Monday, January 12, 2015

NFC Divisional: Packers Rally To Beat Cowboys, 26-21

It was ironic that the final score was 26 to 21 because that was the same score as in their earlier home win against the Patriots. While I expected the Packers to have an edge against the Cowboys because they were playing at home and the Packer defense was a better unit, a poor first half from the Packer defense and a strong game from the Cowboy defense turned it into a matchup of two even opponents. It was such a close game that one judgment call from the referees turned out to be the difference.
It was arguably the correct call though it's easy to find other examples when the refs gave a receiver a catch under similar circumstances. It really helped that CB Sam Shields got the tip of his finger on the ball and made WR Dez Bryant shift the ball in his hands. I remember when WR Greg Jennings had a touchdown catch reversed back in 2010 and it was overturned because the ball moved around a little bit in his hands. The receiver has to keep the ball from moving at all, no matter how awkward his grip. On this play, the ball moved around in Bryant's hands before he hit the ground and then popped up when he hit the ground. There was never a point when the ball wasn't moving around. It defies common sense because he did snatch it out of the air and stretched out towards the goal line, but I agree with the call based on the NFL's rules. I can't imagine this non-catch won't be discussed about at length when the rules committee meets again in the spring.

As for the rest of the game, it was going to be QB Aaron Rodgers's responsibility to win it despite his injured calf muscle. He ended up with a QBR of 83.1 (anything over an 80 is elite, MVP level stuff) and his only turnover was a fumble after a botched snap that was as much C Corey Lindsey's fault as it was his. The offensive line deserves extra credit for giving him time to throw when he's in no condition to run, but the Cowboys don't have good pass rushers on their defensive line and it probably wouldn't have helped had they blitzed more. Rodgers is arguably better at beating single coverage when he sees the blitz coming.

I've been concerned about their lack of a reliable third receiving option behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson wasn't a factor, I haven't watched the All-22 film but I assume the Cowboys were bracketing him with double-coverage (CB under, S over) all game (just as the Packers did a lot against Dez Bryant). Cobb still had a big game against mostly single coverage but they needed another other receivers to step up. Instead of one, three unlikely receivers had big games and touchdown receptions (Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers). Adams was obviously the key with a team leading 7 receptions and 117 yards. It was a surprising performance from Adams when you consider that he was a non-factor for the entire month of December. Aaron Rodgers had seemed to have lost faith in him last month, but he's back in his good graces now.

It was a mixed day for the Packer defense. They played much better in the second half and got huge games from Julius Peppers (two forced fumbles) and Mike Daniels, who was a beast in the middle. But the linebackers weren't a factor (not much from Clay Matthews, except what could have been called roughing the passer, and a holding penalty for a first down against Brad Jones) and the secondary was a borderline mess. CB Tramon Williams had a couple of penalties for first downs and some missed tackles. SS Morgan Burnett looked like a missed tackling machine in the first half, especially on special teams. Both Micah Hyde and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix took bad angles on the long TD pass to Terrance Williams. No receiver topped 100 yards but it could have been much worse if Tony Romo had attempted more than 19 passes. The Cowboys are a good offense and they can make defenses look bad, but the Packer defense can play better.

For the second time in three seasons, the Packers won their playoff game at home and now head west to take on the NFC West champ. Two years ago it was a divisional game but this time it's for a trip to the Super Bowl. There will be a lot to talk about this week.

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