GREEN BAY—Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers repeated the words several times: “It starts with the run game.”
Capers was speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, who’ll play at Lambeau Field this Sunday in a divisional-round playoff game against the Packers. The Cowboys, 8-0 on the road this year, are led by their No. 2 rushing attack and rushing champion DeMarco Murray.
“It starts with their running game. You’ve got to be able to play both (run and pass) against these guys. They’re not a one-dimensional team,” Capers said.
For much of the season, the Packers were last in the league at stopping the run. Since the bye week and a move to inside linebacker by Clay Matthews, the Packers have improved to a more respectable No. 23 ranking against the run. That improvement will be sternly tested this Sunday by Murray, who rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
“This is the best test we’ve had. This will be a challenge,” Capers said.
The Packers faced Murray and the Cowboys in Dallas in a Week 15 game in 2013. Murray rushed for 134 yards and a 7.4 average in that game, but most of it was in the first half. Surprisingly, the Cowboys turned away from Murray in the second half, as the Packers rallied from a 26-3 halftime deficit to win the game, 37-36.
What’s the difference between that Dallas team and the one the Packers will face this Sunday?
“They’re much more efficient. The turnovers haven’t been as big a factor,” Capers said.
The Cowboys are No. 9 in the league in turnover ratio, plus-six. Quarterback Tony Romo has thrown only nine interceptions vs. 34 touchdown passes. In a career year, Romo scored his first-ever playoff win on Sunday vs. Detroit.
“Nothing helps a quarterback more,” Capers said, referring again to the Cowboys’ running game. “Any time you run the ball as they run the ball, you travel better.”
The Cowboys are undefeated on the road this season, but Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements says the playoffs are a new season.
“What’s transpired prior to the playoffs doesn’t mean a thing,” Clements said.
One of the big storylines this week will be the status of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury. It caused Rodgers to miss time in the Packers’ win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.
How’s your quarterback, Clements was asked?
“Good,” he said.
“Very good,” Clements countered.
Cold weather will also be a major storyline. The Cowboys will be coming into conditions reminiscent of the Ice Bowl game the two teams played nearly 50 years ago.
“We’re preparing our normal game plan. That’s not affecting us right now,” Clements said of the predicted cold.
“Hopefully, you’re conditioned. We’ve been practicing outside. You want to be able to handle the ball in those conditions,” Capers said.
And stop the run, too.