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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Five-star answer: Pressure holds Stafford

By Todd Archer

Five-star question: Will the Cowboys hold Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford under his average of 325.6 yards passing per game?

Last year the Cowboys made superheroes out of middle-of-the-road quarterbacks, including Shaun Hill, who started for the Lions in last year’s meeting. Hill completed 32 of 47 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

With the way Stafford has started in 2011, he has been anything but middle of the road. He has thrown nine touchdown passes and two interceptions in leading the Lions to a 3-0 start.

But he has not faced a pass defense that is better than 21st in the first three games, beating Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota.

The Cowboys have the 12th-ranked pass defense and lead the NFL with 13 sacks. A similar argument can be made against Dallas’ decent rating. The New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez, San Francisco’s Alex Smith and Washington’s Rex Grossman are hardly elite passers.

So what gives on Sunday?

If we learned anything from 2010, it is that pressure makes a secondary better. The Cowboys will pressure Stafford, who has been sacked five times this season, into quicker throws. Left tackle Jeff Backus struggled last week vs. Minnesota’s Jared Allen, and the Lions have not seen such a diverse pass rush yet.

Stafford might throw for big yards with Calvin Johnson having an advantage on the Cowboys’ cornerbacks, but he will not reach his average.