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On Defense, Rolando McClain Holds The Key To Success For The Cowboys

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While both teams are playing in the cold, both teams realize that the keys to winning start with the running game. For the Dallas Cowboys' defense, that key to winning means Rolando McClain has to play big and he certainly can do that very well.

Rolando McLain, Defensive Key For Cowboys
Rolando McLain, Defensive Key For Cowboys
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

While all the attention of Packer fans are on Aaron Rodgers and his famous calf, the key to stopping the Packers actually lies with stopping their run game and Eddie Lacy. Lacy is a huge back and is listed at 5-11 and 230 lbs, but if he is only 230 lbs, then my eyes need calibrating.

With the cold weather being a big factor, who wants to tackle the way you are supposed to tackle when Lacy is coming at you like a huge block of ice with a full head of steam? Will the defenders just try to put a body block on him to bring him down instead of wrapping him up? I think all of our linebackers are up to it, but are the defensive backs up to it?

Both Tony Romo and Rodgers are going to rely on their respective running game to control the clock and keep the other quarterback off the field. For Rodgers it is even more important than it is for Romo because both quarterbacks use their legs, (and calves), to extend the play and make plays outside the pocket.

Rodgers needs to do that more than Romo and Rodgers is not Rodgers when he just sits in the pocket. The Green Bay Packers version of the so-called West-Coast offense is geared to be exceptional in Yards after the Catch. This means the game plan may turn out to be to get the ball out quick on the short 5-yard plays to get the YAC and rely on the running game. For a good breakdown of what the Packers Offense tries to do and how the Lions defense attacked them in the game the Lions won 19-7, see this article over at - MMQB.

"Most surprising, the Lions dominated through coverage rather than their esteemed four-man pass rush. Detroit’s secondary simply lined up and defeated Green Bay’s wide receivers in man coverage. They did it primarily through a coverage known as 2-man."

One point to note is the Lions used Ziggy Ansah to play a "wide-9", (Anthony Spencer has been lining up wide lately too), to get Rodgers off his spot. Also the Cowboys may use the "Green-Dog" blitzer to their advantage as well. (For an explanation of  "Green-Dog", see my article here.)

Spencer out wide. (May not be Wide-9 on this play, but he is certainly wide.)

Wide

In the screen shot above, Spencer was able to turn the corner, get the sack, and force the fumble that Lawrence picked up.

Once again, while most routes fall into three depth levels: 5-yards, 15-yards, and 20+ yards, the five yard routes are the ones that quarterbacks use to get the ball out of their hands quickly to avoid pressure, because the 15-yard passes and 20+ passes take more time to develop. Because of this, the Cowboys should use a lot of press man coverage so Rodgers has to hold the ball longer.

When it comes to YAC, Randell Cobb was 7th in the NFL with 556 yards of YAC and Jordy Nelson was 10th with 481 YAC. However, it may surprise some that for the Dallas Cowboys that leading YAC player in the 12th spot is none other than DeMarco Murray with 474 YAC. This is only seven yards less than Jordy Nelson! Just amazing when you think about it, right?

Tony Romo had the best yards per pass attempt in the NFL in the regular season at 8.52 yards per attempt and in the playoffs so far this year at 9.45 yards per attempt. Aaron Rodgers was second in the regular season at 8.43 yards per attempt. Keep in mind that Rodgers does it by concentrating mainly on just the short and deep throws. He goes deep when he sees a blown coverage or when Nelson is in single coverage and he can hold on to the ball long enough.

Both players have been sacked about the same number of times, with Romo being sacked 29 times and Rodgers 28 times. Keep in mind both players use their legs to extend the plays and avoid sacks, but also both players are sacked because of trying to extend the plays, so that may just even out in the long run.

Now, with all that said, I would like to stress that for the Cowboys to win they must do what everyone always says but that bears repeating . . . "Run the ball, and stop the run" and to me that means the keys to the Cowboys winning will be running the ball, (See the article by our own FPW JSM8ith), and stopping the Packers' running game with Eddie Lacy which will mainly fall on the shoulders of Rolando McClain.

So, I feel really good with the abilities of Rolando McClain being the guy that is best suited to stop the difficult to tackle Lacy and we all need to hope that he is up to his usual dominating self.