Matchups for the Cowboys this Sunday in San Diego suggest Demarco Murray will have a great opportunity to shine again – this time, in blitz pickup. Don’t scoff. Head coach Jason Garrett will attest that pass blocking is an integral part of a complete running back’s game.
Run-first offenses are great if your quarterback is Christian Ponder and you have no real choice in the matter, but the Cowboys and Tony Romo should game plan to air it out early and often against a Chargers unit ranked dead last in the league against the pass, fielding an anemic pass rush, and bereft of any real playmakers in the secondary.
Here are three mismatches that suggest an early air attack this Sunday could net big gains for the ‘Boys, and help break the sullen mediocrity of win-one-lose-one football:
Cowboys Offensive Line vs. Chargers Pass Rush
Who saw this coming? Week 4 and folks are touting the Dallas O line as a potential strength. But it could be argued the Cowboys upgraded at all five positions this year.
Personnel changes at both guard positions and center - Ron Leary, Brian Waters and rookie Travis Frederick - are improvements across the board in terms of strength, smarts, and bad temperament.
Tyron Smith, a third-year NFL starter at just 22 years of age, will be better in his second season at left tackle than he was his first – and in his first he gave up just three sacks.
And then there’s right tackle Doug Free. Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, has him rated as the top offensive tackle in the NFL though three weeks. Talk about your all-time turnarounds, and for half the salary-cap hit to boot. Remember all the clamoring for a high-profile rookie right tackle in the draft? Tip o’ the cap, Jerry.
The Chargers, on the other hand, are struggling to pressure the quarterback with just six sacks through three games – only five NFL teams have fewer. All have come on some form of blitz package, suggesting they can’t bring pressure without compromising coverage, which brings us to the next mismatch:
Tony Romo vs. The Blitz
Romo has been blitzed on 42 drop backs, or 34 percent of his pass attempts, so far this season. The result has been one touchdown, one sack, and an 89 passer rating. For all the folks who delight in comparing Romo to Troy Aikman, Aikman’s career passer rating, blitz or no, was 81.9. Chew on that.
The most important stat for Romo under the blitz this season – zero turnovers.
When the defense doesn’t blitz, Romo sports an elite 112 passer rating. When they do blitz, he’s still effective. San Diego can’t win on Sunday without pressuring the quarterback. Except even if they do pressure Romo with the blitz, he can still burn the defense. Which brings us to the most glaring mismatch: