Three big matchups to watch in the Cowboys’ Week 4 Monday night tilt with the Chicago Bears. . .
OLB Anthony Spencer vs. RT Gabe Carimi
The Bears’ rookie right tackle is struggling thus far in 2012, allowing pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler on 9.6 percent of pass plays—the fourth-worst mark in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. In comparison, I’ve assigned left tackle Tyron Smith, who many perceive as struggling at his new position, with eight pressures.
Meanwhile, Spencer is having yet another underrated season at outside linebacker. Only one outside linebacker in the entire NFL—Clay Matthews—has generated pressure at a higher rate than Spencer. The reason it might not seem like Spencer is consistently near the quarterback is that Rob Ryan often drops him into coverage. Actually, no edge rusher in the NFL has rushed the passer less frequently than Spencer’s 54 percent of pass snaps.
With DeMarcus Ware generally on the right side of the Cowboys’ defense in passing situations, Spencer will be lined up over Carimi on around 75 percent of pass plays.
LT Tyron Smith vs DE Julius Peppers
Chicago’s defense is loaded, but Peppers is their top defender. A lot of the play-making ability of the team’s cornerbacks goes away if you can neutralize Peppers and give the quarterback some room to throw. That’s easier said than done, of course.
Look for the Cowboys to run a lot of “left-handed” formations on Monday night, i.e. placing Jason Witten on the left side of the formation to help Smith in pass protection. Typically, the Cowboys place Witten on the right side of the line to aid right tackle Doug Free. Actually, of the plays the Cowboys have run with a clear strength call (such as I Right, Strong Left, Twins Left, and so on), Witten has been on the right side of the formation on 61.2 percent of snaps. With Smith’s early-season struggles and Peppers’ dominance, look for him to be on the left side of the field a bit more often than usual.
WR Miles Austin and WR Dez Bryant vs CB Tim Jennings
Through three weeks of the season, cornerback Tim Jennings might be playing better than just about any defensive back in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have tested Jennings, targeting him 27 times. He has allowed only nine completions and 3.52 yards-per-attempt while picking off four passes.
Jennings’ main weakness is his size. At 5’8’’, 185 pounds, I think both Austin and Bryant have a natural advantage over him. Despite his play-making ability in Cover 2, I think the Cowboys are going to test Jennings, especially with Austin on him. Opposite Jennings is a big, physical cornerback in Charles Tillman who has been targeted only five times all season. If he can re-route Bryant at the line, Tony Romo might look Austin’s way and hope we can outmuscle the Bears’ smaller cornerback.