The last game of Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season features two teams with aspirations of making a deep run into the postseason, as the Chicago Bears travel to Cowboys Stadium to face quarterback Tony Romo and Dallas in a battle of 2-1 squads.
Granted, both of these teams won two of their first three games, but neither squad exactly did so in dominant fashion, and if the Cowboys are going to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, here are three keys to a victory on Monday night.
And no, I'm not including pressuring Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler among them. Given how outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has played to this point in the season, and the Bears' struggles in pass protection, I'm just assuming that will happen.
Shut Down Chicago's Ground Game
When the Bears take the field for tonight's matchup, it appears that they will do so with their top offensive weapon back in the fold. Running back Matt Forte, who missed last week's win over the St. Louis Rams after an ankle sprain the week before, is expected to play, although Chicago head coach Lovie Smith cautioned in an interview with WBBM radio that the fifth-year pro is a game-time decision.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Smith said. “We’ll get over to the stadium and then decide.”
Fellow running back Michael Bush is a capable ball-carrier, but Forte is the foundation of the Chicago offense. Assuming that he plays, it will be crucial that the Cowboys shut Forte down, which, combined with the pressure they should be able to generate on Cutler, should force Cutler into some ill-advised throws that could lead to turnovers.
Get DeMarco Murray on Track
As important as it is that the Dallas defense shut down Matt Forte, it's equally as vital that the Cowboys get their own running game going.
Running back DeMarco Murray has gotten off to a slow start in his second NFL season, rushing for 100 yards only once in three games and scoring a single touchdown. As Ed Werder of ESPN recently tweeted, Murray has found himself on the ground in his own backfield at an alarming rate this year.
Werder (@Edwerderespn) October 1, 2012
Granted, getting the running game rolling isn't going to be an easy task against a Chicago defense that's allowing only 76 yards a game on the ground, but Dallas needs to make every effort to do so in order that the offense doesn't become one-dimensional, thus allowing the Bears' pass-rushers to pin their ears back and batter Tony Romo.
Paging Mr. Witten
DeMarco Murray isn't the only offensive star for the Dallas Cowboys that's gotten off to a slow start. After missing much of the preseason with an injured spleen, tight end Jason Witten has been missing in action for most of the season, making only eight catches for 76 yards in three games while dropping several passes.
This slow start has led some to question whether Witten is "gun shy" or pressing because of the injury, but the 10th-year veteran made no excuses for his lackluster play in a recent interview with Nick Eatman of CBS Sports.
“It's about me not making the plays, There are no excuses. I've just got to get the job done. I wish there was a way I could say I wasn't feeling good or I'm pressing or anything like that," Witten said Monday. "It's not that. That would be the easy way to really get out of it, but the bottom line is you've got to get it fixed."
Monday night's matchup with the Bears would seem to present an excellent opportunity to do just that, as the variation of the Tampa-2 defense that the Bears employ appears to be susceptible over the middle given that Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley torched the Bears for 10 catches for 105 yards and four touchdowns in two meetings in 2011.
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