- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, the Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler remains confident in his offensive line’s ability to protect him Monday night when the club faces the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium.
“I go into the game confident every game,” Cutler said. “We really like this game plan so far. I think the coaches have done a good job of putting it together. It’s just a matter of us mixing it up enough and keeping them off balance with our play calling and executing the plays.”
One player the Bears hope to keep off kilter is Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who is tied for fourth in the NFL with four sacks, and ranks third in the NFC behind Green Bay’s Clay Matthews (6) and Seattle’s Chris Clemons (5).
Cutler called Ware “a problem.”
In seven appearances on Monday Night Football, Ware has produced 6.5 sacks, in addition to forcing four fumbles and recovering another. But Cutler said he can’t become too occupied with watching his blind side, which will be protected by enigmatic left tackle J’Marcus Webb, who has surrendered two sacks, a quarterback hit and five hurries over the first three games.
That’s not to say the emphasis up front won’t be on stopping Ware.
“Once you get into the game, you’ve got to let the game plan take care of that,” Cutler said. “Monday through Sunday in this case we’re gonna do our best to get our game plan prepared and make sure we have the edges shored up and make sure we’re taking care of (No.) 94 because he can be a problem. If you leave him alone too many times one on one, he’s gonna make a play. So you’ve got to keep him guessing, throw a lot of stuff at him and hopefully at the end of the day keep him off you.”
It’s an uncertainty as to whether the Bears can effectively neutralize Ware, who leads a Cowboys unit ranked No. 1 in total defense (250 yards per game). Besides that, the Bears seem to be struggling with their own issues.
Cutler is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (6), and has thrown five of those INTs in his last two outings. Furthermore, the new weapons added in the offseason haven’t yet proven beneficial. According to ESPN Stats & Information, five of Cutler’s picks came when the Bears operated out of formations involving three or more receivers. Interestingly, those five INTs are two more than Cutler threw all last season out of formations featuring three or more receivers.
What’s more is Cutler has been sacked once in every 8.3 dropbacks through the first three games out of those formations, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That represents a rate that is 6.3 dropbacks worse than 2011, when the team operated out of Mike Martz’s offense.
“It’s the first year in the offense. It’s gonna take time,” Cutler said. “Very few offenses go out there first year offensively with a new offensive coordinator, new system, and put up 30-40 points a game. It’s a whole season. You’ve got to build on each and every game and get better.”
Perhaps that’s possible against Dallas’ highly-vaunted defense. After all, the last time the Bears played at Cowboys Stadium, then-starting left tackle Chris Williams left the game with a hamstring injury after the first play. The club inserted journeyman Frank Omiyale in his place, and the veteran held Ware three tackles and no sacks as the Bears overcame steady pressure from the Cowboys early to win 27-20.
The key, Cutler said, is for the offense to emphasize putting itself into advantageous situations on third down by gaining positive yards on first and second downs. Otherwise, “you’re fighting uphill,” Cutler said, adding that “positive yards on first down, whether it’s run or pass and the same on second down is vital.”
“We were successful there last time,” Cutler said. “Anytime you’re on the road it’s hard. No matter where you go, it’s gonna be loud. The home team always comes out, and they’re gonna give you their best punch early. So it’s a game you kind of have to weather it to get to the fourth quarter and play football.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said shoring up their production on first down will be a priority.
"We can’t improve everything in one week so we’re gonna look to focus on being better at first down," Tice said. "That’s what I talked to the guys about. I’m gonna attempt to do a better job of making sure our quarterback stays clean and allow our guys to play fast and see if we’ve come any distance since the Green Bay game."