Monday Night Football presents Bears-Cowboys this week. Now that sounds fun. If Dallas wins, they join the Eagles at 3-1 atop the NFC East standings. If Chicago wins, they join the Vikings at 3-1 atop the NFC North standings. The Vikes will be alone if first place at the quarter mark should the Bears fold down in Jerry World. Who had that before the season started? As for tonight, current odds show Dallas as 3.5-point home favorites over the Bears with an Over/Under total set at 42.
This game should be all about the war between the defenses. Through three weeks, the Cowboys have allowed the least yards in the league, while the Bears rank sixth in that department. Before getting into the player props, let me highlight a combined team prop that’s worth looking into for this evening’s game: Over 5 sacks combined for both teams. Despite having to pay a little extra juice for the Over at -140, I think thats a good play. First off, its Jay Cutler and the Bears. You know he will be under seige. He’s been sacked 11 times already this year. Rookie Gabe Carimi has been struggling in his first year. According to Pro Football Focus, Carimi has been allowing pressure on 9.6 percent of all passing attempts, one of the worst marks in the game. Now he has to try and contain Anthony Spencer, coming off his OLB position as one of the more disruptive forces when he rushes the passer. On the other side is beast mode DeMarcus Ware, who is coming off a dominating 2-sack performance against Tampa in the last outing. Cutler should get sacked at least three times tonight, but dont be shocked if the Bears sack artists put up a hat trick as well. They lead the league with 14 sacks, their defensive line generates a ton of pressure on its own and man does Julius Peppers vs Cowboy LT Tyron Smith look like a mismatch on paper. We should get at least a half dozen sacks tonight, so taking Over 5 sacks comes with the JCB’s endorsement. With that tip out of the way, lets take a look at the player props on tonight’s board.
Jay Cutler, Over/Under 19.5 completions, 240.5 passing yards, 1.5 TDs………..It seems a long time ago that Cutler was carving up the Colts to the tune of 333 yards, 9.5 ypa and two scores in the opener. In the two games since, he hasnt had more than 183 yards, has been sacked nine time including seven by the hated Packers and tossed five picks to just one score. He’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes with games of 11 and 17 completions with just 4.67 and 5.9 yards per attempt. Cutler’s slump now meets a rejuvented Cowboy pass defense thats allowing just 4.7 yards per pass attempt, second best in the league to Green Bay. Dallas totally revamped its secondary, signing CB Branden Carr away from Kansas City on a $50 million contract and drafting Morris Clairborn out of LSU in April’s NFL Draft. The early returns have been more than positive. Through three games, they lead the league in fewest passing yards. The Cowboys have permitted just 15.33 completions per game, Eli Manning’s 213-yard effort is the high against them and the only time in the first three games a QB passed for than 200 yards. Cutler comes into the game struggling. He’s playing a surging pass D. Toss in a missing cog on the offensive line to go along with the usual pass protection issues against a Cowboy defensive front thats generates a lo of pressure and it has the makings of a long night for Cutler. I’m think its Under or nothing on his props.
Michael Bush, Over/Under 57.5 yards……Matt Forte is questionable with a high ankle sprain. He missed the Bears last game against the Rams and has only had seven carries since toting it 19 time in the opener. Enter Michael Bush, a more bruising, downhill back that Bears signed to not only spell Forte but provide something of a short yardage specialist. He’s probably carrying the load tonight. Bush has had games in order of 42, 54, and 55 yards in 2012 on 12, 14 and 18 carries respectively. But he did close out last year with the Raiders with at least 58 yards in nine of the final 10 games when he averaged 21.3 attempts per game. If you can guarantee me those kid of carries, I’m interested in this over.
Brandon Marshall, Over/Under 5.5 catches, 69.5 receiving yards……The Cowboys new additions to their secondary will be looking to contain Marshall, the new passing game toy the Bears bought for Cutler and their offense this season. So far, it hasnt really worked, but nothing on the offense has worked much these last two games for Chicago. He’ll get plenty of looks, he leads the team in targets with 31. If you had been able to get Marhsall at these numbers this season, you’d be an even 3-3, with him getting nine catches in the opener and twice going over the yardage total–the 119 yards in that first game with the Colts and 71 yards in the last outing against the Rams. The yardage number does seem low. Marhsall is such a big play receiver that all you need is one vintage explosive play from him, and you’re probably a catch or two away from getting to 70 yards. It’ll be interesting see how often he’s matched with the versatile Carr, the high-priced addition to the Cowboys back-4. They went head-to-head a year ago while at their respective former locales. Marshall ended with eight catches, 106 yards and a score, but had 3 catches for 34 yards against Carr. Carr, by the way, is among the leage leaders at allowing just 5.6 yards per attempt thrown his way, her permitted just three catches on the year and a week ago ago shut down Tampa’s Vincent Jackson.
