- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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Until cornerback Champ Bailey is completely back and in the lineup, Rodgers-Cromartie will continue to be the first option when the Broncos want to play the matchup game. And conditions are right for Rodgers-Cromartie to spend plenty of time on Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.
In large part because among the Cowboys wide receivers Bryant leads the team with 23 catches. Miles Austin is next with 15 receptions and rookie Terrance Williams has 12. Bryant has also been targeted by quarterback Tony Romo 36 times this season, far more than Austin’s 21 and Williams’ 15.
Defenses usually match up a corner on a receiver, no matter where that receiver lines up, when the move could potentially have the greatest impact on what the offense can do. While Romo has completed 46.4 percent of his passes this season to the tight ends and running backs -- tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray each have 21 receptions -- Bryant is the impact option down the field.
And at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Bryant is a bigger, stronger problem for Rodgers-Cromartie than the two receivers he has was matched up the most on so far this season: the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones and the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson.
Rodgers-Cromartie has played like a No. 1 cornerback and overall the Broncos have been aggressive in their coverage packages, often lining up in press techniques, right across the line of scrimmage from the opposing receivers. But it will be more difficult for Rodgers-Cromartie to knock Bryant off his route in the five-yard contact zone, than it was against either Jackson or Jones. Bryant is going to have the size/strength advantage, while Rodgers-Cromartie has the speed advantage with a big reach as well.
But overall Rodgers-Cromartie will have to mix up his approach, he cannot simply try to man-handle the bigger Bryant play after play without putting himself at a disadvantage. Bryant has run routes with far more precision this season than in his previous years and its clear Romo trusts him in a bigger variety of situations. In the same draft class as the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas (2010), Bryant knows how to use his bulk to pin the defender away from the ball.
Rodgers-Cromartie has been good in tight spots this season and after the Ravens threw at him just once in the season opener, quarterbacks have tested him a bit more with little success. He’s second on the team with five passes defended.
5dEric D. Williams