Dallas Cowboys: Matt Forte
The Cowboys have had serious drafting issues over the years, but 2008 represents two misses in the first 25 picks.
The Cowboys could have had Chris Johnson, Ray Rice or Matt Forte with the 22nd overall pick but took Jones in part because he came from a two-back system in Arkansas and showed he could do more with less. Johnson has had a 2,000-yard season and has had more than 1,000 yards in every season. Rice and Forte have four 1,000-yard seasons apiece.
Jones topped out at 800 in 2010 and the Cowboys chose not to re-sign him after the 2012 season.
The Cowboys moved up to get Jenkins with the 25th pick in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.
Jenkins is remembered more for tackles he chose not to make rather than gutting out a 2011 season in which he played with a badly damaged shoulder. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2009 after he had five interceptions.
The Cowboys signed Orlando Scandrick to an extension in 2011 and moved up to take Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in 2012 as Jenkins rehabbed from the shoulder surgery mostly away from Valley Ranch. The Cowboys made no effort to re-sign Jenkins, and he ended up with a one-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
Teams can’t miss on first-round picks. They have to get two contracts out of them, but the last first-round pick they have extended with a multiyear deal before the rookie deal expired was DeMarcus Ware (2005). Anthony Spencer, their first-rounder in 2007, was given the franchise tag in back-to-back years but is a free agent this March. Dez Bryant (2010) figures to break that trend soon.
Kiper had the Cowboys choosing wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who went No. 205 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, and defensive tackle Kendall Langford.
The Garcon pick is interesting because it likely would have meant the Cowboys would not have dealt for Roy Williams in the middle of the 2008 season and thus saved themselves from a disastrous deal. Langford has been solid for the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.
Fear not, however, because the Cowboys do have Kiper’s No. 24 pick on their roster. He had Brandon Carr, who was a fifth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, going to the Tennessee Titans. Of course, Kiper also mentioned Carr’s play the past two seasons has been “middle of the road.” Among the players Kiper also considered for the first round was wide receiver Danny Amendola, who was an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys that year.
So there’s that.
On his radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Tuesday morning, Jones said, "First of all, he knows what's happening to us better than anyone. And if there are adjustments to be made, he's the right man for the job right now."
He saw Josh McCown throw for four touchdowns against Kiffin's defense. He saw Kiffin's defense give up 33 first downs and 490 yards. He saw Kiffin's defense allow the Bears to convert on eight of 11 third-down opportunities. If you're scoring at home, that's the sixth time teams have converted on at least half of their third downs in a game against Kiffin's defense.
Brandon Marshall had 100 receiving yards against Kiffin's defense. Matt Forte had 102 rushing yards against Kiffin's defense.
How does Jones have confidence in what Kiffin is doing?
"Well, I think that you realize you don't have a choice," Jones said immediately after the game. "We can do some things different out there. It's not as safe, but it could be more effective. Maybe get us a turnover when it could have made a difference and change the tide out there. But I'll assure you that we'll be doing some different things up against Green Bay. There'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay. But they used their assets very effectively, those big receivers, and to the quarterback's credit, he put it on them and we just couldn't defend it."
I'm not a certified decipherer of Jones-ese, but it sounds lile he wants Kiffin to gamble more, to be unsound if necessary. It sounds like he wants Kiffin to be (gulp) more like Rob Ryan. Jones lived in fear of all the exotic packages Ryan rolled out in 2011 and had the coordinator scale it back in 2012. He thought the players had to think too much and thus reacted slowly. Ryan was fired after last season.
Jones is like Goldilocks looking for the defense that's "just right." That's the problem. His convictions change too conveniently. If Ryan is too blitz happy, he wants to change. If Kiffin is too conservative, he wants to change.
The owner and general manager cannot be that fickle.
Kiffin's scheme has never been built on tricking people. It was built on great players making plays. He had great players playing for him in Tampa Bay. There's a chance three more of them could one day join Warren Sapp in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The defense is built on getting pressure with four players. It is built mostly on zone concepts. The Cowboys can't get pressure with four players right now and their corners play best in man-to-man, although Monday it did not matter what coverage they played.
The owner has paid a lot of money for pieces that do not fit or have not performed, and the general manager does not have enough pieces for Kiffin's scheme -- or Ryan's scheme -- to work well enough to just be presentable.
CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.
What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.
If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.
It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.
If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.
Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.
There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.
The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.
In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).
They did whatever they wanted to do.
Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.
Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?
The Cowboys might be about to find out.
Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.
But why be positive on a night like this?
What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.
“Great football player,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “Just a fantastic football player. They hand it to him. They throw it to him. He’s a guy who makes people miss. Very good instincts for the game. He can catch the ball. He’s good in space. He’s good inside.”
In two games against the Cowboys, Forte has rushed for 81 yards and caught six passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.
The Cowboys are allowing 126.7 yards per game on the ground, which is 27th in the NFL. They have allowed three teams to rush for more than 200 yards and in three of their past four games they have allowed a 100-yard rusher (Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Andre Brown).
Forte is one of three backs with 900 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving, joining Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. The Cowboys played against both already and limited Charles and McCoy to 55 yards rushing apiece.
“He is an extreme challenge,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “He is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL. There is not one area of the game he is not good at. He is a great pass protector, great runner, great out of the backfield catching passes, so it’s going to be a challenge for us to try to stop him.”
What’s funny is how people say the division is awful and the Cowboys should run away with it. I wonder why. It’s not as though the Cowboys’ roster is filled with so much more talent than the rest of the division.
If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC East, the storyline is set for those who want to believe they underachieved again; not that they might be just as poor as the division's other three teams.
Anyway, let’s get to wondering in this week’s Five Wonders:
• I wonder if I got a little carried away with the defensive redemption angle from Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins. When measured against the performances against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, it was better. A lot better. But the defense still allowed 433 yards, gave up 216 rushing yards, including 77 on nine carries from Robert Griffin III. Their work on Alfred Morris was OK until the 45-yard touchdown run. But with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy coming up Sunday and games against Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte, as well as rematches with McCoy and the Morris-Griffin tandem, the run defense will have to improve. McCoy leads the NFL with 630 yards rushing and runs like he is part of a video game.
• It’s way too early to even think about the Pro Bowl, but while some of the normal names on the roster will get kicked around for the all-star game, like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant, I wonder if Dwayne Harris works his way into the mix. The Cowboys have not sent a non-kicking/punting special teamer to the Pro Bowl since Jim Schwantz in 1996. Harris is proving to be a dynamic punt returner. It’s more than just his 86-yarder for a touchdown against the Redskins. He gets positive yards almost every time and his decision-making has improved. Although fielding a punt at his 5 might be a little dubious, but it speaks to his confidence level. In his last 16 games, he has 10 punt returns of at least 20 yards. He is averaging a ridiculous 23.6 yards per punt return and 34.7 yards per kick return. The sample size is small, but Harris is making a name for himself.
• I wonder if people forget there is a salary cap in the NFL. When the Cowboys cut Will Allen last week I was inundated with those asking if the team is setting up a trade for Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is playing this year on the franchise tag. With roughly $2 million of cap space, the Cowboys are not in position to make a splash trade without a long-term commitment that they just can’t afford to make with other players inching toward free agency. They would have a hard time adding a substantial veteran free agent as well because of the cap. There are ways to move some money around, like re-working Doug Free’s deal, for instance, but they would be setting themselves up for a tighter cap in 2014 and possibly beyond. The best the Cowboys can hope for is internal improvement along the defensive line as they better understand what Rod Marinelli wants.
• I wonder how it is possible Dez Bryant has as many games averaging less than 10 yards per catch as he does averaging at least 13.5 yards per catch. Against the Redskins, Bryant caught five passes for 36 yards. In the opener against the Giants, he averaged 5.5 yards per catch. Against the St. Louis Rams he averaged 9.5 yards per catch. It’s proof that if teams want to take a receiver away, they can do it. It might also be proof the Cowboys are not always willing to take shots down the field, even to Bryant, who can outmuscle just about any defensive back in the game. The Cowboys have done a better job moving Bryant around this year, but they have to get the ball to him in space more.
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His role with the Eagles most likely will be as a change-of-pace runner, which was exactly his role with the Cowboys.
That's not a problem for the Eagles. For the Cowboys, it was.
In 2008, the Cowboys invested a first-round pick on Jones, hoping he'd become a backup for Marion Barber. That was wrong. An NFL team should never spend a first-round pick on a backup player.
In five NFL seasons, Jones rushed for 11 touchdowns and had 26 games with double-digit carries -- but only two with 20 or more carries. You could blame that on any number of factors: Jones' inability to remain healthy, coach Jason Garrett's lack of trust, or even inconsistency.
Before his injuries, Jones displayed speed, toughness and elusiveness. His body just wasn't durable enough to sustain it.
