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Spagnola: Just Remember, Beware The Stare


FRISCO, Texas – Darn Aaron Rodgers.

He with those cold, unemotional eyes, staring you down, as if he has some sort of X-ray eyes, seeing right through whatever you are trying to do. He with that surgical right arm. Throwing darts at you, around you, over you, and with marksman accuracy.

Of all people having to show up 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium, along with his Green Bay Packers, just when the Cowboys, though early in this 2019 season, are playing somewhat of a pivotal game, since there would seem to be such a difference between winning and going to 4-1 or losing consecutive games and falling to 3-2.

Think not? Go ask the Rams, dude.

No matter what you might think of the equally 3-1 Green Bay Packers, an offense without their best wide receiver Davante Adams, suffering a bad turf toe injury last week, the guy who leads the Packers after four games with 25 catches for 378 yards while all the other wide receivers on the team have totaled 25 catches for 307 yards. And a defense ranked 26th against the run, having yielded an average of 174 yards rushing over the last three games, including 198 to Minnesota.

Also, somewhat of a new offensive system with Matt LaFleur as the new head coach.

But, despite all that, the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers.

Looks the same to me.

To his former wide receiver Randall Cobb, too, who spent the first eight seasons of his NFL career on the receiving end of those Rodgers strikes, though not wanting to poke the bear one bit, smiles and coyly says, "Looks the same to me. Has the same mustache."

Go ask the Eagles. Threw for 422 against them just last week.

Or go ask Kris Richard, the guy in charge of the Cowboys' pass defense and who calls the defensive signals on game day: "A top-3 quarterback all-time in the league."

Or Jason Garrett, the head coach in charge of all, and who knows something about quarterbacking in the NFL since he did so himself, and worked behind one of the NFL's all-time bests in Troy Aikman for nine seasons: "He can beat you so many different ways. He can beat you in the pocket throwing the ball on rhythm, three-step, five-step, seven-step. He can beat you in play-action. He can beat you with movement, beat you when the play breaks down. He's got a great feel for the game. Really, really smart guy, a really, really smart football player. He's instinctive. He can throw the ball anywhere on the field. He's an outstanding athlete. He can throw it from all these different positions. He's an unbelievable competitor. He's poised. He's composed. He plays well in critical moments.

"So I think all of us have been dealing with that for a long time."

A long, long time for Garrett. He was the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach in 2005-06 when Rodgers broke into the league out of Cal. Became the Cowboys' offensive coordinator in 2007, interim head coach the final eight games of 2010 and now the head coach of the Cowboys since 2011, this his ninth season. Meaning with the Cowboys he has been on the opposite sideline nine times, regular season and playoffs combined.

And when he was asked if the key to stopping Rodgers is to keep him in the pocket, Garrett's praise almost reached the point of comical he thinks so much of the guy: "Again, uh, he's really good in the pocket. He's really good out of the pocket. He's really good on time. He's really good when the play breaks down. (Faced a little laugh for his profuseness.)

"He is. Go back and look at his career. You guys know the stats better than I do, but I bet his rating is better than anybody who's ever played the game. His touchdown-to-interception ratio, better than anybody who's ever played in the game. All that stuff.

"He's a really good player."

Gotcha coach.

And you know what, Rodgers does have the highest career QB rating, a phenomenal 102.9, better than any other quarterback you might want to mention. For comparison, in just his fourth season, Dak Prescott is fifth at 97.4 And Tony Romo over his 14 seasons is sixth at 97.1.

Probably don't need to ask, but guess who also has the highest single-season QB rating? Right-O, Rodgers, 122.5 in 2011, edging Peyton Manning's 121.1 in 2004.

That's why Garrett and Richard do not hesitate in their praise of this maestro.

Anyone still playing with the Cowboys having faced Rodgers certainly would concur.

Look, in nine games against the Cowboys, eight of those starts – he came on in relief of a knocked-out Brett Favre in 2007 and did not play in the 2013 meeting – Rodgers is 6-2 in his eight starts. And in nine career games, his stat line reads: 216-of-319 (68 percent), 2,373 yards, 16 TDs, 2 INTs.

Know what that QB rating is?

Uh, 103.6.

So don't let the Packers' loss of Adams lull you to sleep, for as Richard will tell you, "He can throw anybody open."

Don't let all this talk that he's on the downside of his career, either. Just this past game he threw for 422 yards against the Eagles.

Don't let his athletic-advancing age fool you. Just two months from 36, and in his 15th season, he still can zing the ball around. He can still skate out of the pocket. And if the Eagles game is any indication, he isn't shy about pulling the ball down to still run, gaining 46 yards on just five carries.

Look, Mr. Rodgers still is mighty dangerous.

That means, if the Cowboys are to get to 4-1, this defense must play its best game of the season so far. Yep, better than holding the Dolphins to six points. Better than holding the Saints to 12. Now expecting the Cowboys' defense to keep an opponent out of the end zone a third consecutive week might be asking for a bit much since in Rodgers' eight starts against the Cowboys the Packers have averaged 30 points.

But, making sure Rodgers doesn't go off is a must. Keeping Rodgers from scrambling around out of the pocket and throwing those darts upon improvisation is a must. Getting pressure is good. Getting him on the ground is even better.

My everlasting vision of Rodgers is two-fold. First, from the 2014 season playoff game, the Packers' 26-21 victory over the Cowboys at Lambeau, yes, the "no-catch" game. Rodgers was playing basically on one leg, a badly pulled calf muscle supposedly slowing him down. Ha. He threw for 316 yards that day, and on third-and-11 at the 2:00-minute warning with the Cowboys trailing 26-21, the ball at the Cowboys 35 – still time for a stop, forcing the Packers to either punt or attempt like a 50-yard field goal – why he craftily hits Cobb for a 12-yard gain, first down and . . . ballgame.

And probably don't have to remind of those final seconds in the 2016 season playoff game, score tied at 31, third-and-20 at the Packers 32, 18 seconds left, Rodgers escapes outside the pocket, rolls left and as accurately as you can fires a 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook inches inside the sideline to the Cowboys' 33, still with three seconds remaining.

Just enough time for Mason Crosby to win the game with a game-ending 51-yard field goal.

Yep, can see those plays in my mind clear as day.

There are some things you just don't forget.

Telling you: Beware The Stare.