There’s a sizeable difference between a 2-2 start to the season and opening 3-1. The Bears represent a major challenge for the Cowboys on Monday night in Dallas. Here are four ways the ‘Boys can keep pace with the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. . .
Don’t blitz early.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler struggles mightily when he senses pressure. Actually, his passer rating is 27.6 when throwing in the face of pressure in 2012, compared to 88.6 for Tony Romo. This has many calling for the Cowboys to blitz Cutler, but I think they should play pretty conservatively, at least early.
The reason is that the ‘Boys should be able to generate pressure with just four rushers. Cutler has been pressured on nearly half of his passes, and sacked on 10.6 percent of them
. Simply put, I think DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are going to win against offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi.
If the Cowboys can get to Cutler without blitzing, it will make it even more difficult for Cutler to find receivers downfield. The Cowboys can play zone behind their four-man rush, making it easier to capitalize on errant Cutler throws. Even if the Cowboys don’t pressure Cutler as often as if they were to blitz, the damage they can cause on poor passes will be magnified if they have seven defenders in coverage.
Focus on Matt Forte.
It looks like Forte is going to give it a go tonight, and he’s really the keystone of the Bears offense. Averaging 1.4 more yards-per-carry than fellow running back Michael Bush, Forte can beat you in so many ways. Forte’s presence as a receiver out of the backfield is an even greater threat to Dallas than what he poses as a runner, in my view. Look for Rob Ryan to place Bruce Carter—his best cover linebacker—on Forte for most of the defensive snaps.
Get DeMarco Murray on the perimeter.
The easiest way to neutralize Julius Peppers and rookie Shea McClellin is to run right at them. By attacking the perimeter of the Bears’ defense with powers and counters, the Cowboys will force Chicago’s defensive ends to stay home. Even if Murray doesn’t do significant damage on the ground, it could help slow down Peppers’ pass rush, aiding in the Cowboys’ playaction efforts.
Get D.J. Moore on the field.
The Bears’ starting cornerbacks have been magnificent through three games. Teams have been “picking on” 5’9’’ Tim Jennings, much to Chicago’s delight. Jennings has been targeted 27 times, yielding only nine receptions and a 4.9 passer rating. Yeah, 4.9. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have even tested Charles Tillman, throwing his way just five times all season.
Chicago’s nickel cornerback, D.J. Moore, isn’t so stellar. While Jennings and Tillman have combined to allow 4.03 yards-per-attempt, Moore has given up 8.69 YPA. He has also allowed a 69.2 percent completion rate, compared to 43.8 for the Bears’ starting cornerbacks.
The Cowboys can exploit this weakness by utilizing “11” personnel—one running back, one tight end, and three receivers—on early downs. In this package, Miles Austin is typically in the slot. Austin should be able to beat Moore pretty consistently, and the matchup surely represents the Cowboys’ greatest offensive advantage over the vaunted Bears defense.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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