McCarthy says Rodgers improving, Pack starts prep for Dallas
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Stoic defensive lineman Mike Daniels has trained his focus squarely on Dallas.
The bye week is over for the Green Bay Packers. It's time to get ready for a marquee matchup in the next round of the playoffs against the Cowboys.
''It was fun to sit back and actually watch some games knowing that I'm still playing,'' Daniels said Monday at Lambeau Field. ''All that is over with. None of that matters at this point.''
Coach Mike McCarthy had his team back on a normal game- week schedule after a three-day break last week to celebrate the new year. It was a time for rest especially for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is recovering from a lingering left calf injury.
McCarthy said Rodgers was progressing. The franchise quarterback sat out two light practices last week, and McCarthy indicated then that Rodgers may not return to the practice field until Thursday at the earliest, which might be the team's most important day for on-field work.
On Monday, McCarthy said Rodgers would be re-evaluated Wednesday to determine the plan for the rest of the week.
It doesn't appear the Packers are too worried about him. After getting carted to the locker room in the second quarter, a limping Rodgers returned to the field in the third quarter to lead Green Bay to a 30-20 victory over Detroit to win the NFC North.
The way he's been playing this season, Rodgers at less than 100 percent is still better than most quarterbacks in the league. While mobility could be an issue, Rodgers is a stickler for preparation on and off the field.
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements noted that Rodgers didn't practice for about a month in 2008 because of a shoulder injury but still performed well.
''I don't know if we're going to have to worry about that,'' backup quarterback Matt Flynn said when asked if he would be ready if Rodgers can't go. ''But, yeah, I'm a confident guy. I'm going to prepare this week just like I always do.''
Flynn can draw from the confidence of leading the Packers from a 23-point halftime deficit to a 37-36 win last year at Dallas while playing for Rodgers, who had a collarbone injury. DeMarco Murray dented the Packers for 134 yards on 18 carries in that game.
This year, Murray is even better, leading the NFL with 1,845 yards running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league.
Sunday could turn into a shootout, even if Rodgers isn't at full speed. Handing off to Murray could help Dallas keep the ball out of Rodgers' hands.
''The Dallas Cowboys' run game is excellent. Murray is a big-time back. He's definitely a difference maker,'' McCarthy said.
But the Packers appear to have found some difference makers themselves against the run. The defense is allowing 3.60 yards a carry in the second half of the season, down from 4.78 in the first half.
Pass rusher Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington have seen more snaps at inside linebacker to close holes and add athleticism. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion has played better as the season wore on, while Morgan Burnett is having one of his best seasons at safety in rush support. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is also playing well.
Coordinator Dom Capers called the Cowboys' offense the best test the Packers have had this year. Daniels welcomes the challenge.
''Make sure we prepare the right way this week, make sure we come out and, it sounds really rhetorical, but just get after it,'' Daniels said. ''It's just plain and simple.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL