Last week, the Cowboys managed to muster only 16 points against a Buccaneers defense that is ranked near the bottom of the NFL barrel. This week, the offense faces a much stiffer challenge with Chicago coming to town. It's pretty obvious that the Cowboys will need superior offensive play to beat the Bears on Monday night, so what sort of stats can we expect from the Cowboys' skill players in Week 4?
- The Numbers on Chicago
Earlier this week, I posted a statistical scouting report on the Bears. There, I noted just how outstanding the Bears' defense has been in 2012. Through three weeks, Chicago has allowed the fourth-fewest net yards per passing attempt and just one rushing touchdown, all while forcing nine turnovers (second in the NFL) and registering a league-leading 14 sacks. Yeah, they're pretty dominant.
With all due respect to Julius Peppers, the Bears' top two players thus far in 2012 may very well be cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. The duo couldn't be much different in terms of stature – Jennings stands only 5-8, while Tillman can play press coverage at 6-1. In terms of play-making ability, however, the two are quite alike.
Entering the season, it's clear that opposing offensive coordinators figured the shorter Jennings would be the man to attack in Chicago's secondary. Jennings has been targeted 27 times in three games, ranking him second in the NFL behind only Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay. Despite the attention, Jennings has allowed only nine completions, 3.52 yards-per-attempt, and a 4.9 passer rating.
Meanwhile, Tillman hasn't been tested much on the right side of the Bears' D. After playing just 13 snaps in Week 1 after a leg injury forced him out of the contest, Tillman has been targeted only five times in his 129 snaps over the past two weeks. He has allowed 34 yards, putting him right on par with Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr in terms of efficiency.
Of course, Chicago's pass rush has exceeded that of Dallas through three games, due in large part to Peppers. If the Cowboys' offensive line plays like they have to start the season and Tony Romo doesn't have time to get the football to his talented receivers, it really won't matter who is covering them.
Projected Stat Lines
Tony Romo: 22-for-35, 250 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Jason Witten: 3 receptions, 35 yards
Dez Bryant: 4 receptions, 65 yards, TD
Miles Austin: 5 receptions, 80 yards
DeMarco Murray: 20 carries, 80 yards, 3 receptions, 20 yards
This game has all the makings of yet another defensive battle for the Cowboys. Although I'm generally a proponent of passing early and often, I think Dallas needs to give Murray a little more attention on Monday night.
In low-scoring games, the impact of a few big plays is monumental. Even if Murray isn't killing Chicago on the ground, hammering the Bears with the run could set up a well-timed deep play-action look or two later in the game. In what could easily be a 21-17-type of contest, generating a quick score would be extremely valuable for either club, even more so than usual.
Around the League
QB: Joe Flacco vs. Browns:Cleveland's pass defense isn't nearly as formidable without Joe Haden.
RB: Cedric Benson vs. Saints:The Saints have allowed nearly 200 more rushing yards than any other team in the NFL.
WR: Vincent Jackson vs. Redskins:I told you to sit Jackson last week, and he hauled in just one catch. This week, however, he'll face a Redskins defense that has allowed 337 passing yards per game.
TE: Fred Davis vs. Bucs:Underwhelming thus far in 2012, Davis should get going in what could be shootout.
QB: Drew Brees vs. Packers:Chances are you can't sit Brees, but if you happened to grab a backup quarterback like RGIII in your draft, I'd strongly consider it.
RB: Alfred Morris vs. Bucs:The 'Skins just brought in Ryan Grant and the Bucs have given up only 142 rushing yards all season.
WR: Brandon Marshall vs. Cowboys:If you can afford to sit Marshall, do it.
TE: Jared Cook vs. Texans:Cook was banged up last week and no one has been able to throw on Houston.