GREEN BAY – Dom Capers calls them “possession downs,” and dominating them was the key to the Packers’ defense holding the Cowboys to just 270 yards and seven points on Sunday.
Dallas converted just once in 11 tries on third down and went 0-for-2 on fourth down against Capers’ crew. As a result, the Cowboys, limited by backup QB Matt Cassel, didn’t have a drive longer than six plays the entire game.
“We had five three-and-outs, but anytime you win (12 of 13) possession downs, you’re going to have a good day,” the Packers’ defensive coordinator said on Monday.
The only negatives from the defense’s performance were three explosive runs allowed. Darren McFadden broke free for gains of 50 and 45 yards, and Robert Turbin added a 22-yarder. The latter two came on a four-play, 80-yard TD drive that got Dallas back into the game in the third quarter.
Capers said the long runs were the result of gap-fit errors and/or missed tackles, and the Cowboys’ strong offensive line made them pay for the mistakes.
“Their big pass play was 19 yards, so their big plays came in the run game,” Capers said.
“Those long runs should have been maybe 6-, 8-yard runs, but you don’t want them going for 45 or 50. We have to find a way to get that fixed, and we will.”
Capers was pleased with the play of rookie cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, who took on larger roles after Sam Shields – who kept the Cowboys off the board early with an interception in the end zone on a slant intended for Dez Bryant – left in the second quarter with a concussion.
“Our plan was to match Sam on Bryant,” Capers said. “Damarious did a nice job. If you’d told me last week Bryant would have one catch for nine yards, I would have taken it.”
He’ll also take the last five weeks. Since a pair of rough defensive outings in Denver and Carolina early last month, the Packers have allowed just 15.6 points per game, climbing to sixth in the NFL in points allowed.
“I like the way our guys have trended the last five games,” Capers said. “We’ve done a lot of things we talk about in terms of keep people out of the end zone, and now it’s time to go to Oakland and do the same thing.”
On offense, running back Eddie Lacy’s rejuvenation set the tone for the entire unit. Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett said Lacy “had a good week” of practice and preparation, and he ran with a determination that rubbed off on his teammates a bit.
“You saw Eddie breaking a ton of tackles,” Bennett said. “When we looked at it on tape, that was one of the things that was glaring – our guys broke a lot of tackles. They made guys miss.
“Those little things kind of stand out and make the difference in just an ordinary gain and an explosive gain. It really stood out on tape, and we just have to build off of that.”
The Packers had their best day on third down since Week 1, converting exactly 50 percent (7 of 14), and that led to a greater commitment to the run.
As the Packers ran the ball at the Cowboys over and over through four quarters, the dam finally broke. Lacy (nine carries, 51 yards) and James Starks (4-52) combined for more than 100 yards rushing and two TDs in the final period.
“You get a feeling,” said Bennett, a former running back, of a defense getting worn down late by a steady run game. “Especially when the offensive line is creating space for you. That’s really the bottom line. We felt our guys did an outstanding job up front.
“Everyone involved in the run game, the blocking unit, from the receivers to the offensive line, the tight ends, everyone played a role. Our backs benefited from that.”
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