The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Last season, DeMarco Murray was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on 14 carries. In the Cowboys’ 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay on Sept. 23, Murray was stopped in the backfield seven times and the Cowboys’ ground attack, ranked 29th after three weeks, sputtered for the second consecutive game. Now, Murray will face a Chicago front that is yielding an average of 3.8 yards per carry, the 11th-lowest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
Against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys’ receivers came to life. Miles Austin accumulated more than 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and Dez Bryant nearly doubled his catch total. But tight end Jason Witten is still struggling and pass protection remains a problem. Quarterback Tony Romo will face a Chicago pass defense that has improved significantly since last season when it was ranked 28th in the NFL. Right now the Bears are surrendering an average of only 203 yards through the air. They also led the league with 14 sacks after Week 3.
When the Bears run
Matt Forte didn’t play in the Bears’ Week 3 victory over St. Louis because of an injured ankle. And he is questionable this week. If he can’t play, Chicago’s rushing attack should still function. Michael Bush, the primary ball carrier in Forte’s absence, gained 55 yards and scored the Bears’ only offensive touchdown against the Rams. It will be interesting to see how he or Forte, if available, fares against the Cowboys, a team that failed to corral Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch but limited Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 53 yards on 19 carries.
When the Bears pass
Receiver Brandon Marshall has added a new dimension to Chicago’s passing offense. But Chicago still has an offensive line that struggles to protect Jay Cutler. Cutler has already been sacked 11 times in 2012 and the pressure he has faced seems to have impacted his performance. He has completed only 52.7 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. A Cowboys defense that had yielded fewer passing yards than all but one team should be able to create more problems for Cutler and the Bears.
Led by the inimitable Devin Hester, Chicago was in top ten in both punt and kick return average after three weeks. It’s expected the Cowboys will try to keep the ball away from Hester, who scored three touchdowns on special teams last season. But it won’t be easy now that Dallas punter Chris Jones is doubtful with a sprained knee. Jones allowed only 4.4 yards per return – the second-lowest average in the NFL after three weeks. His replacement, Brian Moorman, signed last week, yielded 21.5 yards per return – the fourth-worst average in the NFL at the time he was cut by Buffalo on Tuesday.
Chicago won’t be in awe of Cowboys Stadium when they arrive. They’ve been here before. Two years ago, the Bears defeated Dallas 27-20 and helped set the stage for the eventual mid-season firing of head coach Wade Phillips. That game took place on Sunday. This one is happening on Monday night, when the Cowboys have thrived recently. Since 2007, they have won four of the last five times when they’ve played the final game on the NFL’s weekend football schedule.
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