FRISCO, Texas – Rod Marinelli has faced Aaron Rodgers nearly every season since the Packers' star quarterback became an NFL starter nine years ago – the only exception being 2013 when Rodgers sat out a road game at AT&T Stadium with a fractured collarbone.
Marinelli used to game plan for Rodgers twice a year in the NFC North as the Lions' head coach (2008) and later as a Bears defensive assistant (2010-12). This Sunday marks the fifth time in the last four years his Cowboys defense matches up with Green Bay's prolific offense.
Marinelli has "off the charts" respect for Rodgers. He knows what Dallas must do to in order to slow Rodgers down: "Make him a pocket passer."
"Easier said than done," Marinelli said Thursday.
Now in his 10th season as a starter, the book on Rodgers is simple: He doesn't have any weaknesses. He pairs elite arm strength with elite accuracy, and he's far more difficult to defend when he's on the move buying time for receivers to get open.
Through four games, Rodgers is tied for seventh in the NFL with a 100.7 passer rating. He's completing 66.9 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. And he's the Packers' second-leading rusher, gaining 51 yards on 14 scrambles.
Dallas' best defensive course is to stay disciplined in pass rush lanes and "keep him in a well," Marinelli says – meaning, keep him from freelancing outside the pocket.
The Cowboys' defense did a nice job of containment in last October's 30-16 road win at Lambeau Field. The Packers got revenge in the divisional playoff at AT&T Stadium – and it was Rodgers' dramatic third-and-20 completion, rolling left, that led to Green Bay's deciding field goal.
"When he breaks outside the pocket, you might as well chalk it up as a completion," Marinelli said. "Get ready to play the next down."