If ESPN Films' documentary series "30 for 30" ever does one on the stellar 2008 running back draft class, I'm sure somebody with the Cowboys will defend the franchise's choice to select Jones. But there's no defending it. Don't you wonder what would have happened if the Cowboys had bypassed Jones and instead drafted Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte or Jamaal Charles?
When you don't offer a second contract to a former first-round pick -- no matter the position -- that tells you something about what the franchise thinks of that player. The Cowboys will say Jones wasn't a bust and that he scored 15 total touchdowns in five NFL seasons and rushed for 2,728 yards.
But now the Eagles have their backup running back, and they acquired him the way you normally would ... and not by using a first-round pick on him.
|ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins joins Galloway & Company to discuss the latest from the NFL owners meetings, Tony Romo's contract situation and much more.
"We've got to look at the backup backfield," Jerry Jones said. "You can't dismiss Felix. I don't want to dismiss him from our thinking."
The backup running backs to DeMarco Murray currently are Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar.
"Dunbar is pretty impressive when you look back (on his season)," Jerry Jones said. "When he got his chances, he did real well. He was in some pretty critical situations. He's got a real receiver knack. He can find the soft spot. He gives us an alternative. He's going to have to make the contribution on special teams. It's hard not to have that third back be a special teams contributor."
Felix Jones is not a special teams contributor, but he's someone, if healthy, who could have an impact.
"I didn't expect Felix to have some of the physical limitations that he's had," Jerry Jones said. "I know how hard of a worker that he is, and I know what his motor was when he came out of Arkansas. The facts are he did some good things for us last year. I would have hoped with those two No. 1 picks, Felix could have been the one. But of course, Murray had something to say about that. But the big thing with Felix has been his health. That's been the most disappointing thing."
The owner wouldn't call Felix Jones a bust, but compared to the other running backs drafted in 2008 -- Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles -- there is major disappointment.
"I'm disappointed that Felix hadn’t been healthier," the owner said. "But I know that when he first joined our team, we were proud to have him with that No. 1 pick. And, as late as last year, I was proud to have that No. 1 in (Mike) Jenkins, the other first-round pick that year. But it's five years down the road now."
Position: Running back
Summary: For only the second time in his five seasons, Jones was able to play a full season. But he was banged up throughout the season. Jones started seven times after DeMarco Murray suffered a sprained foot, but he never had more than 100 yards rushing in a game. He finished the year with 402 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 111 carries. He also caught 25 passes for 262 yards and caught two touchdowns. With a chance to change perceptions in a contract year, Jones came up short.
Why keep him: The Cowboys need a backup running back behind Murray and one with the ability to start, considering Murray's health issues. Jones would be cost efficient, as well. He knows the offense and has familiarity with the coaches.
Why let him go: Jones is a reminder of just how wrong the Cowboys were in 2008 when they drafted him in the first round over backs such as Ray Rice and Matt Forte. He has a difficult time staying healthy and he is just not an instinctive runner.
Follow the rest of the series here.
The running game was bad in Week 3 against the Buccaneers and got worse against the Bears. DeMarco Murray gained only 24 yards on 11 carries. He was dropped for a loss four times, meaning he's lost yardage on 11 of 29 carries over the last two games. Murray's 131-yard performance in the season-opening win over the Giants is the exception. The norm: 106 yards on 31 carries in the three games since then, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Speaking of exceptions, Felix Jones actually looked fast on his lone carry of the night, a 13-yard burst. That was a rare occasion when the offensive line opened a hole.
The five interceptions far overshadow Tony Romo's 307 passing yards. And who cares that Kyle Orton threw for 89 yards and a touchdown during mop-up time? It's close to impossible to win when the franchise quarterback throws more touchdown passes to the opposing team than to his teammates. Romo missed wide-open receivers twice on potential touchdowns, too. Dez Bryant had eight catches for a career-high 105 yards, but this was one of his worst performances. He had two killer drops and a mental bust that led to Charles Tillman's pick-six. The return of the real Jason Witten (13 catches, 112 yards, TD) offered little comfort.
Matt Forte found some room, gaining 52 yards on 13 carries, but the Bears' running game didn't really hurt the Cowboys. Dallas bottled up backup Michael Bush for 29 yards on 10 carries. The Bears finished with fewer than 100 yards on the ground and averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Inside linebacker Sean Lee had another outstanding performance as a run-stopper, being credited with 14 tackles, including one for a loss. Nose tackle Josh Brent played strong up the middle, getting four stops, including one behind the line on a third-and-short. Fill-in outside linebacker Victor Butler got his end turned a few times and only made one tackle, but it's not like the Bears won the game because they exploited Anthony Spencer's absence.
