Whether it's Rodgers, Manning or Stafford, Cowboys will face elite QB
8:00 AM CT
ESPN Staff Writer
FRISCO, Texas -- No matter which team advances this weekend to play the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game, the Dallas Cowboys will face one of the league's better quarterbacks.
The Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Giants' Eli Manning and the Lions' Matthew Stafford each pose different problems for the Cowboys.
The good news? They've had success against each of those quarterbacks this season, and their secondary is as healthy as it has been all year.
Morris Claiborne, who missed the last eight games with a groin injury, is expected to return in the Cowboys’ first-round playoff game.
He would join starters Brandon Carr, Anthony Brown and slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick, giving Dallas an ability to easily match up with Green Bay, New York or Detroit when they use formations with three or four receivers.
Safety J.J. Wilcox (quadriceps) returned to the lineup two weeks ago, giving the Cowboys’ a physical presence they haven’t had since Roy Williams was a Pro Bowl player years ago.
Add him to Byron Jones and Barry Church and the Cowboys are equipped to play well against any of these one-dimensional teams.
“We’re going to focus on us this week, practicing as well as we can, we’ll figure out this weekend and we’ll focus on that opponent when we come in next week,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “This week is really about focusing on us.”
The Cowboys beat Rodgers in Green Bay earlier this season, but that's when he was struggling. He wasn't playing with the confidence that's been buoyed by a six-game winning streak to end the season.
In a 30-16 loss to Dallas in October, Rodgers completed 31 of 42 passes for 294 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Now, Rodgers is playing his best football. His swagger has returned, and he has 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions during the winning streak.
Rodgers is again creating time in the pocket by running -- he's the best in the league at throwing on the run to his right -- and he would create problems for a suspect Cowboys pass rush.
The Cowboys finished with 36 sacks, their most since 2011, but they didn't have a player with double-digit sacks for the third consecutive season. Benson Mayowa led the team with six sacks, four in December.
"He stopped going sideways and started attacking on his rush," Marinelli said about Mayowa. " He's been really good the last few weeks. He’s been an impact player for us.
Rodgers and Manning have playoff pedigree, something Stafford lacks, as he is 0-2 in the playoffs.
Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and has taken his team to the playoffs nine times. Manning has two Super Bowl rings, but he's been 0-3 in the Giants' other three playoff appearances.
This is the Giants' first playoff appearance since they won the Super Bowl in 2011. In the Giants’ two Super Bowl runs, Manning was spectacular, throwing 15 touchdown passes a two and only two interceptions.
In his other three playoff appearances, he has two touchdown passes and six interceptions.
At 36, Manning is nearing the end of a career that will probably wind up with him in the Hall of Fame. He did little damage against the Cowboys in two games this season, though New York won both. It was more about the Giants' defense containing the Cowboys’ offense than anything Manning did.
Manning threw for 400 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, but he's always capable of putting together a signature moment in the playoffs.
The Giants’ defense is so good, allowing 17.8 points per game and forcing 24 turnovers, that Manning shouldn’t feel like he has to make a bunch of big plays to win. He just needs to make the right play at winning time. He has 26 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions this season.
Then there’s Stafford, who guided the Lions to eight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. You don’t want the ball in his hands with two minutes left and a chance to win because of his supreme confidence and playmaking ability.
Against the Cowboys two weeks ago, Stafford was great in the first half and average in the second half as the Cowboys turned a 21-21 tie into a 42-21 win. He finished 26-of-46 for 260 yards and an interception.
The key to stopping all of these quarterbacks is taking away their running game and forcing them to pass. The Cowboys led the NFL in run defense, allowing 83.1 yards per game. They also faced only 340 running plays, the fewest in the league.
“If we get a get a lead on somebody -- you as a defense --can either make them one-dimensional or your offense can help you make them one-dimensional,” said Marinelli, “then we gotta go out and put it out.”