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Film Room: How Can Cowboys Contain QB Aaron Rodgers?

Kevin Brady

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Aaron Rodgers, Packers

No current NFL quarterback has plagued the Dallas Cowboys like Aaron Rodgers. Starting in 2007 when Rodgers saw some of his first real NFL action at Texas Stadium in relief of an injured Brett Favre, he has done damage to the Cowboys defense just about every time.

Back in 2010, Rodgers ended the Wade Phillips era by demolishing a banged up Cowboys team 45-7. In 2014, he broke the hearts of Cowboys fans everywhere with key fourth quarter drives to put them away in the Divisional playoffs.

This year, the Cowboys are out for revenge. But in order to get said revenge, they must be able to stop the best, and hottest quarterback in the NFL right now.

What makes Rodgers so great, besides all of the obvious arm talent-traits, is his ability to buy time and extend plays. Time and time again a defense thinks they have contained him, gotten pressure on him, or covered all the receivers perfectly, only to see Rodgers escape the pocket and make a big play.

Even in defeat earlier this season, Rodgers still had success when moving both around and out of the pocket against the Cowboys.

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On this play, the Cowboys defensive line does a good job initially of closing the pocket from the inside, and getting pressure up the middle. Jack Crawford hits Packers right guard TJ Lang with a nice spin move, and splits the center and guard on his way to Rodgers.

On the outside, the Cowboys don't do a great job of beating the Packers tackles, who are very talented, but Tyrone Crawford does just enough to knock Rodgers off his initial landmark.

The problem is, by pressuring just one side of the quarterback, the Cowboys allow for Rodgers to create and escape to the other side. Once he gets around DeMarcus Lawrence, Rodgers is all by himself and presents both a running and passing threat.

By buying himself extra time, he allows for his receivers to work open and find holes in the Cowboys coverage. His escape-ability results in a big completion on this play.

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Last week in their Wild Card game against the New York Giants, the Packers started very slow offensively. Scoreless through most of the first half, it took a remarkable play by Rodgers to give Green Bay their first lead.

Here is that play. Once again we see Rodgers create time in the pocket, sliding behind his blockers without running into a sack. While his movement is impressive here, his ability to throw the receiver open is even more shocking.

There is absolutely no one open on this play. Not even after Rodgers creates extra time. But by delivering a dime to the wide-out where only he could come away with it, Rodgers gets the Packers on the board and takes back control of the game.

How Cowboys the can deal with Aaron Rodgers?

It's a fair question, and one that many in the national circuit seem to believe there isn't an answer to. But the Cowboys have dealt with Rodgers before, as recent as this very season. How did they do it? With great coverage, mostly.

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The Packers don't have much of a running game, and with the way the Cowboys play offense, you can expect to have a lead for much of the game. Given this, Dallas should be able to drop as many as seven or eight into coverage at times, and really focus on blanketing Green bay's receivers and leaving Rodgers with no options.

The problem which presents itself when you do this, though, is Rodgers' ability to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet. Third in the NFL in terms of quarterback rushing yards this season, Rodgers is a dual-threat player, even if he doesn't get mentioned with guys like Tyrod Taylor or even Dak Prescott often.

This is where keeping a spy on Rodgers is so important. Like you can see in the play above, the Cowboys drop seven into coverage, rush just three, and keep a linebacker as a spy. The Cowboys do a great job in coverage on the back end, but don't create much pressure up front. Recognizing that the quarterback is getting too much time, Justin Durant rushes the quarterback from depth, and comes up with a huge sack.

On obvious passing downs, this cover-1 spy look will be critical for the Cowboys if they are to be successful Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers presents a ton of problems for any defense, but with their personnel and scheme, I believe the Cowboys can make a few big stops and win this game on Sunday. Hopefully, I'll be right.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone

Kevin Brady

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.

This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.

In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.

For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.

Bob Sturm on Twitter

I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.

Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.

Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.



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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.

Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.

Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.

And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.

Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.

Indianapolis Colts

At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.

Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.

Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.

The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.

Trends

  • The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
  • The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
  • The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
  • Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.

Prediction

The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?

Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.

A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles

It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.

Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!

Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion

Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.

Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.

What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.

Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.

The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.

Dalton Schultz

Tight Ends Rise

The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.

A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.

Report: Jason Garrett "Not Going Anywhere" with Possible Extension Coming Soon

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause

Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.

The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.

Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity

Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.

In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.

This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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