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Cowboys vs. Lions: How Do You Defend Calvin Johnson?

While all the focus is on the defense because of Ndamukong Suh, there are some interesting dynamics going on with the Lions offense. Let's look at some of the not so obvious ones.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

When the pundits look at the upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, if they talk about the Lions offense and the Cowboys defense, the first thing discussed will be the match up between Calvin Johnson and the Cowboys defensive backs. But one of the interesting points that has already been discussed over at the mothership will be the fact that if anyone knows how to defend the Lions it will be the Cowboys' offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

When John Gruden went from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he had been  a huge influence on Rich Gannon, the quarterback of the Raiders. Gruden knew how Gannon would "look-off" the safety and then come to the receiver on the other side. Gannon did it in a such a predictable way that Gruden was able to relay to his new team to the point that Gannon was picked off a couple of times in the Super Bowl because of it. And that is just one reason that I think that Linehan will have more of an impact on this game than many may think.

When looking at that matchup of the Cowboys' defense against Calvin Johnson, we can ask ourselves if the defense should play a regular Cover 2 and hope to keep everything in front of them and eliminate the big play, or do they look to be aggressive and at the same time double cover Johnson? If I was going to give the Cowboys' coaching staff a suggestion for something to think about, it would be a strategy that I have loved since I first saw it used. Put the Cowboys best corner, Orlando Scandrick, on the Lions second-best receiver, Golden Tate, and then double-cover Johnson and dare them to try to beat the defense with someone other than Johnson.

Ever since Jim Caldwell took over as the head coach of the Lions, he has emphasized the importance of the turnover ratio. Caldwell has hammered home the importance of low turnovers and especially from the quarterback position. This probably means the Lions will be very conservative and throw a lot of underneath routes and try to win with defense.

Over at the Michigan Live website, a fan asked this question:

"Q: Will Joe Lombardi loosen up his reins on Matthew Stafford and let him be himself? -- Steve Brown

A: If you're asking whether the Lions will suddenly revert to their old, wide-open offense, the answer is no. Detroit has the league's second-ranked defense, and knows its best chance of advancing is to allow those guys to do their thing. And if you're going to try to win with defense, then the offense must protect the football.

That has been the priority since the first day Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi walked in the door, and it's not going to suddenly change. And definitely not when the Lions are playing their most important game of the season.

They're going to dance with the girl that brought 'em here. And that's low-risk offense. Caldwell shared an interesting slide during a team meeting this week that showed the touchdown-to-interception ratios in the playoffs of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. And it's remarkable.

Russell Wilson accounted for four touchdowns during the playoffs last year, while throwing just one pick. The year before that, Joe Flacco accounted for 11 TDs and no picks. Eli Manning had 9-to-1 and 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratios during his playoff runs that resulted in titles. Aaron Rodgers 11-2. Drew Brees 8-0. Ben Roethlisberger 3-1.

In fact, no quarterback has thrown more than two interceptions in a postseason and still won a Super Bowl since the 2006 season, when Peyton Manning accounted for four touchdowns and seven picks en route to winning Super Bowl XLI. Nothing correlates more closely to playoff success than turnovers, and that includes yardage. That's why Caldwell deployed a more conservative offense this year. And it's worked.

You can say a lot of bad things about Matthew Stafford's game this year, but he did throw a career-best 12 interceptions. That, paired with a second-ranked defense, is what got Detroit this far. And they're not going to start throwing 50-yard bombs to a triple-covered Calvin Johnson just for nostalgia's sake."

With the above in mind, the Cowboys' defense may try to play conservative and not get after the quarterback, but if and when they do, I would sure like to see them double-cover Johnson since the Cowboys want to insure that he does not even come close to repeat that monster game of 329 yards against them again. Caldwell does not want to take chances so the double-coverage strategy may be all it takes for Caldwell to instruct Matthew Stafford to go away from double-coverage and I like the chances of Scandrick on Tate.

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