IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys must be one of the most knowledgeable teams in the league on opposing backup quarterbacks.
For the third straight week, the Cowboys' defense needs to prepare early in the week for the opponent's typical starting quarterback and his backup without assurance it'll be one or the other.
Only this time, the difference between the possible quarterbacks they'll face is 174 career touchdowns and more than 20,000 passing yards. Backup Matt Flynn will again be the starter for Green Bay if Aaron Rodgers isn't able to return from a broken collarbone that he sustained in Week 9.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reiterated Wednesday what he said earlier in the week, that the team's preparing as if Flynn will be their quarterback while seeing how Rodgers feels throughout the week.
"You want to line up and pour everything into one quarterback getting ready," McCarthy said. "Over the last five or six weeks, it's been good to have one guy take the starter reps all week and then play in the game fully. That's what we were able to accomplish last week with Matt and we're trying to do the same thing this week."
That said, Rodgers did practice on a limited basis Wednesday and McCarthy said the Packers will give him the opportunity to progress in practice so long as he feels capable of doing so. A win last week – the Packers first since Rodgers went down five games prior – put Green Bay right back in position to win the NFC North.
If Rodgers is healthy enough to play, he'll be their quarterback. But Tony Romo knows just how difficult that would be coming off that injury. Romo broke his collarbone in Week 7 of the 2010 season and missed the rest of the year.
He said in his conference call this week with the Packers' media that "he had a pretty good size break," so it took him 10 weeks after the injury before he felt capable of performing his position. The Cowboys decided to shut him down fully anyway, considering they were out of playoff contention and finished with a 6-10 record that season.
"It's very difficult," Romo said. "Obviously, the discomfort, if you're feeling it all, you can't come back and play. But even more so than that, even when you get relatively where you feel like it's pain free, it still doesn't mean you're ready to play, because it's such an easy thing to hurt again. It's a little different in the sense that if you come back right when you feel like you're healthy, there's just so many cases of people going down with another collarbone injury."
Doctors gave Romo the same six to eight week expected timeframe of recovery with his injury, and he said while he probably could have gone out and played, there would still be discomfort there in that short of time. [embedded_ad]
"I was doing everything I could to get back out there," Romo said. "I know Aaron's doing the same thing, but you also have to be smart about it."
The Cowboys would certainly hope the Packers play it smart, as they'd get to avoid one of the league's top quarterbacks. But Romo still sees potential in Flynn, who's been the Packers leading passer the last three weeks and started the last two.
"He's got good poise," Romo said. "You can tell he's learned a little bit through osmosis with watching Aaron and following some of his mannerisms as far as his drop and the way he goes through the progressions and his footwork in some ways looks similar. He's done a real good job for them."
Flynn passed for fewer than 220 yards in Weeks 12 and 13 but had a season-high 258 yards passing against the Falcons last week.
The Cowboys needed to prepare for either Matt McGloin or Terrelle Pryor at quarterback for the Raiders and either Josh McCown or Jay Cutler at quarterback for the Bears. McGloin started for Oakland and McCown started for Chicago, as Cutler wasn't ready to return from injury.
Despite being the team's backup, McCown threw for 348 yards last week against the Cowboys, who hold the last-ranked total defense and passing defense in the league. Defensive end George Selvie said it's a different offense with Rodgers on the field, but the Dallas defenders know they have to be ready for either Flynn or Rodgers and can't slack even if it is the backup.
The Cowboys have just one interception and four sacks in their last four games.
"We've got to get some sacks," Selvie said. "We've been lacking that for the last few weeks. We've just got to get back to doing what we do."