There is a good chance that part of the reason we only have two late games on Sunday is because the NFL was so hyped to feature Packers // Cowboys, assuming everyone is excited to watch these legacy franchises go head to head. But as fun as “Packers // Cowboys” is, this game looks different from a DFS perspective than the names might imply, with the Packers currently ranked seventh in defensive DVOA and taking on a Cowboys team missing six-time All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, and with the Cowboys boasting a solid defense as well and taking on a Packers team that seems likely to be without Davante Adams.
The matchup for wide receivers is generally unattractive against the Cowboys, with this team having allowed the sixth fewest wide receiver yards to open 2019, after allowing the eighth fewest wide receiver yards last year. Additionally, the Packers’ offense has been an absolute mess under Matt LaFleur — with the LaFleur offense built around runs (so many runs!) and play-action, and with Aaron Rodgers hating play-action as it takes his eyes off the defense. The Packers have consistently performed well through their scripted plays, but have failed to adjust throughout games — and if Adams misses, they’ll be in tough shape with a couple of wide receivers in Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling who are really only NFL starters because Rodgers makes them appear good enough to be NFL starters.
While we could break down the matchup any number of ways and show you why it’s tough for wide receivers, the most actionable information here is that the Packers are unlikely to allow Rodgers to throw as much as they should, and when he does throw he’ll be forced by the Cowboys defense into primarily shorter throws. Your best bet for upside is Aaron Rodgers scramble plays — in which case, either Allison or MVS could hit; though both remain somewhat “guess and hope” from an upside perspective. (If Adams plays, he’s a tough guy to pull the trigger on at his price beyond “It’s Adams, and he always has multi-touchdown upside.” He would also make all other bets on this offense even thinner.)
This is also a matchup that filters targets toward tight ends, which should allow Jimmy Graham to pick up anywhere from four to seven looks this week (on a somewhat weaker tight end slate, now that the underpriced guys from earlier in the season have seen their prices rise) — though “trust” is a big factor for Rodgers, and Graham continues to show little reason for Rodgers to trust him. You’re really just hoping for a touchdown here (though perhaps that isn’t such a crazy bet to make if Adams is out).
Ultimately, so much of what the Packers do in the pass game is based around the fact that Rodgers and Adams are both really good, so it obviously won’t be surprising if the Packers have to scrape and claw for their production this week.
With Jamaal Williams unlikely to play this week and the Packers seeming to not like Dexter Williams all that much (not that they seem to like Aaron Jones all that much, either…), it’s likely that Jones sees at least 75% of the snaps this week — and if Adams is out, he may be leaned on even more heavily than he would be otherwise. The Cowboys run defense was hit by Saquon Barkley in Week 1, but has otherwise been stellar, allowing only 3.28 yards per carry to all other backs after allowing the sixth fewest running back rushing yards in the league last year.
The place where Jones is likeliest to provide a spark is in the pass game, where he’ll pick up some of the slack from Adams, and where Dallas also filters targets — though with yardage tougher to come by on the ground, Jones (like the wide receivers, and Graham) is more “bet on touchdown” than “bet on locked-in production” in this offense that is not as good as it should be with Rodgers under center.
On the other side of this game — with Tyron Smith out and the Packers playing absolutely lights out against the pass — action should filter toward the ground, though a quick note before we get there:
If Kevin King can’t give it a go this week (he left Week 4 early and didn’t practice Wednesday) and if Michael Gallup returns this week, there is a chance Jaire Alexander shadows Amari Cooper and Gallup becomes an attractive tourney piece. We’ll keep an eye on this deeper into the week. (Barring that setup, the Cowboys would just be “hoping for a big play or touchdown” in a matchup that has had teams attacking in the air only 56.2% of the time.)
As for Ezekiel Elliott :: Darius Smith and Preston Smith have been doing a good job for the Packers defense keeping teams from running the ball outside; but so far this year, it has been far too easy for rushing attacks to control Kenny Clark in the middle with only one blocker, which is making it easy to run up the gut with blockers to the second level. Travis Frederick should be able to handle Clark for the Cowboys this week — and this approach would also mitigate the absence of Smith, as the Cowboys wouldn’t need him quite as much when focusing on runs up the middle. Teams have been avoiding the Packers secondary and pass rush by running up the middle, and the Cowboys are set up well to do this, with Zeke averaging 6.5 yards per carry this year on runs up the gut.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Packers passing attack can be bet on “because Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback,” though outside of that there isn’t much reason for optimism. The upside is there, but the paths to slate-winning scores are thin, and there are plenty of paths to floor games as well.
Jones is not as strong as some of the other running back options in what has been a bad run offense vs a solid run D — but the pass game involvement and elevated snap share keep him in the mix.
Amari // Dak Prescott are in a tough spot as well with Tyron Smith out vs the Packers pass rush — though you could “hope to guess right,” or if King misses and Gallup plays, you could take a shot on targets being filtered to the Cowboys’ number 2.
And of course, the jewel of this game is Zeke, who has 25 // 21 // 24 touches in his last three, and who played a full complement of snaps last week (56 of 58) for the first time this season. The Packers have also allowed the fourth most running back receptions this year with their pass defense squeezing targets away from wide receivers. Zeke is in the thick of the high-priced running back mix this week.