Let's be honest. If you play fantasy football, there's a good chance you own at least a Cowboys player or two (or six). I mean, how could you really pass up Tony Romo when he dropped to you in the sixth round?
Now, Romo and running back DeMarco Murray are probably automatic starts for your team. Romo is likely your top passer and Murray is, at worst, your No. 2 running back. You'll be starting those guys regardless of the opponent.
But what about Dez Bryant, whose slow start to the season has you worried? Can you really sit him this week against the Bucs? Miles Austin has been outstanding as the only Cowboys non-quarterback to score in both of the team's games thus far, but will he keep up that pace? And we all know tight end Jason Witten will get it together, but how soon will that be?
Using stats and a little film study, let's take a look at the Cowboys' Week 3 matchup with the Bucs from a fantasy football perspective:
- The Numbers on Tampa Bay
9 receptions for 153 yards. That's the stat line No. 1 receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith averaged in the first two weeks against Tampa Bay. Built to play physically in all phases of the game, the Bucs' secondary is struggling right now. They've allowed more passing yards than any team in the league, including the two who have already played three games.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, who shadowed Nicks last Sunday, looks like he's playing with a lack of confidence. I re-watched the Giants-Bucs game to focus on the Talib-Nicks matchup. Talib played press coverage on almost every single snap. Sometimes he got the best of Nicks, but he also missed on his jam a whole lot, and the Giants made him pay.
Still, a cornerback playing press coverage is probably the last thing the Cowboys want to hear after the Seattle cornerbacks out-muscled the 'Boys with their press in Week 2. There's a difference between Seahawks cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and Bucs cornerbacks Talib and Eric Wright, however. Can you guess what it is? Anywhere between three and five inches of height.
Wright, a pure cover corner standing only 5-11, probably won't be able to consistently get his hands on Austin or Bryant this week. I think Austin's quickness and size will allow him to beat Wright off of the line. On the opposite side, I feel confident that Bryant won't have the same struggles getting off of press coverage. Bryant is a very similar receiver to Nicks, but Talib isn't of the same stature as Browner or Sherman.
All told, Talib and Wright are yielding 12.8 and 8.3 yards-per-attempt, respectively. In comparison, I've tracked Brandon Carr as allowing 7.0 YPA and Morris Claiborne at just under 10. However, the Dallas cornerbacks have been targeted 14 total times, whereas Talib and Wright have been thrown at a remarkable 34 times, the most of any cornerback duo in the league through two weeks.
On the inside, I'm not sure this will be the week that Witten explodes. The Bucs no longer play the patented "Tampa 2" defense that pass-catching tight ends could often exploit, and head coach Jason Garrett will probably want to test both of the cornerbacks early and often. Witten could benefit if the Bucs play Cover 2 to help out their struggling cornerbacks, but I still think you'll see Tampa Bay play an aggressive single-high scheme the majority of the contest.
For Murray, the easiest way to put up stats may very well be for the Cowboys to pass the ball efficiently. The run can certainly sets up the pass, but the opposite is true as well. The Cowboys' pass often sets up the run, and the bulk of Murray's numbers could come in the fourth quarter if the team has a lead.
- Final Stat Lines
Tony Romo: 25-for-35, 300 yards, 3 TD
Jason Witten: 4 receptions, 40 yards
Dez Bryant: 7 receptions, 110 yards, 2 TD
Miles Austin: 5 receptions, 90 yards, TD
DeMarco Murray: 18 carries, 105 yards, 3 receptions, 25 yards
- Around the League
QB Matt Cassel vs. Saints:Currently the fifth-ranked quarterback in fantasy football, ride Cassel while he's hot against a very underwhelming New Orleans defense.
RB Donald Brown vs. Jaguars: The Jaguars once had a daunting run defense, but no longer.
WR A.J Green vs. Redskins: Green goes up against a Redskins team that has allowed the second-most passing yards per game.
TE Brandon Pettigrew vs. Titans: Pettigrew hasn't put up huge numbers just yet, but he'll consistently be Matthew Stafford's security blanket with Megatron doubled.
QB: Carson Palmer vs. Steelers:Facing Pittsburgh can be a long day for any quarterback.
RB: Cedric Benson vs. Seahawks:As we saw on Sunday, it's difficult to run against the Seahawks. The Packers aren't the type of team that will stick with it.
WR: Vincent Jackson vs. Cowboys:Is this just wishful thinking? Maybe, but Carr is playing incredibly for a secondary that has allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL.
TE: Brent Celek vs. Cardinals:There aren't a lot of options at tight end, but if you have a formidable backup, you might want to sit Celek against the Cardinals' underrated defense.