Phillips: 3 Possible Playoff Opponents Can Challenge Cowboys This Same Way

FRISCO, Texas – Door Number One, Two or Three.

Packers, Giants, Lions.

Who will it be?

The Cowboys won't know their divisional-round opponent until at least Saturday night after No. 6 Detroit plays No. 3 Seattle, or possibly not until Sunday night after No. 4 Green Bay plays No. 5 New York.

They'll focus mostly on themselves this week, getting in two short practices Thursday and Friday while keeping an eye on all three teams who comprised a fourth of their regular-season schedule: the Giants twice (both losses) and the Lions and Packers once each (both wins).

No matter which team enters AT&T Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 15, the Cowboys' defense will have to continue something of a trend they established in four combined meetings against those teams:

Limiting big plays.

That's no small order against quarterbacks the caliber of Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford. Or against receivers the caliber of Jordy Nelson, Odell Beckham Jr., Golden Tate and others.

The Cowboys' run defense has been their best asset. They're the only defense in the league that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher all season long, and they gave up only 34 runs of 10 yards or more compared to 72 by their offense (48 by Elliott).

An area they've improved is reducing deep plays in the passing game: 45 plays of 20-plus yards allowed this year – seventh fewest in the league – compared to 55 in 2015.

Chunk plays usually lead to scores. Limit those and you keep the score down. It's partly how the Cowboys finished the regular season ranked fifth in scoring defense, allowing only 19.1 points per game.

Rodgers and the Packers are the most prolific passing team of the three. According to STATS, Green Bay is tied for sixth with 57 pass plays of 20-plus yards. They only connected on two against the Cowboys in Week 6 – a 22-yarder to Davante Adams and a 25-yarder to Nelson.

The Lions are tied for 12th with 52 pass plays of 20-plus yards this season, but they only produced one against the Cowboys on Dec. 26: a 21-yarder to Eric Ebron.

The Giants' offense was under scrutiny all year long – their 19.4 scoring average was their second lowest since Manning's rookie season – but the Cowboys know too well what they're capable of on any given drive. New York is tied for 19th with 46 pass plays of 20-plus yards, but nine of them went for touchdowns – including Beckham Jr.'s deciding 61-yard score in a 10-7 win over Dallas on Dec. 11.

The Cowboys only allowed four deep pass plays in the two-game season series against the Giants: Beckham for 61 and 45 yards; Victor Cruz for 23; Sterling Shepard for 20. But all four were part of touchdown drives.

In fact, of the eight deep pass plays the Cowboys allowed against the Packers, Giants and Lions, seven resulted in or led to touchdowns.

The Cowboys' defense has been underrated all season. They aren't near the top of the league in sacks or takeaways, but more often than not they've been able to keep teams out of the end zone.

"I think they've done a lot of really good things all year long," head coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "I think we're playing defense the right way. We play up to our standards of discipline and hustle and hitting and all of those things we try to preach each and every day."

All will be as important as ever Jan. 15, no matter which opponent they face in the divisional round.

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