September, 30, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO BEARS (2-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (2-1)7:30 Monday at Cowboy Stadium on ESPN
|Jay Cutler might be poised to put together a strong outing in the face of a fierce Dallas Cowboys pass rush if the team puts the offensive line in position to succeed and coordinator Mike Tice calls a smart game. But after posting a passer rating of 98.9 in the opener, Cutler has put together a couple of duds and has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions in his last two outings. Tony Romo suffers from some of the same deficiencies as Cutler, but he deserves credit for hitting 25 of 39 for 283 yards last week against Tampa Bay despite suffering four sacks.|| |
|Matt Forte’s status remains uncertain, but in his only outing against the Cowboys, he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. If Forte can’t go, the Bears expect plenty of production from backup Michael Bush, who has scored 18 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, which ranks as 10th-best in the NFL in that time span. The Cowboys haven’t gotten much lately out of their running game after DeMarco Murray rushed for 131 yards in the season opener. Backup Felix Jones has carried twice this season for no yardage.|
|Brandon Marshall is the only Bears receiver with double-digit catch totals (16 receptions for 214 yards and a touchdown), while the Cowboys feature three targets (Miles Austin, Kevin Ogletree, and Dez Bryant) with 13 catches or more. Add tight end Jason Witten -- who has struggled so far -- into the mix and it appears the Cowboys possess more weapons than the Bears. Cutler’s reliance on Marshall could be detrimental against Dallas’ talented secondary.
Brandon Gibson and Steve Smith are also capable targets.
| Dallas’ offensive line has given up seven sacks, compared to 11 given up by the Bears. But that statistic probably doesn’t tell the entire story because Romo is a more mobile quarterback than Cutler, and probably has been able to avoid some of the sacks. The Cowboys gave up four sacks last week and averaged just 1.7 yards per rush with LT Tyron Smith, LG Nate Livings, C Ryan Cook, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau and RT Doug Free leading the way. Chicago OTs J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi have been the Bears’ biggest liability in protection thus far.
|The Bears lead the NFL in sacks, and 13 of the club’s 14 sacks have come from the defensive line, which features DEs Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, and DTs Henry Melton and Stephen Paea supported by a strong rotation aided by DT Amobi Okoye, rookie DE Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. Because the Cowboys play a 3-4 front, the majority of their pass rush comes from the outside linebackers. NT Jay Ratliff is still out while Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher will man the DT spots.
|Bears MLB Brian Urlacher might be working back to form, but he flashed glimpses during an eight-tackle outing against the Rams and has made 19 stops in his last two games. WLB Lance Briggs continues to perform at a high level, and has tallied three tackles for lost yardage over his last two games. SLB Nick Roach posted his first sack of the season last week. DeMarcus Ware will likely be the most talented LB on the field Monday night, but Sean Lee and Bruce Carter add an athletic dimension.|
|The Bears are allowing 203 yards per game through the air, with cornerbacks Tim Jennings (NFL-high four interceptions) and Charles Tillman leading a secondary that has benefitted from a strong pass rush from the front four. Despite their youth and inexperience, Major Wright and Chris Conte flash playmaking ability. The Cowboys feature strong play at corner, too, with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne. But the safety position is iffy with FS Gerald Sensabaugh returning after missing last week with a strained calf.|
|Dez Bryant scored his first NFL touchdown against Chicago in 2010 on a 62-yard punt return in the first quarter, which likely isn’t a fact lost on Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub. So look for the Bears to try to tighten up their coverage units. On the return side, Devin Hester has come close to breaking a couple and has four kickoff returns of 30 yards or more and one punt return of 20-plus yards. If the game comes down to a field goal, Robbie Gould (6 of 6 this season) holds the advantage over Dan Bailey.|
|The nod goes to experience in this one and although Lovie Smith’s record against the Cowboys is just 3-3, he’s demonstrated more ability to keep a team together than Jason Garrett, who is in his second full season as Dallas’ head coach. Garrett presided over a Sept. 27 meltdown at Seattle in which the Seahawks outscored the Cowboys 14-0 in the third and fourth quarters, and his team hasn’t yet finished better than second in the NFC East. After running off a four-game winning streak in Garrett’s first year at the helm, the Cowboys dropped four of five down the stretch and missed the playoffs. The Bears did worse that season in losing five of six to end 2011, but they also lost Cutler and Forte to injuries.|
|Two streaky quarterbacks playing behind leaky offensive lines against strong defenses make for an intriguing matchup that will likely come down to field position and special teams. The team that can run the ball likely comes out on top of this game because the rushing attack eventually could open up things in the passing game. At this point, the Bears -- even if Forte can’t play -- seem better equipped to run the ball. But Chicago’s offensive line needs to do a much better job of protecting Cutler so he can hit open receivers on the few occasions they’re likely to be open. Romo probably will stand stronger in the face of pressure than Cutler, who has demonstrated an inability to keep his composure in difficult situations. This game has the makings of a slugfest. But given the disruptive pass rushes of both teams, the game could easily become a blowout.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 19, Cowboys 17|