The Chicago Bears (2-1) head on the road tonight for a prime time matchup against the Dallas Cowboys (2-1) on Monday Night Football. The Bears are fresh off a 23-6 home victory over the St. Louis Rams, while the Cowboys are coming off a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dallas owns a 13-9 edge over the Bears in the all-time series. Chicago won the last meeting 27-20 at Cowboys Stadium in 2010. The two clubs will face each other for only the second time on MNF, the first being a 22-6 Bears victory on Sept. 2, 1996 at Soldier Field.
Under Lovie Smith, the Bears are 7-2 on Monday Night Football, winning five of their last six contests.
Bears on Offense
Chicago offensive rankings
Points scored: 14th (24.7)
Total offense: 27th (290.0)
Rushing offense: 13th (103.7)
Passing offense: 28th (186.3)
Dallas defensive rankings
Points allowed: 7th (18.0)
Total defense: 1st (250.0)
Rushing defense: 19th (113.0)
Passing defense: 2nd (137.0)
Turnover ratio: 24th (-3)
Matchups to watch
LT J'Marcus Webb vs. OLB DeMarcus Ware
Ware is one of the best defensive players in the league. As an edge rusher, he can be downright dominant. He has earned double-digit sacks in all but one season, his rookie year, during his career, finishing last year with 18.0. He already has 4.0 this season and will be looking to add to that total against the Bears. Ware typically rushes off the offense's left side, meaning it's up to Webb to keep him at bay. Webb has had two good games this year, with a horrible performance against the Packers sandwiched in between, one in which he gave up 3.5 sacks to Clay Matthews. Webb has typically struggled against pass rushers of Ware's caliber. If he again acts like a turnstile, Chicago's passing attack will never get off the ground.
WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Morris Claiborne
The Cowboys will place Brandon Carr, one of the best cover corners in the league, opposite Brandon Marshall, and will likely roll safety help over the top as well. Meaning Jeffery needs to take advantage of his matchup against Claiborne, a fellow rookie. Claiborne is a talented player – he was drafted sixth overall this year – with great speed and instincts. Still, Jeffery has four inches and 20 pounds on Claiborne, a size advantage he must utilize. If Jeffery can win in man coverage against Claiborne, Dallas won't be as willing to roll coverage toward Marshall, which will open up Chicago's aerial attack.
-OT Gabe Carimi has given up far too much pressure this year. Things won't get any easier this week against OLB Anthony Spencer. Carimi must step up his game in pass protection and not allow Spencer in the backfield. The game plan will likely call for Webb to get help on the left edge, meaning Carimi will be left alone to shore up the right side. He must improve this week and keep Spencer out of QB Jay Cutler's face.
-Speaking of Cutler, he absolutely cannot have a repeat of the last two weeks, in which he has played horribly. Currently, Cutler is second to last in the NFL in passer rating (58.6) and no one has thrown more interceptions (6). His accuracy and decision-making have been downright pathetic. If he fails to improve, and forces passes into double and triple coverage against Dallas' No. 1-ranked defense, it will be a long night for Chicago's offense.
-RB Matt Forte (ankle) is listed as questionable on the injury report. Getting him on the field would be a huge boost, as backup Michael Bush is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Yet even if Forte does play, he'll likely be limited. The Bears won't have any chance against Dallas throwing the ball 60 times, so getting the running game going will be crucial. Whether it's Forte, Bush or third stringer Kahlil Bell, the rushing attack, which is ranked 25th overall in yards per attempt, must carry the load and pound Dallas' defense, which ranks 19th against the run, into submission.
Bears on defense
Chicago defensive rankings
Points allowed: 5th (16.7)
Total defense: 6th (279.0)
Rushing defense: 6th (76.0)
Passing defense: 6th (203.0)
Turnover ratio: 7th (+3)
Dallas offensive rankings
Points scored: 31st (15.7)
Total offense: 20th (342.0)
Rushing offense: 29th (76.7)
Passing offense: 13th (265.3)
Points allowed: 7th (18.0)
Matchups to watch
DT Henry Melton vs. RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
After three weeks, Melton's 3.0 sacks were second most amongst NFL defensive tackles. Opposite him tonight will be Bernadeau, who, according to Pro Football Focus, is one of the worst guards in the league. As a pass protector, he's been horrible, giving up 3.0 sacks and five hurries already. Melton started strong last year but faded for a long stretch in the middle of the season. He cannot disappear against the Cowboys. Melton must be able to take advantage of Bernadeau and consistently collapse the pocket, forcing QB Tony Romo into hurried throws.
LB Brian Urlacher vs. TE Jason Witten
The Cowboys have some talented wideouts but the club's most consistent pass catcher is Witten. Romo uses Witten as a safety net, particularly on third downs. With Urlacher's knee still at less than 100 percent, the Cowboys will likely try to test him in the passing game by running Witten into his zone. Urlacher, as well as the team's other linebackers and safeties, must be aware of Witten at all times on passing downs and make sure he isn't able to keep drives alive.
-RB DeMarco Murray can be a force when he gets warmed up. He's a ball carrier with a great blend of size and speed, who is just as likely to run over a defender as he is to run past him. If Murray gets going, the Bears will have to bring an extra player in the box, which will open things up for Romo and the Cowboys' aerial attack. The first priority for Chicago's defense must be to shut down Murray.
-The Bears lead the league in sacks (14.0), while the Cowboys boast one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the league. Dallas' struggles up front have contributed mightily to the team's 20th ranking in overall offense. DE Julius Peppers should have good success against OT Tyron Smith, while DE Israel Idonije should be able to build on last week's 2.5-sack performance against OT Doug Free. If the edge rushers, including Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton, can get pressure on Romo, it should help shut down the Cowboys' anemic aerial attack.
-Dallas has a couple of very talented wide receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Due to his size, the Bears will likely put CB Charles Tillman on Bryant, while tasking CB Tim Jennings with covering Austin. Both wideouts have big-play ability. The secondary for Chicago has been solid so far, picking off six passes, third most in the league. If the front four can pressure Romo and force him into some bad throws, the secondary must be ready to take advantage. These two teams boast outstanding defenses, so the deciding factor might come down to a defensive score. The Bears must make the most of their opportunities, as a pick-six could be the straw that breaks the Cowboys' backs.
PREDICTION: Bears 16, Cowboys 13
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.