As has been the case for every team in the NFL this season except the three undefeateds, the beginning of 2012 has been very hit or miss.
From one week to another, teams look completely different. Some look offensively unstoppable on one Sunday only to look completely hapless the next, while others boast rock-solid defenses one week that are capable of stopping the top teams in the NFL, and in the next can't stop the league's most questionable quarterback.
Such is the storyline that describes 2012 for the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys, both of whom need wins on Monday in order to build off the momentum they generated in Week 3. Both of these teams won their season openers, then suffered big letdowns in Week 2 only to surge again in their third games.
One of them will keep surging on Monday; the other will suffer yet another setback.
Here are the keys to the game for each of them.
In each of their wins thus far, the Bears have had a simple formula for success: score early and play solid second-half defense to hold on. It worked against Indianapolis in Week 1, and it worked against St. Louis in Week 3.
In the season opener against the Colts, the Bears staked out a 24-14 halftime lead and didn't let Indianapolis score again until the fourth quarter—and in the process, the defense came up huge, forcing five Colts turnovers. In Week 3 against the Rams, the Bears took a 10-3 halftime lead and only allowed a single field goal to St. Louis in the second half before putting up 13 fourth-quarter points of their own.
In Week 2—which marked the Bears' only loss of the season, at the hands of the Packers—they did just the opposite. They were shut out in the first half and allowed 10 fourth-quarter points to completely play themselves out of the game, and to add insult to injury, Jay Cutler threw four interceptions.
In each of the Bears' wins, Cutler has managed to limit himself to one pick, and Chicago has cruised. The Bears have been able to win even when Cutler hasn't emerged as the hero, so the key against Dallas doesn't really have anything to do with Cutler putting up huge numbers.
Instead, the first priority is to come out of the gates aggressive and focus on a solid defense that can really put the pressure on Tony Romo's questionable offense.
Ever since a somewhat shocking Week 1 road win over the Giants, the Cowboys offense has struggled—especially on the run. And coming up against a Bears defense that ranks sixth in both pass D and rush D, an inability to form a balanced offensive attack is going to spell doom for Dallas.
Currently, the Cowboys rank 28th in the league in rushing yards, and it's not like they're blowing it out of the water in the air, either: Their passing offense ranks 13th in the league. Both units have been mediocre at best, and that isn't going to be good enough against what has proven to be a very good Bears defense.
If there was ever a time for the Cowboys to have an offensive resurgence, this would be it. Tony Romo has been able to put up the yardage—he's thrown for an average of about 280 per game—but he hasn't been able to translate that yardage into touchdowns. Heading into Week 4, Romo has only thrown for four scores—and three of them came in Week 1 against New York.
Given the fact that the Cowboys most likely can't rely on a rushing attack that features just one player who has managed to gain more than 12 yards this season, this has to be the week Romo and his wide receivers rediscover the chemistry that led them to that huge win over the Giants in Week 1.