3-1 vs. 2-2. That’s what the Cowboys are playing for on Monday night, and the psychological difference between those two records is astonishing. Here’s what the Cowboys can anticipate from the Chicago Bears as they try to remain atop the NFC East.
The Bears bring a formidable set of skill position players to the table, led by quarterback Jay Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and do-it-all running back Matt Forte. Despite their weapons, Chicago ranks just 28th in the NFL in passing yards. The reason is that the Bears’ offensive line has provided Cutler with absolutely no time to throw the football. They’ve yielded a sack on 10.6 percent of their pass plays—almost double the rate we’ve seen in Dallas.
Left tackle J’Marcus Webb has been decent, allowing five pressures on the year, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s three fewer than what I’ve assigned to Tyron Smith. Right tackle Gabe Carimi has struggled mightily, however, with only four offensive tackles allowing greater than his 11 pressures. With Anthony Spencer likely lining up over Carimi on around three-quarters of passing downs, I expect a big game from the Cowboys’ “other” starting outside linebacker.
Julius Peppers. Julius Peppers. Julius Peppers. That name needs to be on the mind of every Cowboys’ offensive player all week and throughout the night on Monday. Stop Peppers, and you’ll have a chance to do some things through the air. If he gets isolated on any player for more than a few snaps, it could be a long night for Tony Romo. The Bears lead the NFL in sacks (14)—twice as many as the Cowboys—and they are fourth in net yards-per-attempt, i.e. you aren’t throwing on them very easily.
The Bears have compensated for their pass protection woes by running the football. They’re one of the few NFL teams that have remained balance through three weeks, rushing the ball on 49.1 percent of their offensive plays.
A major part of Chicago’s game plan will be dictated by the presence of Forte, who now looks as through he’ll play after appearing doubtful earlier in the week. Forte adds a unique dimension to the Bears’ offense as a receiver out of the backfield. He’ll be able to potentially beat the Cowboys in a way that fellow running backs Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell probably wouldn’t, so it’s imperative that the Cowboys monitor him as the Bears’ second-largest big-play threat.
The Bears have found some success running behind Webb. They’re averaging 4.89 yards-per-carry behind their big left tackle, compared to only 3.62 behind Carimi. Overall, however, the Bears are totaling the same 3.5 YPC as the Cowboys. If Dallas can halt Chicago’s rushing attack to put them in obvious passing situations, they shouldn’t have trouble reaching Cutler.
Brian Urlacher receivers the publicity, but Lance Briggs is Chicago’s best linebacker. Briggs has played all but five of the Bears’ defensive snaps, and he’s always around the football. The entire defense can stop the run, though, as evidenced by the 3.8 YPC they’ve allowed. It could be a huge boost for the Cowboys if they can get something going on the ground, but as I noted in Tuesday’s breakdown of the ‘Boys’ running game, they’ll need to run more counters, draws, and other misdirection plays to use Chicago’s defensive speed against them.