Bucky's Best  


DeMarco Murray vs. Brian Cushing among top Week 5 matchups


In this installment of Bucky's Best, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks highlights the can't-miss matchups to watch in Week 5:

DeMarco Murray vs. Brian Cushing

Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The transformation of the Cowboys' offense into a run-first unit has helped the team get off to a surprising 3-1 start in the NFC East. Murray has certainly been the catalyst as the NFL's leading rusher with 534 yards on 99 attempts (5.4 yards per carry). The fourth-year back has battled some fumbling issues -- with three in four games -- but that hasn't stopped the Cowboys from consistently feeding him. In fact, Dallas is one of just three teams to run the ball on at least 50 percent of its offensive plays. Given the success of the Cowboys' run-oriented game plan, Houston can expect to see Murray tote the rock early and often in this matchup.

Cushing has bounced back from a pair of season-ending injuries suffered over the past two years to anchor the Texans' defense in the middle. The sixth-year pro leads the team with 37 tackles and sets the tone with his aggressive play. Still, the Texans are surrendering 130.2 rushing yards per game (24th in the NFL). With J.J. Watt likely commanding double-team attention at the point of attack, the instinctive Cushing needs to fare well as a run-through player. The Texans must aim to slow down Murray and put the onus on Tony Romo to carry the Cowboys' offensive load.

EDGE: Cowboys

Jamaal Charles/Knile Davis vs. Patrick Willis

Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

Fresh off consecutive blowout wins, the Chiefs are suddenly surging in the AFC West behind a dominant 1-2 punch at running back. Everyone knows about Charles' dynamism -- with his explosive combination of speed, quickness and burst -- but Davis has emerged as quite a grinder, giving K.C. a wealth of riches in the backfield. The 5-foot-10, 227-pounder has posted back-to-back 100-yard games, exhibiting a hard-nosed running style that wears down opponents. With Charles returning to form following an early-season ankle injury, the Chiefs' dynamic duo poses a serious challenge to a San Francisco defense that is beginning to round into form.

In last week's win over Chip Kelly's Eagles, the 49ers' defense showed the NFL world that it remains a formidable unit with Willis spearheading the effort. The Pro Bowl linebacker played a major role in holding LeSean McCoy to just 17 rushing yards and disrupting the rhythm of Philly's high-powered offense. Although the Chiefs' scheme and personnel present different problems for San Francisco, Willis' role remains the same as the enforcer in the middle. He must control the tackle-to-tackle box to neutralize inside runs, while floating quickly to the sideline on perimeter runs to eliminate cutback lanes. If the 49ers' front line can keep the star linebacker clean and allow him to run unimpeded to the football, the NFL's second-ranked run defense could put the clamps on the league's fourth-ranked ground attack.

EDGE: 49ers

Julio Jones/Roddy White vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie/Prince Amukamara

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Falcons will have to ride or die with their explosive aerial attack to mask their defensive deficiencies. Thus, Jones and White must deliver A-plus performances whenever they step between the lines to help Matt Ryan carry the NFL's top-ranked offense. Jones is certainly doing his part, averaging an impressive 111.8 yards per game, but his veteran playmate needs to make bigger contributions on the perimeter. While White is averaging a respectable 13.4 yards per catch this season, the Falcons will need their No. 2 receiver to deliver more explosive plays against a Giants secondary that's big and athletic outside the hash marks. If the 32-year-old can alleviate some of the pressure on Jones to anchor the passing game, Ryan can continue to push the pace as the director of the Falcons' fast-paced offensive attack.

Based on last week's impressive effort against Washington, the Giants are capable of containing Atlanta's receivers. Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara held DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to a total of three catches, essentially eliminating the passing game outside the numbers. Although Jones and White are bigger and more physical than the Redskins' duo, the collective athleticism of the Giants' tandem should make it a very competitive battle on the perimeter. If Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can get an assist from Jason Pierre-Paul and Co. up front, Big Blue can hang with the NFL's most explosive offense on Sunday.

EDGE: Giants

Peyton Manning vs. Todd Bowles

Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

Manning is the best in the business at diagnosing coverages and taking advantage of schematic flaws on the outside. He routinely employs a variety of double cadences and fake hand signals to lure defenders out of pre-snap disguises before checking into favorable offensive plays. Most importantly, Manning has the discipline and patience to play within the system until the defense shows a vulnerability that can be exploited for a big gain. As a result, Manning is one of the most efficient players at his position (currently ranking fourth in passer rating with a 108.5 mark), yet delivers the kind of big-play production (three completions of 40-plus yards and an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio) that makes defensive coordinators cringe. Against a stingy Arizona defense that limits big plays, Manning's patience will certainly be tested in a rugged four-quarter affair.

Bowles hasn't received a lot of national attention, but he is quickly becoming regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football. Despite facing key personnel issues at every level -- DL Darnell Dockett is out for the season with a torn ACL, LB Daryl Washington is suspended for the year, and DB Tyrann Mathieu is still working his way back to 100 percent after last December's serious knee injury -- Bowles has held the Cardinals' defense together through clever scheming and an ultra-aggressive approach. Against Manning, he will need to dig deep into the crates to come up with a plan to disrupt the veteran's timing in the pocket. While his four-safety package (Mathieu and Rashad Johnson in traditional safety positions, with Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon as sub-linebackers) has caused problems for previous opponents, Bowles could unveil another exotic tactic to throw off the rhythm of the Broncos' passing game. If the defensive coordinator can create indecision in Manning's mind, his unit could snag an interception that changes the momentum of the game.

EDGE: Broncos

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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