Shaun O’Hara hasn’t played in the NFL since 2010, but the three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XLII champion lives for this time of year.
“I’m great. It’s playoffs. I woke up in a three-point stance,” the NFL Network analyst joked on Gio and Jones. “It’s win or go home.”
Indeed, and while we’ve got four great games on tap for this weekend, Sunday’s showdown between Dallas at Green Bay might be the most compelling. The Cowboys haven’t lost on the road this year, while the Packers haven’t lost at home.
Something’s got to give.
While many people are focusing on the Tony Romo versus Aaron Rodgers storyline, Dallas’ success hinges on the play of the big boys upfront, the offensive linemen.
“The best O-Line in the playoffs? It has to be Dallas,” O’Hara said. “I think they have the best left tackle in the game right now in Tyron Smith. I mentioned Zack Martin. I haven’t seen a rookie come into the NFL and play as well he has played this year since I’ve been watching football. He’s been physical. I thought he absolutely manhandled Ndamukong Suh this past weekend. As a rookie going against somebody that strong, it’s very impressive. I think Travis Frederick is one of the best centers in the league right now.
“I think that what they’ve done in Dallas – running the football with DeMarco Murray – it’s been pretty impressive,” O’Hara continued. “I think two things about playoff football: No. 1, I think a great defense travels on the road very well. And I think No. 2, a great run game does as well. And they’re going to need it up in Green Bay because it’s going to be cold.”
The Dallas defense, meanwhile, doesn’t boast many household names, but it’s gotten the job done against elite competition this season. That said, the Cowboys will need to get a consistent pass rush on Rodgers without exposing their secondary.
That, as many teams find out, is often easier said than done.
“Yeah, I think that really is a challenge,” O’Hara said. “How do you manufacture that pass rush? If you can’t get there with your front four, Aaron Rodgers is a scary guy. Every time a defensive coordinator calls a blitz, they’re standing over there holding their breath, saying, ‘Boy, I hope they don’t beat us with a big play.’ I think that is a big challenge. One of the things you see the Cowboys defense do a lot of is a lot of stemming, a lot of slanting. (Defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli has them on the move quit a bit.”
The Cowboys can move around all they want, but they’ll need to keep an eye on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who combined for 189 catches, 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see (who) they match up with Jordy Nelson,” O’Hara said. “Are they going to put Brandon Carr on him? Are they going to switch corners? Or is somebody going to lock onto him all game long? Because they love the double move with Jordy Nelson, and if you can’t get to Aaron Rodgers, the double move is very hard to defend. And if he’s got time, that’s really what they’re going to be challenged with.”
And if Dallas chooses to drop guys into coverage to defend the pass, well, the Packers have another weapon at their disposal: Eddie Lacy, who had 1,500+ total yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
He’s also – at 5-11, 230 – one of the most physical running backs in the NFL.
“They don’t have a thumper middle linebacker; they don’t have a hard-hitting safety that’s going to come up and light you up,” O’Hara said of the Dallas defense. “And I really think that could be the difference in this game.”