Two teams headed in opposite directions meet at Lambeau Field Sunday. After back-to-back three-point overtime losses dropped the Packers to .500 at 3-3, they responded with huge wins over the archrival Minnesota Vikings and an elite AFC team in the New York Jets. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have lost four straight, the latest being a 35-17 embarrassment at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. While the Packers have salvaged their season and are looking to move to 6-3 entering the bye week, the Cowboys’ hopes of playing Super Bowl XLV in their home stadium are history.
Keys for the Packers
• The Packers offense remains a dysfunctional mess, but somehow, they’re getting it done anyway. It ranks 13th in scoring (22.0 ppg), 16th in total yards (335.9 ppg), 22nd in rushing (97.0 ppg) and 26th in third down efficiency (35.1 percent). As big as the team’s 9-0 win over the Jets was, the offense struggled. The Pack converted only 2-of-14 third downs, Aaron Rodgers managed his lowest quarterback rating (59.7) ever in a Packers victory, and the running game netted only 81 yards on 26 carries — with 27 of those yards coming on a meaningless run by Brandon Jackson at the end of the first half.
• With veteran wideout Donald Driver having been ruled out with a quadriceps injury, inconsistent James Jones will get another chance to prove himself. He caught four passes for 107 yards in the Packers’ prime-time Oct. 24 win over Minnesota. But he also failed to catch a pass against Miami on Oct. 17 and again against the Jets last Sunday, when he also dropped what likely would have been a 72-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. “I think James Jones is no different than some of the other players,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “They have had some really good games and they have had some games that they wish they could have done a little better job.”
Keys for the Cowboys
• Wade Phillips is in the second year of coordinating the defense in addition to serving as head coach, but the unit is playing horribly. Last year, Dallas led the NFC in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all year. Entering Sunday night’s game, they’re giving up 26.7 points per game and have allowed a 100-yard rusher four times in the last five games. “I’m distraught, to say the least,” Phillips said after the loss to the Jaguars. “I’ve got talented players, and I’m not getting them to play well enough.”
• Things weren’t going well before star quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken collarbone against the New York Giants on Oct. 25. Now, after two more losses, only the lowly Buffalo Bills (0-7) have a worse record than the Cowboys (1-6). Without the Burlington, Wis., native, who is 2-1 against his home-state team, the Cowboys will go with 38-year-old Jon Kitna, who threw for 379 yards and four interceptions against Jacksonville.
The Cowboys’ struggles have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this season, and the Packers could’ve suffered a similar fate. Instead, despite an injury epidemic and continued uneven play from what was supposed to be one of the league’s most potent offenses, they’re one of five NFC teams with five victories. The guess here is they get No. 6. Packers 24-13.