It sounds silly. The Packers scored 34 points, yet the Cowboys found a way to “contain” Rodgers? The answer is yes. The Packers’ offense started off scorching hot, scoring 3 touchdowns on their first 3 possessions to take a commanding 21-3 lead, with 8:14 left in the second quarter. In the remaining 38 minutes and change, the Cowboys defense held Aaron Rodgers & co. to 13 points the rest of the game.
Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, employed a lot of 3 and 4 man rushes to start the game, allowing Rodgers to hold the ball and look for the open man. This defense is meant to be conservative, and wait for the quarterback to make a mistake.
The problem is, Aaron Rodgers, does not make many mistakes. When you play zone, and rush 4 against Rodgers, you need pass rushers who can win one-on-one battles. The Cowboys do not have those type of pass rushers, so Rodgers decimated the defense.
Rod Marinelli was fed up, so he started playing the Packer offense completely differently. He sent rushers from everywhere and had his corners play tight man coverage. It was risky, and there were times where the Rodgers was able to find the open man for a chunk play. But when Marinelli started calling aggressive plays on defense, the Packers only scored one touchdown on their remaining 7 possessions, including an interception by safety Jeff Heath.
The Dallas Cowboys had three sacks on the day, all by defensive backs. There were very clever disguises by the Dallas defense, as cornerback Orlando Scandrick often lined up in the slot, showing press coverage, and instead blitzed off the edge. Cornerback Anthony Brown and safety Jeff Heath both played very well in coverage, as the game progressed, which really helped make the scheme work.
The game plan was working. Rodgers was clearly flustered, and the offense was stagnant. The last touchdown they scored in the game was with 11:29 left in the third quarter. The Packer offense did not advance inside the Dallas 35-yard line until Jared Cook’s ridiculous sideline catch to set up Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
What went wrong for the Dallas defense that was playing so well? The play before the Jared Cook catch, Marinelli called a perfect play call. The defense shows all out pressure, but instead brings outside pressure, by sending Scandrick and Heath off each edge.
Heath went untouched, and it was truly mind-boggling how Aaron Rodgers held on to the ball. Rodgers was hit from behind, never saw Heath coming, and Heath laid right into him. Rodgers got up, and called timeout. No one should’ve thought the game was over.
Rod Marinelli went completely backwards. He used ‘prevent’ defense, a defense I have always hated. Why send only 3 people and allow the quarterback all the time in the world to throw the football? In a Hail Mary situation? I can understand. When Rodgers only needs about 20 yards to give kicker Mason Crosby a chance to win the game in regulation? Hell no.
Rodgers rolled left, and Cook was open down the sideline. He had about 7 seconds to throw the football, and that is way too long to ask for a defender to keep up with such a talented route-runner and pass catcher like Jared Cook. Rodgers placed it perfectly, Cook made the perfect catch, and the lesson was learned.
If you do not have pass rushers that can win one-on-one battles, you need to disguise blitzes, like Marinelli called. If you rush three or four, and drop men into coverage, it will never work. Rodgers will sit in the pocket, dance around, leave the pocket and eventually find a man. Send rushers, take risks, or sit back and get decimated by Rodgers.