Chicago QB Jay Cutler entered the week as the NFL's interceptions leader but had an almost flawless performance against the Cowboys. Cutler completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 140.1. The Cowboys weren't able to exploit a questionable offensive line, sacking Cutler only twice. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne both owned up to playing poorly. Brandon Marshall (seven catches, 138 yards, TD) was dominant, although Carr didn't cover him on all of his catches. Claiborne got burnt by a Devin Hester double move for a touchdown.
The Cowboys contained Devin Hester, who had only one punt return for eight yards and two kickoff returns for 50 yards. Brian Moorman pinned the Bears inside the 10-yard line on two of his three punts. Felix Jones took a knee on five kickoffs -- yes, that counts as progress -- and failed to get to the 20 the two times he came out of the end zone. Dan Bailey made his only field goal attempt. And Joe DeCamillis' units didn't have any disasters.
Jason Garrett's offense is as big a mess as there is in the NFL. Oh, the Cowboys are no longer the lowest-scoring team in the NFL. They avoided that dubious distinction with a garbage-time touchdown, but a five-turnover performance was an epic failure. Garrett has two weeks to figure things out, and he'll need every minute of it. Rob Ryan failed to generate much pressure on Cutler despite facing a suspect Chicago offensive line, but at least he had an excuse with four starters out and linebacker Bruce Carter missing much of the game.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys are down at the break, 10-7, and didn't play well until the final drive of the first half. Tony Romo completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin that ended a nine-play, 80-yard drive.
Let's look at the first half:
Stick to the run: It's hard to run the ball when you get behind 10 points, so excuse the Cowboys for passing the ball extensively at the end of the first half. But the Cowboys have to keep things going on the ground. DeMarco Murray picked up just 13 yards on seven carries in the first half, and that's not going to get it moving forward. The Cowboys have to stick to the ground game if they expect to win. It seems Austin (three catches, 41 yards) and Dez Bryant (four catches, 44 yards) are getting free on quick slants, but nothing deep is developing for the Cowboys. Dallas needs to get Murray the ball 10 more times in the second half.
Finish pass rushes: You hear all the time about coaches wanting their players to finish plays. Well, quarterback Jay Cutler finished a play while the Cowboys' Victor Butler didn't. Cutler completed a 16-yard pass to Kellen Davis, a player the Cowboys targeted in free agency. The Cowboys didn't have any sacks in the first half and they didn't blitz a lot, playing mainly their base 3-4 stuff and sprinkling in Mike Jenkins at free safety in four-receiver sets. But the Cowboys' pass rush couldn't get to Cutler, who was sacked 11 times coming into the game. He didn't get knocked down or rattled early, something the Cowboys need to work on if they're expected to win. In the second half, the Cowboys have to get to Cutler and send some blitzes from the outside.
Stop the run: Chicago's Matt Forte was a game-time decision with an ankle sprain. His first run of the game was for 8 yards. Forte left the game briefly to get his ankle re-taped. He later returned and finished the first half with 42 yards on seven carries. The Cowboys lost inside linebacker Bruce Carter to a left hip injury and they were also playing without outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, a strong run stopper. The Bears' offensive line gave Forte some running lanes to work with in the first half. The Cowboys need to either run blitz or hope Carter returns in the second half.
Butler started the Dec. 19, 2009, game at New Orleans when DeMarcus Ware was limited with a neck injury. So far this season, Butler has been credited with two tackles and a pass deflection in a backup role through three games.
With Chicago having Matt Forte playing despite an ankle injury, Butler’s work against the run will be under the microscope, because that’s what Spencer does best.
“Victor did an excellent job against the run last week (against Tampa Bay),” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Saturday. “He really focused on that. We had a couple of mistakes in that game the previous week (against Seattle), so he’s got lot of work and stepped up and did a nice job.”
Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer joins nose tackle Jay Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman on the Cowboys' inactive list. Strong safety Barry Church was placed on injured reserve this week after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.
As late as Monday morning, the Cowboys planned for Spencer to play despite missing all of this week's practices due to a strained pectoral muscle. However, it was determined that the risk of Spencer aggravating the injury was too high. He is expected to play return after the Cowboys' upcoming bye week.
