GREEN BAY – Coming off two of their best defensive performances, the Packers now face arguably their stiffest test of the season Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Wild-card opposition comes in the form of Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and a high-octane Dallas offense that was the only unit to score more than 500 points in 2023.
Following the lead of Prescott and Lamb, the Cowboys finished in the top five in total yards (371.6 yards per game), passing yards (258.6 ypg), third-down efficiency (48.3%) and average time of possession (31:48).
"They're just extremely explosive," Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Dak's playing at a really high level. They've got a really good offensive line. Obviously CeeDee's a problem. But they've got a lot of guys on that offense that just, they've been able to make a bunch of explosive plays. They're scoring at a high rate."
Green Bay will look counter that production with a defense that finished the regular season on a high note. In back-to-back NFC North wins over Minnesota and Chicago, the Packers fashioned as many quarterback hits (19) as points they allowed.
To do it, Green Bay used a combination of stout run defense (142 yards allowed on 41 carries), pressure (nine sacks) and 10 passes defensed to lock down the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot.
The Cowboys are the ultimate heat check, though, after Prescott led the league with 36 touchdown passes and Lamb established franchise single-season records in both receptions (135) and receiving yards (1,749).
The weapons don't end there. Former Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson has 71 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns, while veterans Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup have combined for 1,075 yards and 10 TDs. Running back Tony Pollard just banked a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and was Dallas' third-leading receiver with 55 catches.
"What makes Dallas different is that CeeDee has so many targets and so many receptions," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "And then you add in Pollard into the mix; he's very good out of the backfield catching the ball. … Dallas, they have some elite targets out there, there's no doubt about it."
As Green Bay prepares for the trip to Texas, the team is monitoring the status of sixth-year cornerback Jaire Alexander, who missed Thursday's practice with an ankle injury he sustained during a jog-through on Wednesday.
Alexander missed 11 games this season but played all 48 defensive snaps in Sunday's 17-9 win over the Bears. He was vital to Green Bay limiting Chicago to just 117 total passing yards and the containment of Pro Bowl receiver DJ Moore.
After Thursday's practice, LaFleur confirmed Alexander rolled his ankle after stepping on a teammate's foot in what the Packers' head coach called "a freak deal."
"He was locked in, focused, doing everything we ask him to do and unfortunately just stepped on somebody's foot and it happened," LaFleur said. "I know he's doing everything he can to be available. I'd say it's day to day and we thought it was best obviously (Thursday) to have him not practice."
Alexander's presence would be welcomed against Lamb, whose production has spiked every year since Dallas drafted him 17th overall in 2020. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver caught 11 passes on 15 targets for 150 yards and two TDs in his only meeting with the Packers in November 2022, but it came in a 31-28 overtime loss at Lambeau Field.
A big reason the Packers outlasted the Cowboys was due in part to the defense forcing two Prescott interceptions. The eighth-year quarterback has been held under an 80 passer rating only eight times since that loss and Dallas is 2-6 in those contests.
Whether it's pressuring Prescott or taking the football away, Green Bay knows the key to containing Dallas' offense begins with its Pro Bowl quarterback. Certainly, having Alexander available would go a long way in helping the defense achieve that mission.
"Of course, any week, you want a Jaire Alexander playing for you, in your lineup," Barry said. "Especially this week when you're playing against a guy like No. 4 (Prescott) and '88' (Lamb), Brandin Cooks and the whole crew. I'm hoping tomorrow (Alexander) comes in and feels better and can have a fast Friday for us."
Addressing the media Thursday, Valentine recognized that Dallas is "special," before saying, "I feel like we have a special group, too." When it comes to defending the Cowboys' potent offensive attack, Valentine keeps it simple.
"Being ourselves, communicating, not doing too much, (and) playing with each other," Valentine said. "Just be who you are."