Wisconsin in 2008 and posting a 37-27 victory in Texas Stadium the previous year, but have won just once in seven lifetime trips to Green Bay.
In addition to their regular-season history, the clubs have met six times in the postseason, with Dallas holding a 4-2 advantage. 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.
Phillips is 3-2 in his career against the Packers, including a win while with Buffalo in 2000 and a loss while with Denver in 1993. The Packers' Mike McCarthy is 1-2 against both Phillips and the Cowboys as a head coach.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
In spite of the won-lost record, the Cowboys will still put up numbers. Making his first start in more than two years, fill-in quarterback Kitna went off for 379 yards on 34 completions and passed for a touchdown against the Jaguars. Holdover Romo targets Miles Austin and Dez Bryant remain the offense's most dangerous big-play toys after recording 117 and 84 receiving yards, respectively, last week. Bryant's five touchdowns this season are tied for first among rookies. Also available is resurgent wideout Roy Williams, who had five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in his last meeting with Green Bay, and rounding out the aerials is tight end Jason Witten, who's scored in three of his last four games and has 50 yards or better in six straight. On the ground, running back Marion Barber has feasted against the Packers in the past, to the tune of 249 rushing yards in three games. And including playoffs, backfield mate Felix Jones has eight career touchdowns and has averaged 47.1 yards per scoring play. Dallas' 381.3 yards per week is second in the NFC and fourth in the league.
It wasn't considered a strong suit going into Week 8, but after a surprise shutout of the previously-prolific Jets -- their first since a 26-0 rout of Detroit last October -- the Packers are now fourth-best in the league in scoring defense (17 points per game). New York did register 360 total yards, but the three takeaways produced by Green Bay improved its turnover margin for the season to plus-two. Of the team's weekly average of 341.1 yards allowed, 123.6 have come on the ground with the remaining 217.5 through the air. Foes have run for 4.57 yards per rush attempt on 216 carries for a total of 989 yards. Passing-wise, the Packers have allowed a 56.6-percent completion rate and intercepted 12 passes, with at least one by eight individual players. Cornerback Charles Woodson had his 47th career pick, which is tied for the lead among active players at his position, in last week's win. Since 2008, he leads the NFL with 18. Linebacker Clay Matthews had a sack against the Jets to up his league-high total to 9 1/2.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
In three career games against the Cowboys, quarterback Rodgers has been solidly effective, completing 64.4 percent (65-of-101) of his throws for 680 yards, two touchdowns and a 90.4 passer rating. He had a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown in the final quarter of the teams' most recent meeting a year ago, and leads all quarterbacks this season with three rushing scores. A fill-in for injured running back Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson has 398 yards from scrimmage in his last four games. On the outside, wideout Greg Jennings seeks a fourth straight game with at least six catches. He leads the team with 32 receptions and has 471 yards (a 14.7-yard average) and five touchdowns. A lesser-known option, Jordy Nelson, had a career-high five catches for 55 yards against the Jets and aims for a fourth consecutive game with at least four receptions. Green Bay averages 97 yards per game on the ground and 237.8 via the pass, combining for 16th-best in the league in total yards while its 176 overall points are ranked No. 13.
As much as injuries have set them back, the Cowboys' maddening tendency to falter in big situations has been a contributing factor to their demise thus far. None of the first five losses were by more than seven points, highlighting an inability to recover from 11 offensive turnovers in those games. Dallas lost a Week 1 game in which it allowed 250 total yards to Washington and a Week 6 game in which it held Minnesota to less than 100 on both the ground and in the air. Though they were second and ninth, respectively, in scoring defense and total defense last season, the 2010 Cowboys are 27th in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed. Teams have rushed for 121.9 yards per week on Dallas, compared to 205.4 passing yards per game. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware's eight sacks are tops on the team, which has totaled 16, and tied for second in the league. He also has 27 tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. Linebacker Victor Butler had his first sack and forced fumble of the season against Jacksonville. Inside linebacker Keith Brooking has 44 tackles in five career games against Green Bay.
Kitna's big numbers came primarily in rally mode, though his turnovers are a prickly thorn in the side. Defenses are likely to stack up to force his hand, meaning less production for Barber and Felix Jones. It means positives for Austin, Williams, Bryant and Witten, however. For the Packers, Rodgers has been prolific enough to start every week along with Jennings. Fellow wide receiver Donald Driver's injury status -- he'll not play Sunday -- makes Nelson an under-the-radar pick as well. Packers kicker Mason Crosby is steady enough to be an option.
One win or six wins, the Cowboys have as much talent as anyone. However, the realization of a lost season and the impending doom surrounding Phillips on the sideline appears to be taking a toll on game-week preparation and performance. Green Bay isn't 100 percent healthy and the Sunday night lights will surely be motivating for Dallas, but it's hard to imagine the wagons suddenly being circled with a backup quarterback on a chilly night in Wisconsin.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 17, Cowboys 14
11/04 17:50:33 ET