Green Bay — Fans of the Dallas Cowboys couldn't get over the Dez Bryant non-catch in their team's 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 11 in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.Owner Jerry Jones and his football staff couldn't get over the putrid pass rush that enabled Aaron Rodgers to pick apart the Cowboys' defense down the stretch.Defensive ends George Selvie and Anthony Spencer plus defensive tackles Ken Bishop and Josh Brent combined for 108 of the 273 snaps (39.5%) played by defensive linemen on that 24-degree afternoon.
The first two departed as unrestricted as free agents, the third was cut and the fourth retired.Jones replaced them by signing Greg Hardy in March and drafting Randy Gregory in May. He also installed DeMarcus Lawrence as a starter and, in September, gave Tyrone Crawford a five-year extension averaging $9.1 million.On paper, the improvement appears negligible. The Cowboys rank a modest 22nd in sack percentage through 12 games after finishing 28th last season.However, three personnel people and one assistant coach for NFL teams all said pass rush was the most likely way for Dallas to post an upset."They don't have a lot of great (sack) numbers," said the assistant for a team that played Dallas in the last few weeks. "If the Packers can shore up their O-line...somehow they've got to do that...and get the wideouts open, I like the Packers. But if the O-line is banged up, then Rodgers will be running for his life."The Packers, a 7-point pick, will have been favored 12 times in 13 games. They were favored by 6 points 11 months ago in the playoff game.The difference now is quarterback Tony Romo won't be playing because of a broken collarbone, and Matt Cassel will."The question is, can Cassel put the ball in the hands of the Cowboys' playmakers?" said an AFC scout. "Dallas does have a relatively young, athletic and active defensive line that can pressure Aaron Rodgers by just rushing four, and their secondary will match up very well against Green Bay's wide receivers."I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Green Bay is treading water and Dallas is getting healthier. Except at quarterback."He called it for the Cowboys, 20-17. The other two scouts and the assistant forecast a victory for the Packers by scores of 27-17, 28-17 and 24-17."The Packers' defense will bottle up Dallas," another AFC personnel man said. "But the offensive line has to come to play and step up against that pass rush."