There’s a lot going on this week with injuries on both teams and wondering on availability and how it will impact continuity, but I think there is one core idea that really sums up this week’s game:
The game is won and lost in the trenches.
Sure, you can scheme around line weaknesses in the short terms, but unless guys step up and win in the ditch, your team has no real chance.
This week, both line battles are shrouded in mystery due to injuries and offseason changes and the fact that we’ve just reached the quarter-season mark and teams haven’t really forged their identity yet. The availability of David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga continue to weigh heavily on the minds of the Packers and their fans, but I’ll be watching the other side more this week. The Packers defensive line against the Dallas offensive line could be the game.
The bad guys lost Ronald Leary to free agency and Doug Free to retirement in the offseaon and subsequently moved La’el Collins from Left Guard to Right Tackle. That means they’ve lost 40% and changed 60% of their line, which was so dominant in 2016. In addition to that, Left Tackle Tyron Smith, easily their best offensive lineman, has been dealing with a back injury that forced him to drop out of practice on Wednesday and kept him out on Thursday. If Smith can’t play, Byron Bell, who was out of the league last year and ballooned up to 340 pounds, would make the start.
To be fair, the Cowboys preferred starting 5 still features a 3rd round pick (Chaz Green), three 1st round picks (Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin), plus a guy in Collins who would have been a 1st rounder were it not for his proximity to a murder. Having 4 ones and a 3 is a pretty strong case (especially compared to GB’s Week 4 lineup of 5th rounder Corey Linsley, three practice squad guys, and some old dude).
However, even with all the talent the Cowboys have, when you shuffle those guys up, there’s a learning curve (and draft position, as we know, does not guarantee performance) and it has shown in the Cowboys output. As much as the media loves Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, they are young players who have shown they need a strong line to help them. This year, that line has not been as strong as last year – Zeke is averaging 3.6 yards per carry (down from 5.1 last year) and Dak’s completion percentage has fallen from 68 to 61, his rating has dropped from 105 to 90, and he’s already thrown 3 picks in 4 games after throwing just 4 all of last season (also: game film).
With the line shuffled up, the young stars have regressed. If Smith can’t play, the wheels could really come off, especially with what’s going on across from that offensive line.
The Packers defensive line has been having a very effective season under the radar with Kenny Clark busting out like a boss and Dean Lowry continuing to grow. Quinton Dial has been a nice role player, but if Mike Daniels can come back and do his thing, that line just got twice as scary. Couple that with Nick Perry being upgraded from a limited participant to a full participant and Clay Matthews experiencing a career renaissance (because he’s healthy), and you have the potential for the war in the trenches to become a route.
The playing status of Daniels and Smith could be enough to tip the scale in either direction and it just might be the difference between winning and losing. Lot’s of big name skill position players in this one, but the grunts are going to pick the winner on Sunday.