When the final second ticks off the clock in Sunday’s divisional playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, there are two possible outcomes. The home team could ride off into the sunset of another disappointing season or the Cowboys secondary could end the curse. The storied franchise has been stuck in 21 years of futility, scraping and clawing its way back to the NFC Championship game but forever falling short. The Cowboys back-line has been given little to no chance of controlling quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps.
Dallas Cowboys Secondary Could End the Curse
Based on the outcome of their game earlier this season, the Packers do present a challenge but it is not insurmountable. For the first time in a few months, the Cowboys will have their full complement of corner-backs and safeties available for this pivotal match-up. The Packers will likely be without outstanding wide-out Jordy Nelson which should make for a much more interesting contest than many anticipate. Here’s a breakdown of the Cowboys secondary, in the order of each players’ importance in determining Sunday’s outcome.
Cornerback Brandon Carr
Brandon Carr is the unsung hero of the Cowboys secondary. The veteran cornerback has become Mr. Reliable for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Marinelli’s hands have been tied throughout the season due to injuries to key personnel but Carr’s availability and willingness to take on the opponent’s top receiver has paid dividends. The Cowboys defense has given up some yards through the air but Carr’s ability to stick with his man has helped them shut down most of their opponents, once they reach the red zone.
Carr is a big, physical defender. He is willing to take a pass interference or defensive holding penalty, if it will keep his man out of the end zone. What he lacks in size and speed he makes up for with his craftiness and savvy. He has frustrated many receivers this season by limiting big plays and closing quickly to tackle them after they make the catch. At 6’0″, 210 pounds, Carr matches up well with Packers receivers.
Safety Byron Jones
Second-year safety Byron Jones has become one of the most important figures in the Cowboys defensive backfield. Once considered a bit of an albatross, the player’s versatility has turned into a blessing. Jones has tremendous range, allowing him to make up ground and close off passing lanes. The Cowboys defensive staff is able to use Jones to disguise coverage pre-snap. His ability to turn and run into space has caused opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball for an extra count, allowing the team’s pass rush to get home.
At 6’0″, 199 pounds, Jones has been asked to single-up tight ends and wide receivers in coverage. He excels in man to man but is capable in a zone coverage as well. Look for him to be matched up against the Packers bigger receivers in this game. Jones will be depended on as an additional spy to contain Rodgers, when he attempts to leave the pocket. Coach Marinelli will find a way to make things tough on the quarterback and he will use his maturing safety’s skill set to do it.
Cornerback Anthony Brown
Rookie cornerback Anthony Brown was thrust into the starting line-up due to injuries early in the season. His speed and courage have allowed him to take full advantage of his opportunity. The player has showcased his talents against some of the league’s best. Brown matches up beautifully with the Packers Randall Cobb. The players are virtually the same size with Cobb giving up just an inch in height. The rookie has been burned a time or two but he has also been responsible for making opposing receivers look invisible at times.
Brown has tallied 55 tackles this season. He usually brings receivers down as soon as they make a reception and he is not afraid to put his body on ball carriers in the running game. The player’s rapid growth is one of the reasons the Cowboys rank fifth against the run. He has broken up eight passes, forced a fumble and recorded his first career interception against two-time Super Bowl Champion Eli Manning on the road. What Brown lacks in experience, he makes up for with his speed and competitive drive. He should be a big factor in slowing down the Packers offensive attack.
Corner-back Orlando Scandrick
Often injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick has had a tough couple years. He missed all of last season and the first four games of this season with injuries but the player remains steady. Scandrick was supplanted by Brown as the starter but he has embraced his role as the team’s nickel back. The nine-year veteran has developed into a confident cover guy. His long arms and quick feet allow him to control most inside receivers. Coach Marinelli has asked Scandrick to blitz from the slot, often.
Scandrick has recorded two sacks and has disrupted the passing lane on several occasions. He has great recovery speed. His skill set appears to be rounding into form at just the right time, too. It has taken him a while to get his groove back but the team has remained patient with him and he has worked tirelessly to prove his worth. Look for Scandrick to make a few splash plays in Sunday’s game. We may see him get to Rodgers at least once but we will surely see him causing havoc throughout the day.
Safety Barry Church
Seven-year pro Barry Church has made a living slamming his body into offensive players. His 6’2”, 218 pound frame has been asked to be used as a battering ram throughout his career and the player has not flinched. Church is a quietly gifted athlete with great spirit and infectious effort. His knowledge of Marinelli’s cover two defensive scheme has enabled him to keep the group organized throughout the course of games. He has never been one to shy away from contact as evidenced by his inactivity over four games this year due to a fractured forearm.
Church may not be an All-Pro but he is a calming factor on the Cowboys back line. He leads the team in interceptions with two. It is no surprise that the team’s takeaway total increased, when he returned to the line-up a few weeks ago. He has deceptive speed and excels at Robber coverage, which allowed him to trick Rodgers into a rare interception in the teams’ match-up in week six. The safety should be able to produce dividends in some form or fashion on Sunday. Look for him to start out by helping to stop the Packers running game, early.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne
Cornerback Morris Claiborne has been tormented by injury throughout his five-year career. The player had begun to string together consistent performances before suffering another setback this season. Claiborne has all the tools to become a shutdown corner in the NFL but his health has been the big question mark. Despite missing the last nine weeks of the season, he will be available for this game. This bodes well for the Cowboys who will have their hands full with the Packers receivers. Claiborne’s presence and his ability to play tight man to man coverage should lift the secondary to new heights.
The veteran appeared to be on his way to a Pro Bowl season through the first seven weeks. Claiborne recorded 26 tackles, five pass deflections, an interception and a fumble recovery before being sidelined. His speed and agility are his biggest attributes. The cornerback has finally figured out his style. He is eager to get back on the field and show Cowboys fans that he still has an upside. Expect him to be singled-up against Packers receivers Geronimo Allison or Davante Adams throughout the contest.
Safety J.J. Wilcox
Backup Safety J.J. Wilcox was almost a training camp casualty but the converted running back survived the final cuts. Given a shot at redemption, the player has developed into a ferocious striker for the Cowboys secondary. The 6’0”, 212 pound Wilcox has the ideal size to play strong safety in the NFL and good speed to go along with it. He has been playing this year as if it could be his last. His contributions have not gone unnoticed by the opposition.
Wilcox has laid some heavy licks on running backs and receivers, sending Cowboys fans into a frenzy with every glancing blow. He has also garnered the attention of opposing offensive linemen as evidenced by some of the questionable hits he has taken seemingly, in retaliation for his nastiness. Nevertheless, Wilcox will not wilt. He has been known to make the blooper reel with untimely, interception drops but he makes the highlight reel by being the back-line’s biggest hitter.
Needless to say, the Cowboys linebackers and defensive line will have to contribute in order for the curse to be lifted. However, it all starts and ends with the play of the team’s defensive backfield. Undoubtedly, the Packers best chance to win tomorrow’s game depends on the arm of Rodgers. The quarterback has been red hot over the past eight weeks. He sliced and diced the New York Giants secondary in the wildcard round. The Cowboys know his sights are set on redemption as he leads his team into AT&T Stadium.