Morning Cup of Joe: solving the Aaron Rodgers riddle

Frisco --On the morning of each Cowboys game, you'll get a chance to take a sip of Joe's gridiron insights with our 'Morning Cup of Joe.' He'll offer five storylines to follow in today's game and his thoughts on what to expect.

1.Solving the incredibly complex football riddle that is Aaron Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers feasts on the Cowboys. He's beaten them 5-of-the-last-6 times they've faced off.

And there's not a diehard Cowboys fan who can honestly say he or she isn't haunted by that laser Rodgers ripped off to set up the game-winning field goal in last year's divisional round playoff game.

Perhaps no one knows more than Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli just how tough the Cowboys assignment will be this afternoon. Marinelli, who used to coach against Rodgers in the NFC North when Marinelli was with the Bears, has lost 13-of-15 contests. Rodgers beats him 87% of the time.

Marinelli says he likes to changes things up when facing Rodgers, but finding the right combination couldn't be more difficult. One huge help for Marinelli's rushmen as the likes to call them, and you can look for Troy Aikman to use this term on the broadcast: "rush lane integrity." The goal is to keep Rodgers in the pocket as much as possible because when he breaks it, Marinelli says you might as well just chalk up the completion and get ready for the next play.

2.Tank must roll
NFL sack leader Demarcus "Tank" Lawrence will face a test of his poise in terms of trying to get the pressure on Rodgers that is so desperately needed. The Cowboys defensive end got a heaping help of the sort of attention he'll command now that he's on top of the league's sack list. When he wasn't double-teamed, a back or tight end gave him a chip to slow him down against the Rams.

It'll be a different test this week, though, because Lawrence will have to show control when he chases Rodgers. He can't just go all out and fly by the quarterback. Rodgers is a master at using that sort of lack of discipline to break the pocket and notch a big play.
Lawrence should have his chances against an ailing Packers offensive line that's yield 15 sacks so far this season. That's nearly four per game with a master at sliding out and finding escape routes. I think Lawrence nabs at least one, and bigger question will be if he can add a turnover with it.

3.Zeke's revival

We're still waiting on seeing the kind of dominant game that running back Zeke Elliott spoiled Cowboys fans with a year ago. There were more creased a week ago, and it looked as though Elliott got a lather going and was on the verge of showing the explosiveness that was his trademark a year ago.

In two games against the Packers Elliott rushed for 157 yards and then 125 yards in the playoffs. He averaged more than 5 1/2 per carry over those two games. With the Cowboys line continuing to gel, this figures to be a chance to see vintage Zeke. The Cowboys need it, so they can dictate tempo and play keep away from Rogers. The availability of Tyron Smith is key here.

4.Dak's response

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took full responsibility for a slew of missed plays a week ago. He said his accuracy was not where it needed to be. I still can't figure why he and Dez Bryant haven't seemingly been on the same page. The two worked so well in camp that it looked as though a breakout season was in the offing.

Here's one thing to watch: Prescott will finally play a defense that's not running the 3-4. It should be easier to get on the edge and make some easy throws to help him get into a rhythm. Don't be surprised if you see the Cowboys get Dak on the move early in this game to try and get him going.

Prescott puts in the work, and I think this is the week we see more of it paying off.

5.Hitchens' debut
Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens will make his 2017 debut, coming back from a tibial plateau fracture, and he must get up to speed in a hurry. Sean Lee didn't practice all week, and with the Cowboys having a bye next week, Lee figures to miss this game. Hitchens will pick up most of Lee's workload.

There were also some communication issues against the Rams, and Rodgers is a master of speeding up the clock on opposing defenses. He almost always catches teams with too many men on the field.

Hitchens will have to be at the top of his game both mentally and physically. That's a tough ask in his first game this year, but with Rodgers across the line of scrimmage, that's what it will take.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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