One of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season has been the upstart Dallas Cowboys, who carry a 4-1 record into Week 6 and sit atop the NFC East.
The team was written off after franchise QB Tony Romo suffered a back injury that sidelined the Pro Bowl player for six weeks. Now on the eve of his return, the Cowboys are faced with a quarterback controversy as a result of the excellent play of rookie QB Dak Prescott.
Prescott has not been spectacular by any means, but his counting stats have been impressive. The Dallas QB has thrown for 1,239 yards and four touchdowns with a 69.0 percent completion percentage. More impressive is his 86.7 QBR, which is second best in league behind only Matt Ryan. Most impressive is his rookie record 155 straight passes without throwing an interception. He’s fast approaching Tom Brady’s record of 162 straight to open the 2000-2001 season.
Prescott has not had to shoulder a big load, however because of the excellent performance of rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is the NFL leader in rushing yards with 546 through five games, and has the best yards per carry (5.0) among RBs with over 100 carries.
While both Elliott and Prescott have impressed, they are benefitting from having one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys front line leads the league in adjusted line yards at 4.50, a stat which takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the line dependent on how effective the carry was in generating yards, adjusted for down, distance, situation and opponent. The line is also fifth best in preventing stuffs at the line of scrimmage, and eight in getting Elliott to the second level where he can be most effective.
Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers are hoping to keep pace with the 5-0 Vikings by snatching another win from a quality opponent. Green Bay has been one of the most well-balanced teams in the league so far this season, one of two teams in the NFL to rank top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been effective but unspectacular leading the team this year. Rodgers’ passing yards per game are down again for a fourth straight season, but the veteran QB is efficient as ever, throwing nine touchdowns to only three interceptions and ranking fourth in the league in QBR.
Defensively, the Packers are a more stout unit than they have been in the past. The defense allows only 42.8 rush yards per game, tops in the league on only 2.0 yards per carry. Their young linebacking core has exceeded all expectations so far, contributing against both the pass and the run. The standouts have been rookie Blake Martinez and second year player Jake Ryan. The two are first and second on the team in tackles and have added five tackles for a loss.
Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged the duo's excellent play so far in a recent press conference, singling out Jake Ryan specifically. “I thought his pass coverage against Minnesota was probably one of his better performances,” McCarthy told Packers.com. “I think he’s played some really good football for us.”
This game will come down to Dallas’s ability to establish their running game early. The Cowboys need the run to take pressure off of Prescott, but Green Bay is as good as it gets at stopping their opponent’s rush attack. Look for Green Bay to play to form on Sunday, shutting down Elliott en route to a victory.