The Cowboys host Monday Night Football this week, taking on the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium. For more on the opponent, we talk with ESPNChicago.com's Michael Wright, who has covered the Bears for the last three seasons.
Q: How are the Bears in their new offense?
A: They're playing in a new offense, so they’re going to have to deal with the inevitable growing pains of implanting their third system in four years. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice wants to play what he calls a “duh” offense. That means he wants to exploit advantageous matchups, especially when it comes to the box count which will determine what checks they make at the line. The key early on is for this team to be able to establish the run first, and then work play action off that so they can take a few shots downfield. Because the offensive line struggles tremendously, Tice will look for ways to get the ball out of Jay Cutler’s hands quickly with three-step drops. He’ll also employ tons of max protection in the passing game, in addition to keeping in tight ends on the left side and sending running backs over to chip block.
Q: Is Jay Cutler beloved in the locker room and in the Chicago community?
A: He's taken a lot of heat for how he reacts on the field. There’s probably about a 50-50 split in the locker room and a 70-30 in the Chicago community. Within the locker room, Cutler certainly isn’t the most beloved figure. But at the same time, the team totally supports him. Ultimately in the NFL, players don’t necessarily have to like one another to perform once the lights come on. In the community, there’s an interesting dynamic at play. It seems that Chicago considers itself a blue-collar, working community. So Cutler’s body language, aloof demeanor and tendency to shirk responsibility for shoddy performance don’t sit well with a certain segment of the fan base. But there’s also a segment of the fan base that recognizes that Cutler is arguably the best quarterback to ever play for a team that traditionally has endured horrible play at that position.
Q: The Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall connection has struggled at times. Can it get better?
A: Yes, it can improve. But they need the pieces around them to do their parts. At this point it seems that Marshall and Earl Bennett are the only receivers Cutler totally trusts. So obviously, they’ll get the majority of looks from the quarterback. Once the Bears get the running game popping to take some of the pressure off Marshall, and allow for more diversity in the offense, you’ll see the Cutler-Marshall connection become more impactful. But at this point, Cutler forces too many throws to Marshall, who already has a penchant for making the circus catch, but drops routine passes.
Q: So is Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher on the decline?
A: He’s 34, so that’s inevitable. But Urlacher still possesses the physical attributes to make this team’s Tampa 2 system go. Urlacher is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery performed in August, and the team has been adamant about limiting his practice repetitions so the linebacker can make it through a 16-game season. So he’s still playing his way back into shape after missing about 95 percent of training camp and the entire preseason. But if you go off his performances thus far, you’ll see that every game he’s gradually improved and is trending toward more improvement.
Q: If Matt Forte can't play, who's the starting running back?
A: Forte recently returned to the practice field and said he expects to be healthy enough to play against the Cowboys. But Bears coach Lovie Smith cautioned against being overly optimistic about a Forte return for Monday night’s game. So if Forte can’t go, they’ll ride with Michael Bush, who they signed to a four-year contract in March worth $14 million. Bush started in Forte’s place last week when the Bears faced the Rams, and Smith acknowledged he took some hard shots in that game, including one that forced him out and thrust third running back Kahlil Bell into action. The word around Halas Hall is that Bush suffered a shoulder injury against the Rams. But the extent of the injury at this point is unclear, and he did attend practice Wednesday. So while it appears Forte might be set for a return, look for Bush to play if he can’t go. If Bush’s shoulder isn’t sufficiently recovered for Monday night though, you’ll likely see Kahlil Bell in the lineup.