News & Analysis

NFL Week 3 Preview: Cowboys at Cardinals

By PFF Analysis Team
Sep 24, 2017

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DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 17: Wide receiver Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys dives with the football after a reception against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 17, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Each week, the PFF analysis team will bring you break downs of the most important matchups for each game of the NFL season.

Coverage by: Aaron Jones

Matchup: Dallas Cowboys offense vs. Arizona Cardinals defense

  • WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Patrick Peterson – Dez Bryant has had a slow start to the year, currently grading as the 65th wide receiver in the league, primarily due to the fact he has dropped two of his 11 catchable targets. Only the Oakland RaidersAmari Cooper has had more drops among wide receivers through the first two weeks. After already seeing tough matchups in Week 1 and 2, Bryant has another one on his hands this week against Patrick Peterson. Known for shadowing the offense’s No. 1 wide receiver, Bryant will have his hands full against the current 26th rated cornerback in the league.

  • TE Jason Witten vs. LBs Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby – A matchup the Cowboys should look to exploit, Reddick and Dansby have struggled this year, ranking 50th and 54th in coverage grade among 64 qualifying linebackers. Not only has Witten garnered the most targets among tight ends in the league with 19, he also boasts the second most receiving yards with 156. With the most snaps in route among tight ends with 84, look for Prescott to find Witten early and often.
  • T Tyron Smith vs. EDGE Chandler Jones – Tyron Smith had a rare lackluster performance last week against the Denver Broncos, allowing five pressures and finishing the game with an overall grade of 48.3. Albeit on a small sample size, most of his struggles this year have stemmed from the run game, where he currently ranks 56th among 70 qualifying tackles with a grade of 38.3. Smith should be primarily matched up against Chandler Jones, who lined up on the right side in all but two of his snaps last week. Jones has had a strong season so far, currently ranking 15th among 112 qualifying edge defenders with a grade of 83.6. He is currently tied for the most pressures from the right side among 3-4 outside linebackers this season, with ten. If Smith performs at the pro-bowl caliber level he has throughout his career, Prescott and Elliot’s night will be much easier.

Coverage by: Mark Chichester

Matchup: Arizona Cardinals offense vs. Dallas Cowboys defense

  • QB Carson Palmer vs. EDGE DeMarcus Lawrence – Through two games, Palmer has gotten off to one of the slowest starts of his career and currently ranks 15th of 33 qualifying quarterbacks with an average PFF overall grade of 74.3. A big reason for this is Palmer’s performance under pressure so far. Palmer has been pressured on 40.4 percent of his dropbacks this season, and has managed a passer rating of just 30.1, a mark that ranks 29th of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. He’s likely to face more pressure in Week 3, where Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will be looking to add to his pressure total. Through two games, Lawrence leads the league’s 4-3 defensive ends with 13 total pressures, and ranks first among 56 players at the position with a pass-rushing productivity of 20.7.

  • RB Chris Johnson vs. LB Jaylon Smith – In last week’s matchup against the Colts, Johnson led all Cardinals backs in both yards per carry (4.0) and yards after contact per attempt (1.55), en route to attaining the highest run grade of the game (71.3). Following the performance, Cardinals’ head coach Bruce said that Johnson’s workload will increase in his second week back with the team, where he’ll no doubt be acquainted with Cowboys inside linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith has been productive against the run so far this season, producing nine tackles and six stops on 46 run-defense snaps, and his run-stop percentage of 13.0 percent ranks sixth among 36 qualifying inside linebackers.
  • WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. CB Anthony Brown – Following the injury to star running back David Johnson, the 14th-year wide receiver has taken over as Carson Palmer’s safety blanket, and through two weeks of the 2017 season, Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals receiving corps in targets (19). Running 69.0 percent of his routes from the slot, he averages 1.52 yards per route run, the tenth-highest mark among qualifying receivers. He’ll face a tough challenge against second-year cornerback Anthony Brown, who has played well when covering the slot this year. Through two games, Brown has allowed a passer rating of just 43.8 on throws into his slot coverage, and he is ranked eighth among 96 qualifying cornerbacks with PFF overall grade of 84.2.

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