3TFO: Rams @ Cowboys, Week 3
The last time the Cowboys and Rams met was in 2011 when DeMarco Murray had a career day with a franchise-record 253 rushing yards. He followed up his performance with a few good games, but the Cowboys’ ability (and willingness) to run the ball has since significantly decreased. In an attempt to find a better run-pass balance on offense, the Cowboys stripped head coach Jason Garrett of his play-calling duties. Ironically, this has led to an even greater imbalance as their running backs have just 34 rushing attempts compared to Tony Romo’s 97 drop-backs so far this season.
The Rams have vastly improved since that dreadful 2011 season and look to build upon their 7-8-1 record from a year ago. The addition of Jake Long has already proven to be beneficial as Sam Bradford is the only quarterback in the NFL that has not been sacked. With both teams looking to bounce back from losses last week, let’s take a look at three key matchups for Sunday’s game.
Rams Defensive Ends vs. Cowboys Tackles
After having just three positive games all last season, Robert Quinn’s pass rush performance thus far has been nothing short of dominant. Quinn leads 4-3 defensive ends with 17 total pressures and a Pass Rushing Productivity of 18.3. His +16.1 pass rush grade is nearly three times higher than the next best defensive end. Last season he earned only three positive overall grades. Has he finally hit his stride, or has his success been due to favorable matchups? The left end of the defensive line is anchored by Chris Long, whose 11.0 PRP was in the Top 5 last year and is on pace for nearly as many pressures as last year.
Quinn will be facing-off against fellow 2011 first-round pick Tyron Smith. In 17 games since switching to left tackle last season, Smith has allowed just three sacks but also 41 hurries. He has allowed six total pressures this season, giving him a 95.4 Pass Blocking Efficiency, ranking 11th among left tackles. He has yet to show the same level of success on the left side as he showed his rookie year on the right, but a solid performance against Quinn would be a positive step forward. In the meantime, Doug Free has two strong showings so far, ranking fourth at right tackle. Even though Tony Romo has the fourth-highest Accuracy Percentage when under pressure (69.2%), he has still performed better without pressure.
Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins vs. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin
In complete contrast to Quinn’s dominance, there is Cortland Finnegan, who grades last (-9.6) out of 76 cornerbacks. Finnegan has allowed 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets. He has missed two tackles against the run, in addition to a few times where he has taken himself out of the play with poor pursuit angles. His three penalties top off his all-around rough start to the year. Janoris Jenkins’s performance has been up-and-down. In Week 1, Jenkins allowed a touchdown, but managed to give up only 36 yards on nine targets and he defensed three passes. Against the Falcons last week, he was badly beat by Julio Jones for an 81-yard touchdown.
Slated to go against Finnegan and Jenkins are Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. After a slow start to the season, Bryant had an impressive game last week against the Chiefs with nine catches on 12 targets, although he did have one drop. Bryant caused Brandon Flowers, one of the most consistent corners in the league, to earn the worst coverage grade of his career. Meanwhile, Austin has caught 13 of 15 passes thrown his way, the third highest Catch Rate (86.7%) for receivers targeted a minimum 10 times. With Romo dropping-back seemingly more than ever, expect Finnegan to be heavily targeted throughout the game.
The Jared Cook Mismatch
The Rams’ goal this offseason was to find Bradford another target — and they paid tight end Jared Cook top dollar to do so. The pair started off well in Week 1, connecting seven times for two touchdowns, and what would have been a third, if not for Tyrann Mathieu. Last week, Atlanta did a better job containing Cook, allowing just one 10-yard reception on four targets. Instead, Bradford found Tavon Austin for two scores and Chris Givens eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Even if Cook does not have a huge statistical game, expect him to still have an impact. His athleticism and ability commands additional coverage that could free up the Rams’ other receivers.
The safety positions were an area of concern for the Cowboys entering the season, and this game will be no different. Barry Church has not been targeted often, but he allowed all five passes thrown his way to be completed, one of which went for a touchdown. While Will Allen has an interception, he has not fared much better, allowing 7 of 9 targets, including two touchdowns. The Cowboys may instead choose to cover Cook with linebackers, but Sean Lee has given up two touchdowns of his own and Bruce Carter has allowed 10 catches for 105 yards. Will the Cowboys be able to force Bradford to rely on other targets, or will Cook prove to be a mismatch they cannot handle?