Aaron Rodgers ruled out, Packers in trouble
Rodgers broke his collarbone about halfway through the first quarter of that game against the Bears, which sparked a five game winless streak for the Packers. The offense went in the tank without Rodgers, scoring 13 points or less in three of the five games after his injury. Finally in Week 14, the Packers faced off with another struggling team that was expected to contend for the Super Bowl - the Atlanta Falcons - and pulled off a crucial win behind a struggling Matt Flynn, who is the third quarterback the Packers have turned to since Rodgers' injury.
The win over the Falcons was of vital importance, as it kept the Packers squarely in the playoff race, just half a game behind the division-leading Bears and Detroit Lions. Heading to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, the Packers were hoping that they would get Rodgers back this week, which would give them a great shot at pulling off wins in their next two games, in which they will face the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Rodgers was expected to easily beat the typical broken collarbone timetable of 4-6 weeks (this week's game against the Cowboys marks six weeks since the injury), the team formally ruled Rodgers out on Friday.
That will leave Matt Flynn - who has put together a serviceable 81.4 passer rating in two starts for the Packers this year - as the signal caller for a pivotal Week 15 matchup. The Bears will head to Cleveland to face a Browns team that has not won since before their Week 10 bye, while the Lions will host a Baltimore Ravens squad that is 1-5 on the road this season - both NFC North leaders should be able to pull out wins this week. If the Packers lose, they could end up an extreme long shot to make the playoffs, but if they win, they could very well take the division lead in Week 16. The Bears will have to travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, while the Lions will take on a New York Giants team that is 5-2 over their last seven games. The Packers will face the very beatable 5-8 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys rank dead last in total defense, so one would assume that if Rodgers were behind center, he would have no trouble outlasting Tony Romo and company in a shootout. Flynn, however, is a different story. Due to Flynn's limited skill set and complete inability to get the ball downfield, opposing defenses stack the box like crazy, giving running back Eddie Lacy tons of issues in the run game. A great break for the Packers is that middle linebacker Sean Lee will not be active for the Cowboys, but they will still face stacked boxes all game. Lacy has averaged just 58.2 rushing yards this season when Rodgers does not start at quarterback - he averaged 109 rushing yards in the previous five games.
If the Cowboys are able to shut down the run game, that will put pressure on Flynn to complete passes on the outside - that means throwing on a strong cornerback duo of Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. Carr has had three poor showings this year, but they were against Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Josh McCown - Flynn is not of the same caliber as those players.
It's kind of tough to say who has the edge in this game (if Dallas' defense weren't so bad, I'd consider them a strong favorite), but what it may really come down to is if the Cowboys can bottle up the run with stacked boxes, then if they do, if Flynn can take advantage of one-on-one coverage on the outside. It should be an interesting game, and it is one that is of astronomical importance to both teams involved.