Matchups: Bears @ CowboysMonday, October 01, 2012
Monday Night Football
Chicago @ Dallas
Tony Romo's box-score production has been torpedoed by shaky line play the past two games, particularly on the interior. He won't be getting a break from the Bears, who lead the NFL in sacks and play tight coverage in the back end. Lovie Smith's opportunistic Cover 2 is off to a borderline shutdown start, having allowed just three touchdown passes while intercepting six throws through three weeks. When on his game, Bears "three-technique" defensive tackle Henry Melton can be an explosive, rolling ball of butcher knives up the middle on passing plays. Until Romo and his protection pick it up, I'm viewing him as a back-end fantasy starter and nothing more. ... Miles Austin has quietly locked himself in as an every-week WR1. He entered Week 4 ranked sixth in fantasy receiver scoring and should receive the most favorable coverage looks among Dallas wideouts on Monday night, facing off with feisty but gambling Bears slot corner D.J. Moore in all three-wide sets. ... Chicago has played stout run defense as well early in the year, surrendering under four yards per carry to opposing ground attacks and just one touchdown through three games. DeMarco Murray's workhorse role should still lock him into lineups as an RB2 at the very least.
While much of fantasy land is down on Dez Bryant -- Dez ranked a lowly 60th in receiver points after Week 3 -- I'm not quite as concerned. Bryant topped 80 yards in Week 1 against a Giants defense clearly trying to take him away, was shut down with the rest of Dallas' offense in Week 2, and topped 60 yards while nearly scoring on a 44-yard punt return last Sunday against the Bucs. Bryant doesn't have a particularly friendly Monday night matchup against Bears CB Charles Tillman, so he may be cheaper than ever to "buy low" after this week. ... Kevin Ogletree plays Z receiver in the three-wides and will line up across from red-hot CB Tim Jennings on the majority of Monday's snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, Jennings has permitted just nine of the 27 passes thrown in his direction this season (33.3 percent) to be completed for 95 yards (3.52 YPA) and no touchdowns. Jennings also has a league-high four interceptions, so it's reasonable to think Jason Garrett might scheme to throw to the receivers playing away from him. (Bryant and Austin.) Predictably slumping after his fluky opener, Ogletree is a poor fantasy bet in this game. ... Jason Witten has been an early-season drop machine and seen few targets down the seam, instead getting virtually everything thrown to him around the line of scrimmage. Start Witten if you've waited this long, but he could get stuck on the line help-blocking Julius Peppers for long stretches on Monday night.
Dallas missed both safeties in Week 3 as SS Barry Church tore his Achilles' and FS Gerald Sensabaugh was inactive with a right calf strain. Against the Bucs, DC Rob Ryan designed a masterful plan to eliminate Vincent Jackson, jamming him at the line with RCB Mike Jenkins while usual LCB Brandon Carr operated as a safety "over the top." Jackson came away with one catch for 29 yards on seven targets. I wouldn't tell you to bench Brandon Marshall because he's an every-week starter, but it's fair to wonder if Ryan will take a similar approach against the Bears' top wideout. Ryan is using Morris Claiborne and especially Carr as "movable chess pieces" to shut down passing games. The Cowboys rank first in the NFL in team defense and second against the pass. ... Here's guessing Jay Cutler wouldn't have so many perceived in-game meltdowns if his offensive line could pass protect. It's going to be tough sledding yet again on the road against DeMarcus Ware & Co. The Cowboys' pass defense is so effective that it will begin to account for increased coverage sacks as well. Cutler is QB2 with high bust risk.
While there are numerous big-name skill players on both sides, I expect a relatively low-scoring Monday night affair because each club's defensive strength is capable of exploiting its opponent's most glaring offensive weaknesses. Aside from Marshall, no Bears pass catcher has stepped up enough to warrant a Week 4 fantasy start. Rookie Alshon Jeffery seems to be getting closer, but he's not there yet, and this isn't the matchup to gamble he is. ... FOX Sports' Jay Glazer reported Monday that Matt Forte (ankle) will play against Dallas. If Glazer reports something, you can take it to the bank. While the Cowboys' early-season run defense has been largely stout, it's notable for Forte's Week 4 outlook that they'll be missing three key front-seven members. OLB Anthony Spencer is out with a strained pec muscle, LE Kenyon Coleman will miss with a knee sprain, and NT Jay Ratliff is sidelined for the fourth straight game by his high ankle sprain. Glazer's report suggested that Forte's workload will be full on Monday night, describing Forte as "healthy" and passing along that "teammates say (Forte) had a great week of work." Forte will start the game, and at this point there's no reason to believe Michael Bush will play a major role outside of the red zone. Forte is the confident fantasy pick if you're deciding between the two Bears running backs.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 20, Bears 17