Lions-Cowboys Preview

BY foxsports • December 31, 2014

Ndamukong Suh is the main reason why Detroit has the league's best rushing defense.

Now that he's available for the Lions, NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray's job got that much tougher heading into his first postseason game.

The NFC East-champion Dallas Cowboys rode Murray all season to produce the league's second-best rushing attack and figure to be severely tested by Suh and Detroit's defensive front in Sunday's wild-card playoff game in Arlington.

Suh was initially suspended for stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers' left leg twice last Sunday in a 30-20 loss that ended a four-game win streak and gave the Packers the North title. He stepped on Rodgers once with each foot, which violated unnecessary roughness rules, according to the league.

However, hearing officer Ted Cottrell handled Suh's expedited appeal Tuesday and ruled that he can play at Dallas (12-4) but must pay an accompanying $70,000 fine.

Suh made it clear Wednesday he wasn't going to elaborate on the matter.

"I'm just pleased with the decision and glad I have the opportunity - I can go against Dallas and help my teammates win the game," he said. "I think that's most important."

Suh's short-lived suspension came after Detroit center Dominic Raiola served a one-game ban against the Packers for stepping on a Chicago player the week before.

"I know I'm chomping at the bit to get back out there," Raiola said. "I just think this team is hungry. The more shots that people take at us, the stronger we get, the tougher we get."

Detroit (11-5) limited opponents to 69.3 rushing yards per game with 133 tackles for a loss to lead the league in both departments.

Now the Lions face their biggest challenge in Murray, whose 1,845 rushing yards broke Emmitt Smith's franchise record and were the third-most in the NFL over the last eight seasons. His 12 100-yard efforts matched the second-highest total in league history.

Murray and an offensive line that had three players named to the Pro Bowl are why Dallas (12-4) averaged 147.1 rushing yards to trail only Seattle.

"If you look at the numbers, they'll tell you that they run the ball obviously as well as anybody in the league and you look at it statistically for us, we're right up there at the top in the rankings in terms of stopping the run," Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. "So all in all, I think it's going to be a real good battle."

The running game has clearly bolstered Tony Romo, who is considered an MVP candidate after he led the NFL in passer rating (career-best 113.2) and yards per attempt (8.52). He finished fourth in the league with 34 touchdown passes.

"The fact that we've gotten stronger and better on the offensive line has certainly helped," coach Jason Garrett said. "The fact that we're running the ball well and more certainly has helped him but Tony has played awfully well ...

"He's the guy who orchestrates and leads everything we do on offense."

Romo looks to improve on a 1-3 playoff record in his first postseason appearance in five seasons. Counterpart Matthew Stafford is in the postseason for the second time after losing to New Orleans to close the 2011 season.

The Lions have rallied to win both times when Stafford has faced Romo.

Detroit erased a 24-point, second-half deficit in a 34-30 road victory Oct. 2, 2011, in which Romo threw for three scores as well as three interceptions. It was the first game in Dallas for Stafford, who went to high school in the area.

"It's always fun to go back there and play," Stafford said. "I've done it once in my career so I'm (going to) do it again, it should be fun."

The Cowboys blew a 10-point lead with less than 4 minutes left when Stafford scored a on a winning one-yard run with 12 seconds to go in a 31-30 win at Detroit on Oct. 27, 2013. He also threw for 488 yards - many to Calvin Johnson.

Johnson posted the best effort of his illustrious career as he had career highs of 14 receptions for 329 yards - the second-best total in NFL history.

He topped 1,000 yards for the fifth straight year, though his total of 1,077 marked his lowest in that span for Detroit, which averaged 20.1 points to rank 22nd.

Dez Bryant set a Cowboys record with an NFL-best 16 TD receptions to go with 1,320 receiving yards for a team averaging of 29.2 points to rank fifth.

Dallas won its fourth straight with Sunday's 44-17 rout at Washington and was one of five teams that tied for the NFL's best record.

"We know what we have to do and we did exactly what we wanted to do," Bryant said. "We just have to keep fighting, have to keep playing together."

The Cowboys did suffer a blow when defensive tackle Henry Melton was lost for the season with a right knee injury against the Redskins.

Detroit has dropped 10 of 11 playoff games in the Super Bowl era and its current seven-game losing streak is one shy of the tying the record held by Kansas City, which hasn't won a playoff game since 1993.

Dallas has won once in its last eight postseason contests and fifth-year coach Garrett will make his playoff debut against Caldwell, who is 2-2 and guided Indianapolis to the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

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