Chicago Bears vs Dallas Cowboys: 5 Keys to the Game
Meanwhile, on Monday night, your beloved Bears will also return. The last time the Bears faced a pass-rusher like the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware was on a Thursday night against the Packers and Clay Matthews, and we all know how that turned out.
Well, that was then, and this is now. It's long been time to put that dark memory behind us and move on to an opponent who will be much tougher than the Rams we faced last weekend. Oh, and it's another game on national television, which hasn't been kind to Chicago over the years.
Yep, the 'Boys will be facing our boys and things could get ugly for Chicago if it doesn't control the line of scrimmage and fare well in the following key matchups.
So, as Hawk Harrelson would say, sit back, relax and strap it down as we dive into the top five keys to the MNF matchup as I see them.
J'Marcus vs DeMarcus
As DeMarcus Ware goes, so goes the Cowboys pass rush. In Dallas wins this season, Ware has four sacks, while he has none in their losses. He has a hamstring issue, but will play in the game.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that he will present a headache for the Bears offensive line, and especially the embattled left tackle, J'Marcus Webb.
Bears fans, not to say I told you so, but I told you so. All spring and summer long, I lamented the fact that Webb was still our starting left tackle, and with good reason. He couldn't stop a watch if he took out the battery, so how in the world is he going to stop Mr. Ware?
Undoubtedly, there will be a running back in to chip and an extra tight end staying back to block, but you can't do max protect the entire game. Just like in the Packers game when Webb was left to block one-on-one with Clay Matthews an incredible 11 times, there will be times when he's going to actually have to stop Ware on his own.
Webb is not good, of course, yet somehow, he did a decent job against Ware the last time he faced him. Of course, having to provide so much help for the left tackle takes away from Jay Cutler's options on offense, so it's not a good thing no matter how you slice it.
But if I'm setting up the offense, I will gladly trade some offensive weapons for Cutler to help keep Ware off his back.
Will Matt Forte Play?
In some circles, "Pay the Man!" is being replaced with "Play the Man!"
Of course, there is no point in running Forte out there if he isn't healthy enough to contribute, but the Bears do need him on Monday night.
Forte got paid, but the knee injury he suffered is a sharp reminder to just how fragile an NFL running back's career can be. And he is questionable for the game.
I realize the Bears signed Michael Bush with just this situation in mind. Yes, he is a punishing downhill runner who can do what Forte cannot do—get that yard or two in a tight third-down or goal-line situation—but he is not quite Forte.
The Bears will miss him if he sits, but at least Bush will provide a better-than-average replacement. One way or the other, the Bears will certainly need to establish the running game if they are going to beat the Cowboys. Having Forte active would help.
Dallas has the top-ranked defense, and it is second in passing defense, so it could be tough for Cutler to get the passing game going, especially without Earl Bennett, who is also questionable and has been affected by a hand injury.
Offense Needs to Get More Potent on First Down
Part of the reason for the Bears' offensive struggles thus far can be traced to a relatively anemic performance on first down. That needs to improve if the Bears are going to win on Monday night.
The Bears enter the game averaging just 3.3 yards from scrimmage on first down. That is the worst in the league. The NFL average is over five yards.
That usually leads to a longer third-down situation, and when the Bears are in an obvious passing situation, the defenders can pin their ears back and go after Cutler. The result is usually a sack or a hurried throw, and we all know what happens when Cutler forces the ball downfield in those situations.
This is critical, because the Bears cannot afford to turn the ball over against Tony Romo and the Cowboys. They will be difficult enough to beat without giving them the game.
Keep the Pressure on Tony Romo
Romo is one of the more dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL when he's on the run. He throws very well outside the pocket, so the Bears defense must do more than simply flush him outside the pocket to hold him down.
Did you know that Romo is the third highest-ranked QB in NFL history in terms of passer rating (96.6)? Yep, that stat surprised me too. But while that stat can be misleading and a bit flawed, it does point out that the Bears must game plan for him.
The Bears actually did well against Romo the last time these teams squared off in Dallas in 2010 even though Romo's numbers looked impressive.
The key here is to continue the impressive mix-and-match on the defensive line, rolling in and out tackles and ends as Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Israel Idonije, Shea McClellin and Amobi Okoye provide fresh bodies due to all that depth.
The push from the line will help flush the pocket toward Julius Peppers, who hopefully will have a big night. LT Tyron Smith is struggling against speed rushers. RT Doug Free has struggled even more.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys offensive line commits a lot of penalties, which has helped slow their offense down the last couple of weeks. In fact, the Bears and Cowboys are very similar teams. Both are 2-1 based more on their defense than their offense.
Still, holding down Romo will be one of the keys to victory.
Reduce the Mistakes
As I indicated earlier, these teams are eerily similar in many ways. One of those ways is that both teams have made their share of mistakes. The team that plays the most mistake-free football will win this game.
The Bears offensive line has committed penalties at inopportune times. Now, there is never really a good time for a penalty, but three key penalties by the line over the past couple of weeks have contributed to the Bears' rough start on first down.
Meanwhile, dropped passes have haunted the Bears a bit. Also, Earl Bennett, if he plays, needs to come back to the ball on under-thrown passes. In that case, he needs to understand that he is more of a cornerback than a receiver.
Of course, the biggest issue are the turnovers. We all keep hearing how the Bears need to win the turnover battle. While it may be a cliche at this point, it is very true. The defense cannot drop sure interceptions like Lance Briggs did against the Packers.
This goes for Dallas as well. Their offensive line has been very shaky too. Jason Witten has struggled, and I'm afraid he may have a big game Monday night. He has six dropped passes on the season. Against the cover-2 on third down, the middle of the field will be open, so Witten's production will go a long way toward helping the Dallas offense succeed.
Both QBs need to make good decisions under pressure. Cutler needs to get rid of the ball quicker or throw it away (unlikely), and if he does, the Bears can win the game. When they are in 3rd-and-long situations, expect the solid Cowboys defense to wreak havoc upfront, and so, Cutler's ability to adjust will be tested again.