Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week 9 Pick: Packers -7.5 vs. Cowboys

As we head into Week 9, this just looks too easy. I knew this was going to be the pick last Sunday afternoon, because let's face it: the Cowboys are an absolute disaster. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to find this line at -6.5, out of some naive hope that the people still thought that the Cowboys would get things together, but I'll have to settle for 7.5 Here's why:

1. The Cowboys -- particularly on defense -- are just going through the motions.

The Cowboys were blown out by a mediocre Jacksonville team last week. It wasn't just the trouncing on the scoreboard that perturbed me; it was the way that the Cowboys totally sacrificed their dignity. Put simply, the Cowboys didn't look like they were trying, and they looked like they really didn't want to be on the field. The team that marched out there last Sunday had no chance, and it's one that was so deflated that the players didn't care about -- and were helpless to stop -- the drubbing that was taking place.

I don't see that mentality letting up soon. Wade Phillips, as much as I've occasionally defended him in the past, is the lamest of ducks. And given that, it's obvious that accountability throughout the organization has simply vanished into the abyss of this disgraceful season. Part of it is that Wade himself is way too lax, part of it is that the players exploit his soft reputation, but the real explanation is that because everyone knows he's gone after the season, he's lost any remaining modicum of credibility in the locker room.

You can see the symptoms everywhere -- players criticizing the coaches' gameplanning, the Cowboys' talented pass rushers failing to generate any pressure on the QB,  and the coaches sticking with the stupifying and putrid Alan Ball at free safety. But most of all, you can see it in the body language on the field. The Cowboys don't care anymore, and the score has started to reflect that. As such, I expect the same sorry attitude on the field to continue, and if the Cowboys play anything close to how they did last week, it will be another blowout. Ever since Romo broke his clavicle, that's the way it's been.

2. The Packers are well-suited to exploit the Cowboys' weaknesses.

First and foremost, the Cowboys never play well at Lambeau field. This year, that trend will likely continue, primarily because of the Packers' defensive scheme. Don Capers, even though being forced to adjust to significant defensive injuries, has schemed up one of the most creative defensive systems in football. They might not have as many big name players as we're used to, but the varied defensive fronts, zone blitzes, and pre-snap movement has proved quite confusing to opposing offenses. The film last week of the Packers' shutout of the Jets is impressive indeed, as the Packers totally confused and shut down a talented Jets squad.

This spells particular trouble for the Cowboys, because creative defensive alignments traditionally give Dallas fits. This exact same defense all but shutout the Cowboys last year in Green Bay, and that Cowboys team had its starting quarterback and a lot more pride. In short, the Cowboys have a stupid and poorly coached offensive line that struggles with pre-snap movement, and with the ultra-stationary Jon Kitna in the pocket, things won't likely get better for them this week. The problem will only be compounded by the match-up between the injured and crappy Marc Colombo at RT and the frenetic NFL sack leader Clay Matthews at strong side OLB.

You might say the Cowboys will be able to run the ball against Green Bay to take the pressure off Kitna? Not a chance; the Jaguars ranked in the bottom 3rd of the league stopping the run, and the Cowboys got nothing against them. And although the Packers' rush defense has mediocre overall numbers, they've actually been pretty effective in stopping opposing running backs; it's the mobile QBs like Michael Vick that have tormented them. Since Kitna is obviously anything but mobile, I expect the Packers to easily handle the Cowboys' pitiful running game.

It is true that the Packers' offense has been quite inconsistent this year. But they've averaged 27.5 points a game at home, and the underachieving Cowboys' defense should be just the tonic they need to get going. The Packers have probably weathered the worst of the storm this year, and at 5-3 they possess a nice mixture of confident and motivated. Their film exhibits the opposite mindset from the Cowboys, as they are fiery, intense, and motivated. They should be able to win handily.


I have to admit that everything just seems too easy with this game. The entire nation saw the Cowboys embarrassed last week, and there's a decent chance that I'm hopping on the anti-Cowboys' bandwagon a week too late. Particularly worrisome is the sizable amount of public money coming in on the Packers, which both confirms my fears about a letdown game and further worries the contrarian theorist in me.

The game that I worry this might be scarily similar to? Last year's Raiders-Eagles game, heading into which everyone had written off the Raiders because of a similar laughter-inducing "they've totally given up on the season" type performance the week before. And I did note before the season that Year 1 -- and that Raiders' game in particular -- had taught us the perils of betting against a team that had just reached rock bottom.

I nonetheless love the Packers this week, because I think a couple of factors distinguish this game from games like those I discussed in my preseason preview. Primarily, I see little incentive for the Cowboys to rebound from the rock bottom performance, because, unlike Tom Cable (who is now leading that same Oakland squad back to respectability), Wade Phillips is a lame duck who has totally lost the locker room. Second, Oakland had few expectations heading into last year, which made it less devastating when they played poorly. Conversely, the Cowboys were horrifically overhyped this year, causing Romo's injury and the pathetic play to inflict particularly severe psychological wounds. Unlike the perpetually bad Raiders, I think these Cowboys are mentally regrouping for next year. Finally, the Raiders were at home, while the Cowboys have to travel to Lambeau, a place they never play well. I said early on this year that I need to pay more attention to home/road splits, and this is one circumstance in which the Packers' home mojo makes me less worried about a letdown.

Ultimately, I think that I am, like many sharps, surprised that this line isn't higher. I think the Cowboys might keep it close for a while, but once they fall behind, I see no sign that this team is capable of climbing back into it. Accordingly, I think the Packers might turn it into a laugher in the 4th quarter. I was going to take this game at anything under 10. Packers cover.

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