Growing up in Texas, Michael Brockers was a Dallas Cowboys fan.
It did not matter that Brockers lived in Houston. Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman were among the Cowboys stars who won three Super Bowl titles in four seasons by the time Brockers celebrated his sixth birthday.
“They’re America’s team,” Brockers said, “and they have a long history of winning and being great.”
Brockers, an eighth-year pro, returns to his home state Sunday when the Rams play the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
It’s a matchup with playoff implications for both teams. The Rams are 8-5 and chasing the Minnesota Vikings (9-4) for an NFC wild-card spot. The Cowboys (6-7) are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
Brockers, who turns 29 on Dec. 21, is the longest-tenured defensive player on a team that is coming off a 28-12 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The 14th pick in the 2012 draft is part of a defense that neutralized quarterback Russell Wilson and held the Seahawks without an offensive touchdown, the first time Seattle didn’t reach the end zone since its 2017 opener.
It was the second straight dominant defensive performance for the Rams, who gave up a late touchdown in a 34-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Star lineman Aaron Donald, edge rusher Dante Fowler, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Jalen Ramsey command most of the attention on defense, but Brockers has provided steady play and leadership for a team trying to make its third consecutive postseason appearance.
“He’s had one of his best years in the last few because he’s playing as a complete player,” coach Sean McVay said. “He’s rushing better, he’s violent in the run, he’s able to really do a great job of winning his individual matchups.”
Brockers played well in his last appearance in Dallas. After spending his first five NFL seasons almost exclusively as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips moved Brockers to end after a few games in 2017, giving him an opportunity to rush from new angles in a 3-4 scheme.
The week after he had intercepted a deflected pass against the San Francisco 49ers, Brockers made three tackles, recorded a sack and deflected two passes in a 35-30 victory over the Cowboys.
“I had a pretty good game,” Brockers said. “I think it was just because we kind of mixed it up on them. ... I had a whole different look. I just think we messed with them a little bit.”
But Brockers continues to enjoy freedoms that came with moving from the middle of the line to the edges.
“I still have to do the dirty work here and there,” he said, “but it’s definitely a lot more fun being on the outside.”
Brockers made two tackles against the Cowboys in the Rams’ 30-22 NFC divisional-round playoff victory at the Coliseum last season.
This season, he has three sacks for a defense that ranks eighth in yards allowed and 11th in scoring defense.
The Cowboys, with an offense that features quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Jason Witten, average a league-best 430.8 yards and 306.8 yards passing per game.
Prescott has passed for 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also has rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns, and has been sacked only 18 times, fewest in the NFL.
Brockers said Prescott is similar to Wilson.
“Russ wants to throw the ball but if he has to use his feet he’ll use them, and he’ll use them well, and that’s kind of the same thing I get with Dak,” Brockers said. “He can throw the ball, throw all the routes. Hell of a quarterback. But if you let him beat you with his feet as well, man, the game’s just going to be long for you.”
Brockers is aware that his long association the Rams will be up for review at the end of the season. He is carrying a salary-cap number of nearly $10.8 million in the final year of a three-year extension he signed in 2016.
“You don’t want to focus on it,” he said, “but you know it’s there.”
The Rams in the last 18 months signed Donald, running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff to massive extensions. Ramsey also is in line for a huge extension after the Rams gave up two first-round draft picks in an October trade for a player regarded among the best at his position.
The Rams also must address the contract situations of linebacker Cory Littleton, receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson.
“The season’s going to be over and your future is kind of unknown,” Brockers said, “so the best thing for me is just to focus on what’s happening now, stay in the present, focus on winning each week and having the same goal. That’s how I’m really getting through it.
“I know it’s a business. I understand teams — sometimes they love a guy but they still have to let him go. That could be the situation.
“Hopefully it’s not. But I’ve been in this business long enough to understand that some tough choices have to be made.”
Finishing the season strong and helping the Rams return to the Super Bowl remains Brockers’ goal. The rest, he said, will take care of itself with the Rams or another team.
“The biggest upside to this,” he said, “is knowing that if I take care of my business, and do what I have to do for this team and play as hard as I can, it will work out in the end.”
The Rams were off Tuesday. They will have two walk-throughs Wednesday.