Alshon Jeffery, Over/Under 3 catches, 47.5 receiving yards…Jeffery was the Bears second round draft pick this year. He was a reliable, big play threat for South Carolina in the SEC despite a lot of turmoil at the Gamecock QB position. He’s moved to the Bears #2 spot already and is averaging 14.3 yards per catch while seven of his nine catches have gone for either a first down or a score. However, Jeffery has only averged three catches a game, and the Under would have hit twice in the first three games on both tonight’s catches and yardage prop for him. Will he get the looks? Marshall gets more than twice as many targets. When you’ve got somebody averaging three catches a game on 4.67 targets per game, that pretty much tells us he needs to max out on every ball thrown his way to win any overs
Earl Bennett, Over/Under 2 catches…..Bennet had three catches in the win over the Colts in the opener, but has only three catches since. After 21 games with at least three catches in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, he’s only had five games over this total since the beginning of last year.
Kellen Davis, Over/Under 2 catches…..Davis hadnt seen much action since being a fifth round pick out of Michigan St in 2008 until a career high 18 catches a year ago. But he currently sits atop the Bears tight end depth chart and is their top option at the position. He’s only had three career games of 3 or more catches. He was shutout in the opener and has had games of one and two catches since for a combined 41 yards with one touchdown.
Tony Romo, Over/Under 23.5 completions, 253.5 passing yards, 1.5 TDs….Romo has had games of 22, 23 and 25 completions coming out of the gate in 2012. So we’re right on the line there. I am intrigued by the yardage prop. It seems a little low. He’s exceeded that number in two of three starts to begin the year, with only the 251-yard effort in Seattle beneath it. He’s averaging 280.8 passing yards a game. He passed for almost 262 yards a game a year ago, going over tonight’s bar 11 times. He’s exceeded 253.5 passing yards 29 of his last 40 games with two of more TD passes in 15 of 24. Both those look pretty tempting, despite going against the 7th ranked pass D in Chicago, allowin just 203 yards in game through the air. Hey, you’re backing a top-5 quarterback if you do so.
DeMarco Murray, Over/Under 80.5 rushing yards…..Murray is only averaging 70.1 yards per game so far this season, so based on that, this total seems a bit too high. He only has 82 yards since gashing the Giants for 131 yards on 20 carries in the opener, which is now light years in the past 24 days ago. If the Cowboys ever can get the Murray who went over this total in four of six games in the middle of last season, then look out. He had at least 22 carries in most of those games during that special stretch last year as a rookie that whetted our appetite on him. He’s only getting 16.67 carries so far through three games this year. If healthy, and the Cowboys dont forget about getting him carries, he seems a threat to get 100 yards against anybody, except tonight he faces a Bear D allowing just 76.4 rushing yards a game in 2012.
Miles Austin, Over/Under 4.5 catches, 68.5 receiving yards; Dez Bryant, Over/Under 4.5 catches, 66.5 receiving yards; Kevin Ogletree, Over/Under 3.5 catches…….I’m lumping all the Cowboy WRs together because they all basically have the same stats through three games. Austin and Ogletree both have 14 catches, Bryant has 13 catches. Austin has been targeted 22 times. Ogletree and Bryant have both been thrown to 20 times. Austin has had games of 5, 5 and 4 catches, has shown big play potential with 17.3 yards per catch and has yardage games of 109 and 73 yards already. While Austin has hit tonight’s over a combined four of six times this year, Bryant is the opposite, only going over these totals a combined two times–his 6-catch effort in the opener and his 85-yard day against Tampa in the Cowboys last game. The intriguing play may be Ogletree. You have to figure Austin and Bryant will be blanketed by Bears CB Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. That could open the door for Ogletree whose 14 catches already this season is just one shy of the 15 grabs he had all of last year. He already has games of five and eight catches this year and Romo targets him every bit as much as his more established running mates at the position.
Jason Witten, Over/Under 4.5 catches, 40.5 receiving yards…..Witten is targeted every bit as much as those WRs above. But he only has eight catches this season to go along with the 21 passes that were targeted for him originally. If he keeps getting those kinds of looks, eventually the catches would follow. Except he’s really struggling so far in the early going. He already has two game this season with more penalty yards than receiving yards and has three drops in consecutive games. He’s had games of 2, 4 and 2 catches, so under this total each time. Only his 58-yard effort in Week 2 would have gone over the yardage total. It’s ironic that with Romo off to such a hot start that both Bryant and Witten dont seem to be going over their stat totals on the player prop board. Witten could be just a mental mess with that spleen injury during August camp still weighing on him. According to ESPN Stats, he caught 50 of 64 targets a year ago, down the middle between the numbers on the field. This year, he’s only caught three balls, out of 12 targets. He has six drops already this season after just two miscues on those type of passes last year. Thats something to look out for tonight, regardless if you’re playing these props on the Dallas tight end.