Rodgers’ Calf the Only Issue as Packers Prepare to Punch Their Ticket to NFC Championship Game

Aaron Rodgers

There will be no definitive updates on Aaron Rodgers’ condition until he starts playing the game on Sunday afternoon and the Cowboys defense chases him out of the pocket for the first time.

All indications out of Green Bay will point towards a healthy Rodgers taking the field and being able to play his game in the divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field. But the Packers are not going to take any chances with Rodgers leading up to the game, and he will not be pushing it in practice at all.

The Packers need him to be at his best, so he will receive quite a bit of therapy from the Packers’ medical staff to make sure his balky calf is not going to break down on the Frozen Tundra. Head coach Mike McCarthy said the team does not have its “plan” yet as to how Rodgers will prepare, but you can be sure the quarterback will not be asked to do anything risky in practice throughout the week leading up to the game.

There is a very good chance Rodgers is going to be able to survive this game. While the Cowboys came through by the slimmest of margins in the Wild-Card victory over Detroit, they simply don’t have the kind of big-time defensive talent to put consistent pressure on Rodgers and slow down Green Bay’s explosive offense.

The Cowboys rank 19th in yards allowed and a brutal 26th against the pass.

The Cowboys have exceeded all expectations on defense this season, but now they must face the league’s most explosive offense (led NFL with 486 points scored) and the NFL’s best quarterback. Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has to know that Jeremy Mincey (6.0 sacks) and Henry Melton (5.0 sacks) are not going to be able to put any real pressure on Rodgers.

If he is going to put any pressure on him, it needs to come from disguised blitzes. But that’s another issue that is likely to cause problems because Rodgers excels at reading the defensive set-up and knowing what the opponent wants to do. His quick release is often the antidote for full blitzes.

The Dallas coverage scheme could cause some problems for Rodgers and his receivers. By playing zone and dropping his linebackers into the coverage lanes, Marinelli has a greater chance of producing turnovers.

The Cowboys will aggressively go after the ball, and while Rodgers’ accuracy will take away many of the opportunities to intercept the ball, the Cowboys may be able to force a few fumbles. The Cowboys are a very fast and athletic unit and if two or more tacklers can get to the receiver at the same time, they will try to rip the ball away.

That’s probably the best way for the defense to go, because the Green Bay offense has been dangerous at home. It’s not unusual for the Packers to take a lead of three touchdowns or more and force their opponents to play a desperation brand of catch-up football.

The Cowboys have the offensive weapons to put up a good fight, but despite all their road success this year (a much-publicized 8-0 record away from Jerry’s Palace, that includes a win at Seattle), they are not going to be comfortable in Green Bay.

The conditions won’t mimic that of the Classic Ice Bowl (minus-16 degrees F), but the forecast does call for cold that will likely reach single digits. That’s not going to be good for running back DeMarco Murray and his broken pinkie, Tony Romo or Dez Bryant. They are not going to surrender to the cold, but they are not going to operate at peak efficiency.

The Packers will because they thrive in it. Rodgers is amazingly accurate and Jordy Nelson (98-1,519-13) is simply an explosive target who does not slow down when the temperatures dip. Randall Cobb is still playing like he has something to prove even though he caught 91-1,287-12.

Green Bay also gets more than enough from running back Eddie Lacy (246-1,139-9) to keep the Cowboys from ignoring the run. Lacy runs with power and knows how to finish off linebackers and defensive backs who don’t wrap him up. He is likely to be at his hungriest and his best as the Packers play for a spot in the NFC Championship game.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones will bring his best buddy New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and they will sit hopefully in one of the heated suites at Lambeau. But while they get ready for their bro hugs, they will see a finely tuned Packers offense that should be able to rip through the Cowboys’ hard-trying, but overmatched defense.

The Cowboys have a puncher’s chance, but they will most likely be on the receiving end of a knockout blow early in the third quarter.

author avatar
Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.