Canadian Tyrone Crawford rejoins the Dallas Cowboys just in time to face the buzzsaw that is Aaron Rodgers.
Dallas hosts Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoff game Sunday. The Packers advanced with a convincing 38-13 wild-card win over the New York Giants last weekend.
Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four TDs, including a last-second, 42-yard Hail Mary to Randall Cobb that gave Green Bay a 14-6 half-time lead. The Packers come to Texas riding a seven-game win streak and Rodgers has 22 TD strikes and no interceptions over his last eight starts.
The six-foot-four, 285-pound Crawford, a native of Windsor, Ont., returns after missing Dallas’s final two regular-season games with shoulder and hamstring issues. Crawford resumed practising last week and has a healthy respect for the Packers’ mobile quarterback.
“The guy is an animal in there,” Crawford told reporters Wednesday in Frisco, Texas. “But I feel like if we can keep him in the pocket, we’ll be able to get him down.
“Our coverage will hold up long enough where we can get him down.”
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (back), cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) and All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith are also expected to return Sunday but Dallas owner/GM Jerry Jones feels Crawford’s presence Sunday is crucial.
“(Crawford’s) work there at left defensive end will be completely a must that we get a good performance out of him,” he told a Dallas radio station Tuesday.
Crawford doesn’t anticipate the Cowboys deviating much Sunday from a defensive gameplan that helped them post a 13-3 record and clinch the NFC’s top playoff seed.
“Coach Marinelli (defensive co-ordinator Rod Marinelli) hits on turnovers, sacks, fumbles, all that stuff every day,” Crawford said. “We work on it a lot.
“Hopefully we can continue to give our offence those opportunities.”
Dallas won 11 straight games this season, including a 30-16 decision in Green Bay on Oct. 16. Rodgers was 31-of-42 passing for 294 yards with a TD but also had an interception and two fumbles (losing one).
Rodgers isn’t expected to have his favourite receiver Sunday. Jordy Nelson (97 catches, 1,257 yards, league-best 14 TDs) suffered two fractured ribs against New York but Cobb (five catches, 116 yards, three TDs) and Davante Adams (eight catches, 125 yards, one TD) both stepped up in his absence.
Dallas boasts the league’s stingiest run defence (83.5 yards per game, 3.9 yards per carry). Green Bay was 20th overall in rushing (106.3 yards) but counters with the NFL’s seventh-ranked passing attack (262.4 yards).
Rodgers was fourth overall in passing (4,428 yards) and tops in TD strikes (40) with just seven interceptions. Dallas was 26th against the pass (260.4 yards) and tied for 27th in picks (nine) but 13th in sacks (36).
So defensive pressure and a Dallas ground attack that was second overall (149.8 yards per game) and anchored by rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-high 1,631 yards) could combine to help keep Green Bay’s offence off the field Sunday.
Crawford, 27, had 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 14 starts this season. A 2012 third-round pick from Boise State, Crawford has 116 tackles, 12.5 sacks in 45 career starts at both end and tackle.
“I guess I’m what they call a versatile guy,” Crawford said. “I’m willing to go to any position on the defensive line and try to put work in.
“That (versatility) is demanded of a lot of our guys by coach Marinelli. As long as we’ve got guys like that, guys who can play different positions we should be OK.”
Heralded rookies Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott have grabbed most of the headlines with Dallas this season. However Crawford, who signed a five-year contract extension in 2015, feels Dallas’s defence has quietly been effective.
“I feel like our defence is hitting on all (cylinders) right now,” he said. “Our coverage is amazing, our linebackers are playing great and I think our D-line play has been doing much better than it was at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve just to keep that rolling, have our young guys continue to step up and make big plays and have even our vets do what we do.”
Dallas chases its sixth Super Bowl title but first since ’95. In 2014, the Cowboys finished 12-4 but Green Bay ended their season 26-21 in the NFC divisional playoff game.
“Football means nothing, really, if you don’t win,” Crawford said. “That’s our main goal and what we plan to do going forward.
“Everyone expects big things from the Cowboys . . . it’s kind of how we live. It’s almost like we don’t even think about it (high expectations).”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press