3FTO: Cowboys @ Lions, Week 8
Two 4-3 teams battle this weekend in Detroit as the Dallas Cowboys head up to Ford Field to matchup with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys are coming off of a big division win against the Eagles. They are looking to build on their one game lead in the struggling NFC East. The Lions are trying to bounce back after a tough loss to the Bengals and would like to carry a win into their bye week, with a big game at Chicago looming the week after.
These teams are very similar overall. They both struggle to run the ball. They both also have top notch passing attacks, and they both have middling defenses. Both defenses rank in the bottom five of the league in passing yards allowed per game. Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo rank 4th and 5th in our overall passing grades, and have combined to throw for 30 TD passes. Stafford and Romo each have their favorite big play receivers in Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. In Reggie Bush and Jason Witten they also have two top notch check down/security blanket options. This should be a high scoring and highly competitive game to watch. Here are a few players to keep an eye on.
Dez Bryant vs. Calvin Johnson
According to Dez Bryant’s recent comments, he thinks he is just as good as Calvin Johnson. This raised quite a few eyebrows this week, including those of several Lions. Dez Bryant will get a chance to back up his comments this Sunday. While he’s not 6’5 and 230 pounds like Megatron, Bryant is still quite a physical presence at 6’2 and 225 pounds, and also has solid speed to go with it. He has as high of a ceiling as any receiver in the game. Inconsistency has kept him from reaching those heights. So far this year Bryant’s been on his game as his +9.7 pass grade is 2nd behind only Antonio Brown. Calvin Johnson coming off his historic 1964 yard performance last year, is tied for 6th at +7.4 grade, but also missed a game and a half with injury. They are each tied for 2nd in the league with 6 TD receptions a piece. It’s not a bold prediction to say that a big play from one of these two could make the difference in this game, or that the top performer of these two will find themselves on the winning sideline. Sit back and enjoy the talent on display here.
Larry Warford/Rob Sims vs. Jason Hatcher
Jason Hatcher has come out of nowhere this year to lead our interior lineman grading. His +20.7 overall grade, 6 sacks, and +20.6 pass rush grade lead the way. Hatcher is 2nd in our signature pass rush productivity rating and his 32 total pressures only trails Ndamukong Suh among all defensive tackles. His pressure total has already passed his total from last year. Once Demarcus Ware comes back the Cowboys will have a great pass rushing combo.
Trying to slow Hatcher down will be Larry Warford and Rob Sims. Sims has graded consistently in the negative as a run blocker, however, Hatcher does most of his damage with his pass rushing. Sims is about an average pass blocker, as his grade sits right around 0. We will see if he can hold his own this week when these two meet up.
Larry Warford is easily looking like a steal and the best guard of the 2013 draft. His +7.1 overall grade ranks 9th and he grades out positively in pass blocking and run blocking. His pass blocking efficiency of 98% is 3rd in the league among guards. Hopefully we see more of the Warford/Hatcher matchup, but look for the Cowboys to move Hatcher around at times to look for soft spots on the Detroit offensive line.
Jason Witten vs. Louis Delmas/Glover Quinn
Jason Witten won’t put up the crazy numbers of 2012, but is still Tony Romo’s favorite target. In 2012 he led all tight ends with 146 targets and 110 receptions. This year his 54 targets rank 3rd and his 35 catches 5th among tight ends. He is also 2nd in our drop rate signature stat. He has one drop for the whole year giving him a drop rate of 2.78%, which trails only the great Tony Gonzalez, who is yet to drop a pass. Witten has lost a step, as we’ve seen declines in his once dominant run blocking and what speed he did have. Like Gonzalez though, this crafty veteran knows how to find soft spots in coverage and Romo always knows where to find him.
Glover Quinn and Louis Delmas will be charged with the task of eliminating Tony Romo’s safety blanket. Glover Quinn ranks 4th among all safeties with a +5.7 coverage grade, and Louis Delmas ranks 5th with a +5.0 grade. Quarterbacks are 20-36 with 2 TDs and 4 INTs when throwing into their coverage. Coverage wise they are currently the top safety duo in the league. Linebacker Deandre Levy could also see time on Witten. Levy is our top rated coverage LB with a +8.0 grade, to go along with his 4 interceptions. If any team can make it tough for Romo to find Witten, the Lions have the playmakers to do it.
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