The Dallas Cowboys have struggled offensively the last two weeks against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it doesn't get any easier on Monday night when the Cowboys draw the always-tough Chicago Bears.
The focus on this blog late this week has been on the Sunday games involving the Giants, Eagles and Redskins, but let's take a first look at the Monday nighter with a breakdown of what the Cowboys can do to cure what ails a struggling offense while keeping things rolling defensively against Chicago.
Stay away from Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Yeah, both of 'em.
This is where it's particularly advantageous that the Cowboys have three really solid wide receivers. The Chicago defense shut down the Colts and the Rams, but neither of those teams have the depth at receiver to exploit Chicago beyond its top two corners, Jennings and Tillman, both of whom are having lights-out starts to the season.
But when the Bears faced a deeper receiving corps in Green Bay in Week 2, D.J. Moore was beat on a key fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
Again, Moore hasn't been tested much thus far, but that should change this week. The Cowboys can't enter this game with big expectations for Dez Bryant or Kevin Ogletree on the outside, but Miles Austin has a chance to do some serious damage from the slot, especially if he draws the vulnerable Moore.
There's a chance we see Jennings move into the slot to cover Austin here and there, because he doesn't have the size to battle with Bryant and the Bears might prefer to let Moore or even Kelvin Hayden work against Ogletree, who would likely draw a lot of one-on-one coverage against that Cover 2 (yes, I realize how many times I just used the word "cover").
Regardless, there's something to be exploited there. Or at least avoided.
Incorporate DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones into the passing game
This isn't necessarily about exploiting a weakness, although, with Brian Urlacher struggling, the aging Bears defense appears as though it could indeed be vulnerable against backs on checkdowns or screens (Cedric Benson and John Kuhn combined for seven catches and 58 yards against them in Week 2).
But this is something they have to make an effort to do more often in order to get out of this offensive rut.
The offensive line is really struggling and the game plan was too cookie-cutter against Tampa Bay. If they come out with the same approach this week, Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli will be laughing.
We've heard so much about what a great receiver Murray is, yet he's averaging just three catches and 19 yards per game this season. To take the pressure off that line, while not constantly running at a defense that has surrendered only 3.8 yards per carry this season, the Cowboys should take full advantage of the receiving skills that their running backs possess.
Attack J'Marcus Webb, rather than sitting back like in the Seattle game
Again, the Packers created a blueprint for the Cowboys to follow here when they abused J'Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi and Chris Spencer in Week 2. Chicago's line held up much better last week against St. Louis, but the Cowboys can bring heat much the way Green Bay did out of the 3-4.
The Cowboys finally have the personnel in the defensive backfield to survive without a ton of help, especially against a receiving corps like Chicago's, which isn't special compared to what Dallas faces within its own division.
Dallas is thin at safety, which probably means it won't be able to move Gerald Sensabaugh up into the box often, but a blitz or two from the back end at an opportune time could be deadly against a line like this.
And even if they don't take gambles like that, the Cowboys should be overloading against Webb on the right side of the defense, regardless of how much help the Bears offer by making that the strong side. Anthony Spencer has rushed the passer on about 50 percent of his passing snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus.
But the way Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are playing, and with Matt Forte either out or playing less than 100 percent, that number should rise considerably as the 'Boys send five or more throughout Monday night's game.
Tampa's offensive line is solid, but I was surprised that the Cowboys chose not to overload with the blitz against the Seahawks in Week 2. No way Rob Ryan stays conservative again this week, right?
Cowboys fans had better hope not.