Week 5 of the current NFL season sees America’s Team welcome the Green Bay Packers to Dallas. With both sides losing their respective unbeaten starts to the season in Week 4, Mark Taylor analyses the current state of play for both squads.
NFL Week 5 predictions
The maxim that “on any given Sunday” any NFL team can defeat another is being amply illustrated in the 2019 season.
Salary cap and draft-induced parity has reduced the timescale where a side can be dominant on both sides of the ball to tiny periods of time, and we have reached week five with just three unbeaten teams.
New England and Kansas City lead the AFC east and west respectively with a 4-0 record, but 2-2 is sufficient to top the north and south, while a bye week has helped to preserve San Francisco’s perfect start in the NFC, but every other side has dropped at least one game.
Two NFC title contenders who have both just lost their unbeaten start to the campaign meet on Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys entertain the Green Bay Packers.
Is Dak Prescott as good as he used to be?
Dallas restricted a Drew Brees-less New Orleans to just 12 points, but still fell two points shy of winning on Sunday, after Green Bay had been beaten in a Thursday night shootout with Dallas’ divisional rivals, Philadelphia.
In 2017 the Cowboys were much more reliant upon a very good running game, and last season’s 10-6 record was achieved by an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL
Dallas play in the usually highly-competitive NFC east division, and are enjoying a prolonged period of success. They’ve taken the title in three out of the last five years, with two of those titles coinciding with the emergence of quarterback Dak Prescott in 201
Prescott’s rookie season has been his most impressive, earning him a slot inside the top five passers in 2016. But whilst the winning seasons have continued, he’s slipped away from his impressive debut campaign.
In 2017 the Cowboys were much more reliant upon a very good running game, and last season’s 10-6 record was achieved by an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL, with below-average scoring rates, passing efficiencies and only just above-average running efficiencies.
The recent seasons have been impressive in terms of wins, but underlying numbers suggest that other factors have also contributed to two post-season appearances under Prescott.
Gaining 8.4 Pythagorean wins, compared to 10 actual victories in 2018, hints at the cause - and this is confirmed by an 8-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or fewer points.
It is tempting to assign this record in close games to Prescott’s clutch play, especially as Dallas were a similarly impressive 7-2 in his rookie season when they went 13-3. However, they fell to a much more mundane 2-2 in close games in 2017, as wins fell to 9 and they narrowly missed out on the post season.
The Cowboys win record has been excellent under Prescott, but aside from his rookie year, he hasn’t been consistently elite. If we discount “luck” in close games, they project as an offense with little upside beyond a 0.500 season.
A detailed look into Dallas Cowboys’ statistics
2019 has yielded very good raw passing and running numbers, but should be viewed in the context of the opposition. Both Miami and Washington are still winless, and Prescott’s nearly nine yards per passing attempt is only just above the average yardage allowed by their four opponents to date.
Their rushing efficiencies are well above the average yardage allowed by their opponents, but overall their 27 points per game scored is below the 29.5 points per game conceded by their opponents in 2019.
Defensively 2018, the Cowboys were above average against the run, average against the pass, but restricted scores. The bottom line on the scoreboard has been maintained in 2019, although in limited evidence, they are better against the pass and fare less well on the ground, compared to 2018.
How important is Aaron Rodgers to the Green Bay Packers?
Green Bay’s continuous run of post season appearances from 2009 to 2016 owes much to the talent and health of quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Aside from his full debut season, Rodgers has presided over nine winning seasons as a starter.
Offensively in 2018, Green Bay was an average passing unit, although Rodgers had a largely undistinguished group of receivers to work with and a top five running game
2018 was the first time since 2008 he has registered a losing year, the Packers’ 6-9-1 record coming after Rodgers’ curtailed 2017 season, where he played just seven games before a broken shoulder all but ended his and Green Bay’s year.
They were a 7.5 Pythagorean winning team in 2018, losing two more close games than they won, with a level turnover differential. So, there’s a small amount of upside through natural regression, but to put themselves back amongst the NFC elite, especially in a currently strong division, they will need Rodgers (now in his mid 30s) to belie any doubts about his age and his fitness.
Offensively in 2018, Green Bay was an average passing unit, although Rodgers had a largely undistinguished group of receivers to work with and a top five running game. Together the two combined to score 23.5 points per game, just half a point per game above the average allowed by their opponents.
The passing game is operating at above-average efficiencies in 2019, gaining three tenths of a yard per attempt more than par for their opponents, but the running game is well below par. However, scoring is a healthy 2 points per game above par.
Green Bay Packers: Has their defense improved?
The defense hardly stepped up to assist Rodgers in 2018, struggling badly against the pass and leaking three more points per game compared to their opponent’s offensive scoring par.
However, they’ve fared much better in the opening games of 2019, failing to contain the run, but coping well against the pass and they are allowing three points fewer per match than the typical scoring rate of their rivals.
The game is between two sides whose reputation and support may be inflating their prospects for 2019. Scoring rates and offensive and defensive matchups, along with home field advantage, favour the host Cowboys by three points, making Green Bay a narrow lean at current spreads, with a total of around 43 points scored.