The Nemesis: Brandon Marshall
During his career with the Broncos, Dolphins and Bears, Brandon Marshall has played in three games against the Cowboys and in those games, he has averaged 21 yards per reception, with a touchdown in each.
What makes it so difficult for corners to have to defend Marshall is his height. When the ball goes in the air, there is a pretty good chance that he is going to be able to come down with it because of his length.
Where Marshall also causes you problems is with his ability to adjust to the ball in route. There are plays where you see Jay Cutler and Josh McCown just throw the ball up, and he is able to turn his body to make the play but also keep his feet in bounds. Marshall has incredible body control and even when you feel like that he is covered, there is a chance for him to make a play.
Where I don’t feel like Marshall gets enough credit is in his ability as a route runner. For a tall receiver this is usually a problem, but there is a great deal of smoothness to how he operates in this regard. Tall receivers tend to be herky-jerky in the way they work down the field with their movements and Marshall doesn’t have this issue at all.
With Marshall, there is just not one route he runs better than the others, and you will also see him line up at different spots in the formation because he doesn’t have to be on one side of the field or other, and that too makes him difficult to defend.
The Weapon: Matt Forte
Matt Forte, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated backs in the NFL from the standpoint of what he brings to the game, down-after-down.
It really doesn’t matter how you get him the ball, he is going to find ways to make plays. He’s not the type of back that is going to kill you with his speed, but there are plays where you watch him on tape and he is separating from the tacklers.
He has the ability to press the hole and take it inside, or if nothing is there, bounce it to the outside and turn nothing into something. He has an outstanding feel in the passing game when it comes to working himself open, then securing the catch.
Forte can be a dynamic player when he catches the ball on the screen. He baits the defense into believing he is going to block, then slides right out into the route. There’s not much wasted movement or motion when it comes to getting on the edge.
He can be a difficult guy to bring down one-on-one when you encounter him in the open field, and he will not shy away from contact and shows a willingness to finish runs. Over the years he has developed into a quality pass protector. Forte has always shown a great deal of toughness and awareness in this regard. Again, you have to be careful of blitzing him, then having him check out of the backfield and making a play in space.
Under The Radar: Zack Bowman
When Lovie Smith coached these Chicago Bears, it was about a tough, smash you in the mouth-type of defense. The nastier the game, the better they played. This current Bears team doesn’t have that same kind of toughness and it has shown in several of the games they have played this season.
When this group was really good, it was about their front seven and linebackers, but also their cornerbacks. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman were the guys holding down receivers in this Cover 2 scheme and nobody played it better. Jennings is still a starter on the outside, but Tillman has been sidelined with a triceps injury that has landed him on the injury reserve list -- though he hopes to return before the end of the season.
In Tillman’s place, Zack Bowman has made the starts and though he doesn’t have the ball-hawking skills of Tillman, he has not done a poor job. Where I have liked Bowman’s play has been his ability to make adjustments in routes as the receiver is working up the field.
He looks much bigger than 6-0 and 193 pounds on tape. He is a thick, long armed guy that is not afraid to mix it up. He had a history of a knee problem while at Nebraska, but in watching him play, he is moving very well and it doesn’t appear to be an issue.
The Cowboys will need to find ways to attack him instead of Jennings, but will not be an easy task -- solid football player.