COWBOYS INACTIVES: P Chris Jones, S Matt Johnson, LB Alex Albright, C Phil Costa, NT Jay Ratliff, OLB Anthony Spencer, DE Kenyon Coleman
BEARS INACTIVES: FB Evan Rodriguez, G/C Edwin Williams, G/T Chris Williams, DT Matt Toeaina, WR Earl Bennett, DT Nate Collins, DE Cheta Ozougwu.
The series: The Cowboys lead the all-time series 13-9 and have won two of the last three meetings. This will be just the fourth meeting between the teams in the last 14 seasons. At one point, the Cowboys had defeated the Bears in six consecutive games from 1973-84.
It's Monday night: The Cowboys are making their 74th appearance on "Monday Night Football," second most in league history. Miami has made the most appearance with 78. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 43 MNF victories. The Bears and Cowboys have met only once on "Monday Night Football" with the Bears winning 22-6 on Sept. 2, 1996. With Lovie Smith as the coach, the Bears are 7-2 on Monday nights, including winning five of the last six contests.
Spencer and Forte status: Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is listed as questionable with a pectoral muscle injury. He is a game-time decision. If he plays, Spencer will wear a harness. Spencer is second on the team with two sacks and leads with nine quarterback pressures. Matt Forte, the Bears' starting running back, is questionable with an ankle injury. Forte was limited all week in practice. Forte has rushed for just 111 yards on 23 carries this season. Expect both players to participate on Monday night.
Cowboys offense struggling: After scoring 24 points in the season-opening victory against the New York Giants, the Cowboys have totaled just 23 points the last two weeks. You can point to any number of reasons for the struggles, from lack of a running game to an inconsistent offensive line to the playmakers -- Dez Bryant and Miles Austin mainly -- not getting enough touches.
Carr vs. Marshall: In the last two games against the Cowboys, Brandon Marshall has nine catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns. But Brandon Carr wasn't defending him. Carr is a big cornerback who can use his power to redirect receivers off their routes. It should be a good one-on-one matchup between the two players. Jay Cutler was questioned about targeting Marshall too much this season. Is it too much?
Bears pass rush is deadly: The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks, with 10.5 of the sacks coming from the front four. The Bears don't blitz a lot, instead asking the front four of Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Julius Peppers to bring the pressure. The Cowboys' offensive line has allowed seven sacks this season, including four last week in the victory over Tampa Bay. The Cowboys' front has struggled, with tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith combining for 12 penalties.
Where is Witten? Jason Witten, who leads the NFL with five drops, says he's healthy and doesn't make any excuses for his slow start. Tony Romo's favorite target is going through a tough stretch right now. Is this the start of a decline for Witten or just a bad stretch?
Where is Urlacher? Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has no tackles for loss and, based on the coaches' stats, is tied for the team lead with 21 total tackles. Some believe Urlacher is on the decline, but this is a game where he needs to establish himself as a force.
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.
Smith, the Hall of Famer and NFL's career leading rusher with 18,355 yards, likes the Cowboys' running backs but made some interesting comments about backup Felix Jones.
"And then when you look at the running back corps, they have two good guys – very good guys – and either one of them can shoulder the load and shoulder the burden at any point in time," Smith said. "We need Felix Jones to step up because we know DeMarco Murray can make it happen. We need Felix to step up a little bit – that’s a true statement."
Now, let's repeat, Smith said the Cowboys, "have two good guys, very good guys" as running backs. Yet his comments about Jones are worth looking into.
When you look back on that 2008 draft, we can think about at least five running backs selected after Jones who have produced better numbers. Jones has rushed for 2,326 yards on 458 carries. He's got only eight rushing touchdowns. By the way the five backs we thought about were Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles. When the Cowboys drafted Jones, it was mainly to back up Marion Barber.
But do you really waste a first-round pick on a backup?
Jones is a terrific running back, someone who can make defenders miss in space. He doesn't have the speed of, say, Johnson, but he's a running back who is hard to chase down at times.
The Cowboys have always described Jones as a complementary back and with good reason. He backed up Barber since he came into the NFL and when given the chance to become the full-time starter last season, he lost the gig to DeMarco Murray due to injury.
Jones has played 16 games in a season only once in his career.
Yes, running back is a tough position and few teams go with just one back, but Jones' durability is something that has been an issue for him throughout his career.
And as he enters the final year of his contract, you begin to wonder if he'll get a second deal with the Cowboys.