Four Downs: O's consistency a concern?

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
12:57
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Jay Cutler and DeMarcus WareAP PhotoJay Cutler and the Bears' inconsistent offense will be put to the test against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys on Monday.
Jay Cutler didn't throw four interceptions or get sacked seven times against the St. Louis Rams, but the Chicago Bears' offense still struggled to find consistency in Week 3.

As they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, is there cause for concern? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears’ offense is dangerously inconsistent, and it will be in for a tough night against an aggressive Cowboys defense.


Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I'll go with fact just based off the last two games, but eventually the Bears' offense is going to figure it out. There's too much talent on that side of the ball for it not to happen. The fear, of course, is that DeMarcus Ware puts on a show and buries the Bears offensive line and Jay Cutler in the process. However, I'm not so knocked out by the Cowboys, so I could see a scenario where Cutler and Co. get back on track. But given Cutler's recent history in prime time against playoff caliber opponents, not to mention the rough outing the offense had last week at home against the Rams, I'm compelled to predict that the Bears will struggle. But I only do so half-heartedly.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWill Mike Tice and Jay Cutler get their offense back on track against the Cowboys?

Michael C. Wright: Fact. Sure, the Bears face a formidable defense in Dallas and it’s not an ideal time for the team to be experiencing growing pains on offense. But if Chicago can play a ball control type of game against the Cowboys by running the ball effectively, America’s team will make a catastrophic mistake on which the Bears can capitalize. Let’s remember for a second that Dallas’ offense is wildly inconsistent, too. And like the Bears, the Cowboys have several issues on the offensive line. It’s also worth noting that three of the five safeties on Dallas’ roster are injured. So there might be a few opportunities to hit the long ball.

Scott Powers: Fact. The Cowboys’ strength is their pass defense. They’re ranked second and have allowed 137 passing yards a game. Of course, two of those performances were against rookie Russell Wilson and Josh Freeman, but the Cowboys also contained Eli Manning. Where the Cowboys have shown some weakness is in their run defense. They rank 20th in rush defense, and Marshawn Lynch gained 122 yards on them. If Matt Forte was healthy and productive, the Bears could take advantage of that. But I don’t see that being the case this week.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. If I were a betting man, I’d probably stay away from this game, but if I were forced to pick, I’d take the Cowboys to win. Dallas has allowed the fewest yards per game and has forced four fumbles. Conversely, the Cowboys only have seven sacks and one interception. Expect those numbers to go up against the Bears. I think the Bears will start to get it together on offense, but I predict another off night in Dallas.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Tony Romo is better than Jay Cutler.


Jeff Dickerson: Fact. There really isn't a debate here. I'll give you that Cutler could outplay Romo when the Bears visit Dallas in Week 4, but in terms of their overall bodies of work, Romo is superior in basically every aspect: Wins, playoff appearances, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, quarterback rating, etc. It hasn't hurt Romo that the Cowboys have done a better job over the years surrounding him with offensive talent, but he's generally made the most of it. In terms of pure athleticism, Cutler should be better than Romo, but he isn't.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesTony Romo has had more offensive weapons to work with in Dallas compared to Jay Cutler in Chicago.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Cutler possesses more of the physical traits related to the position, but Romo has that “it” factor that teams around the league covet in a quarterback. Like Cutler, Romo hasn’t necessarily been what you’d call a big-game performer. But his mobility and creativity (and dare I say toughness?) give Romo the advantage over Cutler. In defending Cutler, people will point to the number of sacks he’s taken. Interestingly, Romo is often under similar pressure -- which explains him playing through a cracked rib and punctured lung for over a month in 2011, not to mention the broken collarbone he’s suffered or the bruised back and broken finger -- but he typically won’t take as many sacks as Cutler because he’ll either escape or throw the ball away. Both Romo and Cutler have a penchant for making questionable throws. But Romo’s career passer rating is 96.0 with a career 64.5 completion percentage to go with 153 TDs and 75 INTs. Cutler’s career passer rating is 83.6, and he’s thrown 120 TDs and 92 INTs despite being sacked just 23 times more than Romo over his career. The numbers don’t lie here, folks.

Scott Powers: Fact. It’s not as if Romo is torching defenses, but he’s certainly superior to Cutler right now. The only quarterback with a lower passer rating than Cutler is Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill. Cutler is at 58.6, and Tannehill is 58.2. Romo has been somewhere in the middle this season. He ranks 15th in passer rating at 89.3 and has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Romo has better weapons and more system consistency with a long-time relationship with head coach Jason Garrett, formerly his offensive coordinator. But Cutler has a bigger arm, plenty of athleticism, and more confidence than Jerry Jones. Well, he’s close. Cutler isn’t the most trustworthy quarterback in the game, but wouldn’t you rather see him quarterback your team than Romo?


