IRVING, Texas – Two of the NFL’s top 10 receivers this season both reside on the upcoming opponent of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys have faced some of the toughest receivers in the league this season, from Calvin Johnson to Victor Cruz to the plethora of options at Peyton Manning’s disposal, but Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall could be the best duo they see all year.
“They’re real strong,” said cornerback Orlando Scandrick. “They both go up and catch the ball and highpoint well. We have faced good guys that go up, but I don’t know if we’ve faced two guys that go up and get the ball like these guys and are having seasons like these guys.”
Both Marshall and Jeffery are two of the bigger receivers in the game, each standing at least 6-3 and more than 215 pounds. They’ve totaled more than 2,000 combined receiving yards already this season and each ranks in the top five receiving in the NFC.
“There’s no question they’re awfully good outside,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “They have big, strong receivers who can go and get the football. Both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are guys who can make plays out there when they’re contested. I think their quarterbacks do a great job of giving them a chances to do it.”
The 6-foot-4 Marshall’s got an inch on Jeffery, and the Dallas Cowboys saw just how dominant and difficult to cover Marshall can be. When the teams met last year in Dallas, Marshall hauled in seven catches for 138 yards.
That was before Jeffery came on as an elite threat. Now that he has, teams are put in a bind trying to figure out which player to focus on.
“Teams now have to play fair,” Marshall said. “He’s starting to put on tape and show the NFL that the Chicago Bears have two wide receivers that can dominate. If you want to double me or roll coverage, Alshon is going to be on the other side licking his chops and taking advantage of each opportunity.”
Jeffery only had three catches against the Dallas Cowboys last year, but he’s a completely different receiver from the player he was last year.
After finishing with 24 catches for 367 yards last year, Jeffery’s already beyond the 1,000-yard receiving mark this year with 70 catches for 1,109 yards and five touchdowns.
“They’re big,” Garrett said. “All of their weapons, the guys who make a lot of plays on the ball, are big, strong guys who are long. They have good ball skills and they make those contested catches. You just have to compete, you have to do a good job at the line of scrimmage and certainly at the point of the catch.”
Jeffery’s developed a rapport in recent weeks with backup quarterback Josh McCown, who’s the likely starter for the Bears on Monday, and is coming off a 249-yard, two-touchdown receiving day.
Scandrick said what makes Jeffery special apart from his big frame is his body control.
“He doesn’t spend a lot of time at the line of scrimmage,” Scandrick said. “He just takes his release, uses his body to shield you and goes and gets the ball.”
Despite all that, Scandrick believes the Cowboys have a good game plan to try to restrict what the Bears can do. In addition, the frigid Chicago temperature could also have an effect on the passing game for both teams.
Then again, Scandrick’s not preparing for the weather to halt the Bears’ plan too drastically.
He said it doesn’t take much to throw up a jump ball to those two guys, in which case the corners can’t get distracted with the receivers’ height. Both Scandrick (5-10) and the 6-foot-tall Brandon Carr will surrender at least three inches to the Bears’ top receivers.
“You just play the ball,” Scandrick said. “You don’t want to get caught up into thinking how tall he is. You play the ball and hopefully you come down with it.”
Scandrick and DeMarcus Ware believe the key for the defense eliminating the big plays that have bit the Cowboys’ defense in the past. Scandrick said there were too many times last week when the Raiders’ receivers got on top of the defense, but he thinks the game-plan this week should help the Cowboys out more.
As always, he looks forward to the challenge of playing two of the best receivers in the game.
“I’m so competitive,” Scandrick said. “I love these moments, and I feel like we’ve got a bunch of competitive guys on this team. We’re all up for the challenge.”