Aaron Rodgers’ injured calf won’t keep him from excelling.
By Ben Sullivan
The Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys play Sunday at noon (1 pm in Philly), and memories of the 1967 Ice Bowl come to mind.
Here’s a preview of the NFC divisional playoff match-up:
Cowboys on offense: Tony Romo’s season of redemption continued last week when the much-maligned Dallas QB led his team to a questionable playoff win. Romo was hardly impressive but he came up big when his team needed him — something that hasn’t always been the case. Romo will have to be on point from the get-go in Green Bay. A prototypical pocket passer with a strong, accurate arm, Romo can make all the throws, from screens to intermediate zips to the deep ball. His favorite target is the reliable and rugged tight end Jason Witten, who always seems to be open on third down. Dez Bryant has an awesome blend of size, speed, and strength. If he’s focused (never a given), he commands double coverage. Fellow receiver Terrance Williams has a nose for the end zone. DeMarco Murray, who led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, is the key to this offense. An instinctive runner who can bang between the tackles or bounce outside, Murray is a workhorse.
Packers on defense: The strength of this squad is the linebacking trio of Julius Peppers, A.J. Hawk, and Clay Matthews. A hybrid end/pass-rushing specialist, Peppers is lanky, athletic, and has impressive closing speed. Hawk possesses great instincts, moves well laterally, and slams his body into opponents with great force. The athletic and versatile Matthews (he can play inside or outside) has a tremendous feel for the game. He breaks down plays quickly, tosses blockers aside, and attacks the ball. He leaves welts. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are a formidable last line of defense.
Packers on offense: Aaron Rodgers is one cool customer — and playing in Green Bay has only a little to do with that. Rodgers has top-notch recognition skills and distributes missiles all over the place. An outstanding caretaker (I think Lombardi was on the sideline when he threw his last pick at Lambeau), Rodgers’s 112.2 passer rating this season was his sixth straight campaign at 100-plus. An underrated athlete, Rodgers has quick feet and uses them to buy time and make yards. Jordy Nelson (he’s deceptively athletic and speedy) and Randall Cobb (he’s superbly athletic and competitive) are an insanely productive receiving duo (2,806 yards, 25 TDs). Eddie Lacy takes care of the ground transportation. A tailback trapped in a fullback’s body, Lacy was born for games like this. He has a surprisingly explosive first step and he’ll dish out as much abuse as he takes.
Cowboys on defense: Not a lot of stars on this squad, just a bunch of hard workers. Linebackers Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens have been standouts. McClain is a big, smart, instinctive player who has the speed and athleticism to make plays from sideline to sideline. Rookie Hitchens is a tackling machine. Safety Barry Church is big and rangy, and Orlando Scandrick is the club’s best corner.
Special teams: Dallas’s Dan Bailey hit 25 of 29 field goals with a long of 56. He did miss a chip shot last week . . . Cobb and Green Bay’s Micah Hyde are excellent return men . . . Green Bay’s Mason Crosby nailed 27 of 33 FGs, including a 55-yarder.
Miscellany: Forecast calls for temps in the 20s. Downright balmy . . . Packers’ 13 NFL titles are most all-time . . . Cowboys’ 34 postseason wins are most all-time . . . Cowboys lead all-time series, 16-15.