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Cutler, who has targeted Brandon Marshall (31) more than twice as many times as the next Bears receiver, has to spread the ball around more for the Bears to be effective.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. So wait, Bears fans wait forever for the club to acquire a true No. 1 wide receiver and now people are going to complain he gets the ball too much. Marshall needs to be featured every single week, so there is no issue with his number of targets through three games. Now, it would be nice to get Earl Bennett more involved in the game plan, because while Marshall is the best receiver on the team, Bennett remains the best pure pass catcher. But Bennett's increased role should come at the expense of Kellen Davis or Devin Hester, not Marshall or Alshon Jeffery.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall has been targeted 31 times in three games by Jay Cutler.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. Defenses go into games against the Bears with stopping Marshall as one of the top priorities. So opponents are definitely going to devote schemes and coverages to the receiver. But at the same time, the Bears still need to test defenses regularly just to make sure they’re on the job. Marshall is the club’s featured weapon on offense and despite his tendency to drop catchable passes, he’ll often make grabs he’s not supposed to make. So on one hand the frequency of targets to Marshall is understandable. But on the other, there are too many weapons on the field to be unnecessarily wasting passes on Marshall with throws into double and triple coverage. Besides that, if a defense is double teaming a receiver it means somebody else is running free somewhere or in man-to-man coverage. It’s up to the other receivers to win their individual matchups. But it’s also on the quarterback to find them.

Scott Powers: Fiction. Marshall is the guy, and it’s fine that he’s being targeted so much. It’s not as if he hasn’t been catching a majority of the passes. The Bears’ passing problem is divided between Cutler’s occasional inaccuracy and the other receivers occasionally dropping passes. Cutler has looked for the rest of the group enough, and I still believe the depth is good there. They just haven’t connected enough.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Cutler just needs to throw better passes to Marshall. Yes, I’d like to see a little more attention paid to Bennett, but if the Bears can create longer drives, the looks to Bennett will come. Same with Jeffery. Cutler and Marshall need to click in the first quarter to open it up for the other receivers, and then, allow Marshall more room later in the game. But getting it to Marshall is key.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is a more impactful player than DeMarcus Ware.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Peppers remains a great player at this stage of his career, but in terms of sheer impact on a game, the younger Ware has to get the nod after recording 19.5 sacks last year and 15.5 in 2010. However, it needs to be mentioned that Peppers' impact sometimes doesn't show up on the stat sheet, as he constantly has to fend off double and triple teams for the betterment of his teammates. But Ware's numbers since he entered the league in 2005 have been outrageous, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. That's why he gets the call over Peppers in this particular category.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PresswireDeMarcus Ware has four sacks this season and 66 over the previous four full seasons.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. This is somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison because of the way they’re used in their respective defenses. If we’re talking about impact from the sheer standpoint of disrupting the quarterback, Ware wins this one by virtue of the fact he’s put together six consecutive double-digit sack seasons, including a 20-sack 2008 campaign and 19.5 sacks in 2011. Peppers’ year in terms of sacks came in 2008 (14.5), and he’s never recorded more than three double-digit sack years in a row. To me, impact is determined by a player’s overall value. In that category, Peppers edges Ware. In eight seasons, Ware has generated one more sack (103.5) than Peppers has in 11 years (102.5). But Peppers has forced more turnovers (36 to 29), broken up more passes (54 to 21) and intercepted more balls (8 to 1). Peppers is also asked to be more of an all-around defender than Ware, who is more of a pass rusher. Both command similar attention from offenses. But from this vantage point, Peppers does more overall and still manages to perform against double teams and sometimes triple teams. Let’s not forget that in 2010, Frank Omiyale -- that's right, Frank Omiyale – held Ware to no sacks and three tackles when the Bears beat Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. Think Omiyale could have done that to Peppers?

Scott Powers: Fiction: Both have certainly made an impact, but Ware has made more of one this season. He has 18 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. Peppers has eight tackles and 2 1/2 sacks. This week should be interesting as both offensive lines have had their troubles, and both linemen could be differencemakers.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Ware is no slouch, but Peppers is just a bully out there. Watching him against the Rams was like watching Deebo terrorize the neighborhood in "Friday." Asked to explain his 15-yard penalty for shoving Steven Jackson, Peppers said, "I finished the play." He envelops blockers and when he gets to a quarterback, well, he finishes the play.

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