On Sunday, the only thing less dominant about the performance was that Green Bay couldn’t produce a goose egg for a second week in a row.
The Packers simply overwhelmed a Dallas offense that, while missing starting quarterback Tony Romo, still ranked fourth in the league in total yards coming in. But the Cowboys managed just 205 yards, barely more than half their season average of 381, as Green Bay rolled 45-7.
The Cowboys’ paltry yardage total is even a bit misleading, because they had just 87 yards through three quarters as the Packers were in complete control.
“The key? Just dominating from the beginning to the end,” safety Nick Collins said. “We’re just learning how to finish games right now. That’s the whole key right now. Finishing.”
The only blemish on the evening was a 60-yard drive for a touchdown just before halftime. Dallas rookie receiver Dez Bryant hauled in a 41-yard pass down to the 2 and then caught a TD pass on third-and-goal to produce the only points the Packers have given up over their last nine quarters of play.
“It’s good. I think we’ve put together a couple good weeks as a defense,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We gave up one big play led to them getting points, but overall I think this defense is doing some good things.”
That’s for sure. Five three-and-outs against the Cowboys. Four sacks of backup quarterback Jon Kitna. Plus two interceptions -- the first of rookie Sam Shields’ career on a spectacular one-handed grab and the first of linebacker Clay Matthews’ career, which he returned 62 yards for a touchdown.
Matthews said the last time he had an interception was as a junior in high school. “Forty-two yards to the house,” he said. “So I think we beat it right here.”
Meanwhile, the defense is beating people’s expectations considering the rash of injuries. Three starters (linebackers Nick Barnett and Brad Jones and safety Morgan Burnett) and four top reserves (linemen Justin Harrell and Mike Neal, safety Derrick Martin and linebacker Brady Poppinga) are out for the season, while several other key players – including Matthews himself, ends Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins, and linebacker Brandon Chillar – have all missed significant time.
But that hasn’t stopped this unit from believing it can perform at a high level, whether it be using veteran replacements like linebacker Desmond Bishop and safety Charlie Peprah or new additions to the team like lineman Howard Green.
“It says a lot about the collective effort of the coaches and the players,” said cornerback Charles Woodson, who got his first sack of the season Sunday night. “When you have starters go down and you have young guys or backups that have to go in, everybody has to be on the same page.
"Coaches have to get players prepared to play, and the players have to be willing to take that coaching. I think guys have been doing that, and the last couple weeks we’ve had some guys have to be plugged in, and we’re still able to go out there and have dominant performances. It says a lot about the guys in the locker room.”
Pickett went down again on Sunday, re-injuring the same ankle that’s been giving him trouble. He left the game in the second quarter to have X-rays on his ankle, which were negative.
Even without Pickett for most of the game, the defense still held the Cowboys to just 39 rushing yards, the fewest the Packers have given up in a game in more than six years (at Detroit, Oct. 17, 2004).
The run defense got off to a good start as Pickett and Woodson combined to stop Dallas running back Marion Barber on third-and-1 on the game’s opening series. Matthews then made the most eye-opening play against the run, blasting through to stone Barber for a 3-yard loss on third-and-1 in the second quarter.
“The players are starting to step up who need to, the young guys are figuring it out, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now,” Matthews said. “So hopefully we can make a run toward the second half of the season.”
That second half will hopefully include a healthy Pickett at some point. It also will include safety Atari Bigby, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list and subbed a few series for Peprah on Sunday.
But the way this unit has endured and adjusted, it will keep plugging along no matter who’s available. It’s been the story of the season.
“None of us are really surprised,” Hawk said. “We knew we could do this. We knew we could get it going in the right direction. We’re definitely not where we want to be. We still have to take some steps to get there, but I think we’re probably some of the only people that aren’t surprised.
“It’s understandable with how things were going early in the year, how many guys got banged up, that we’d have some doubters with what we could do. But we’ve known we’ve had a ton of depth on this team for a long time, and guys are stepping in and making plays.”