Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Packers-Cowboys preview: 5 things to watch–Basics: Teams: The Green Bay Packers (3-3) vs. the Minnesota Vikings (2-3). Time: 7:20 p.m. CT, Sunday. Place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay. TV coverage: NBC. FIVE THINGS TO WATCH-–Two ships passing in standings: The Packers and Cowboys are headed in opposite directions. After back-to-back three-point overtime losses dropped the Packers to .500 at 3-3, they responded with a colossal win over Vikings and an upset of an elite AFC team in the Jets. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have lost four straight. Getting defensive: Last year, Dallas led the NFC in scoring defense. Entering Sunday night’s game, they’re giving up 26.7 points a game and have allowed a 100-yard rusher four times in the last five games. That said, the Cowboys have plenty of talent on defense. No mo’ Romo: Things weren’t going well before QB Romo suffered a broken collarbone against the Giants. Now, after two more losses, only the lowly Buffalo Bills (0-7) have a worse record than the Cowboys (1-6). Replacement QB Kitna threw for 379 yards and four interceptions against Jacksonville and has the confidence of the Cowboys’ skill position players. Searching for answers: Green Bay’s offense is a dysfunctional mess, but the team is winning in spite of the issues. As big as the team’s 9-0 win over the Jets was, the offense struggled. Rodgers certainly hasn’t been himself ranking in the middle of the pack in passer rating (85.3). “It’s below the standards that I’ve set for myself. Obviously, I think I’m capable of playing better,” Rodgers said. “I point to my preparation and it’s been the same; I prepare hard every week. It’s just my performance hasn’t been as good as the kind of standard I’ve set for my 40 games starting. Obviously, I need to play better.” Searching for consistency: With veteran wideout Donald Driver having been ruled out with a quadriceps injury, inconsistent James Jones will get another chance to prove himself. “I think James Jones is no different than some of the other players,” McCarthy said. “They have had some really good games and they have had some games that they wish they could have done a little better job.” Jones isn’t the only player the Packers will need to rise to the occasion. With rookie TE Quarless also questionable, the offense will need Jones, fellow wideout Nelson and tight ends Lee and Crabtree to all pick up the slack.
Packers’ special teams dramatically clean up play: It’d be the equivalent of failing a test one year and acing it the next. The special teams of the Green Bay Packers remained among the National Football League’s poorest in the first half of the season. When it comes to penalties, more specifically, holding penalties, the Packers couldn’t be any better. Due to the demands of coach Mike McCarthy, the teaching of special-teams coach Shawn Slocum and the diligence of their players, the Packers haven’t been hit with a single holding penalty after being tagged with 11 at midseason in 2009.
Offense failing to seal the deal: The common denominator in the six games that went down to the wire is the Packers failed to push the pedal to the metal to either pull away from teams in games they were leading or pull out a win in games they lost in the closing seconds or overtime. Green Bay has been anything but a four-quarter team when the football is in its hands. Its maddening inability to have a closer’s mentality makes the Packers’ 5-3 record and first-place standing in the NFC North entering Sunday night’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys somewhat remarkable. “The biggest thing is we’re just not executing as an offense,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “Last year, we had our struggles, and then we came on strong — we were able to execute when it counted. We were really on top of our game and really came out with a mind-set that we couldn’t be stopped, and we executed as such. Whereas this year, we haven’t gotten into that rhythm and that mind-set to where we’re not going to be stopped.” The Packers are persevering again in spite of their lethargic offense, taking a two-game winning streak into what no longer has the appeal of a midseason showdown between NFC rivals in prime time.
Notebook–Waiting Game Continues: A decision for Sunday’s game will be made Saturday on PUP’ers Al Harris, Atari Bigby and James Starks; Charlie Peprah likely will keep his job regardless of Bigby’s status; plus much more from Friday. Harris and Bigby have said they’re ready. When Bigby returns, there’s no guarantee that he’ll supplant Charlie Peprah, who has played well the last couple of games — and especially so last week against the Jets. Capers said as much, saying he’s not going to “jerk him out” but there might be more of a rotation, which would give Nick Collins a break periodically, as well. “It’s competitive, and that’s healthy,” safeties coach Darren Perry. A little healthier–Knock on wood, but the Packers’ injury report is improving entering this final game before the bye. Guard Daryn Colledge, who was held out on Thursday because of a sore back, bounced back and was a full participant at Friday’s practice and is listed as probable. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ryan Pickett is listed as questionable but “looked the best he’s looked in a number of weeks,” McCarthy said.