Benchmark Bears

Finally, an opponent with both marquee billing and measuring stick capabilities.

Say what you will about the high-flying Cowboys offense or the underachieving defense, no one yet knows what or who these Dallas Cowboys are. The first real glimpse comes Sunday night in the Windy City. Strength finally meets strength, and something has to give. Fortunately, the Cowboys defense will be afforded the opportunity to continue the fine-tuning, but the offense will have its hands full. Cowboys' fans, that's a good thing. A very good thing. True identity and battle-readiness must be revealed. Time to pull back the curtain.

Before venturing into the Cowboys' specifics entering the contest, something must be addressed and clarified. While a game will be played Sunday night, it's merely a small piece of the puzzle. Those individual pieces compile the big picture known as the NFL landscape, and its purpose is entertainment. Professional football is a sport, but more importantly, it's a component of the entertainment business, and the word business must be emphasized. It's the sole reason Terry "Tank" Johnson finds himself a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Are you troubled by this apparently-troubled individual?

The suggestion is to get over it quickly and leave the moral code at the door. It's amusing when every media outlet and its employed personalities suddenly have a moralistic infusion and feel the need to put their stamp of approval or disapproval on a particular personnel decision. Somehow they feel their personal stamp is required and should function as the moral compass for the organization. Sorry folks, the issue is much bigger than that. Personal ethics and moral stances are not the story. In the end, it hardly matters whether a reporter or columnist feels an organizational move was good, bad, beneficial or detrimental. The decision, a business one at that, is made, and that's the story. The rap sheet, police blotter, fan reaction and public outcry are secondary to the actual hire of Tank Johnson.

Jerry Jones did not become a billionaire and NFL Owner by playing everything close to the vest. Quite the opposite. There have been many occasions when Jerry is out on that very thin limb all by himself, and believe it or not, that branch has snapped more than a time or two. The beauty is watching Jerry pull himself up from the actual fall and exhibiting his willingness to walk the plank time and time again. When it comes to NFL ownership, and you're a fan of his organization, the tenacious, relentless pursuit of a championship is contagious. Jerry has no fear, and he's been bloodied in business deals before. You don't earn a billion dollars in a vacuum.

Is this the type of acquisition where Jerry stands to take a proverbial beating? Darn straight, but the business decision equates proportionately to Jerry's view of championship potential. Thus, he pulls the trigger on someone like Tank Johnson, and it becomes a business decision worthy of execution.


It cost the organization a bag of chips, and the potential return on investment greatly outweighs any downside. Jerry has merely provided the opportunity and environment for redemption. There is great incentive for Tank Johnson to succeed, and the ball is in his court. His assets, talent, experience, youth, size and availability fit a Cowboys' need. Jason Ferguson's departure created a huge void, and had he not been injured, the name Tank Johnson is a non-issue. The Cowboys have structured this deal based on opportunity and extreme leverage. The exit ramp is always an option, and it can be utilized with relative ease. This is one of those circumstances where the business need trumps the past transgressions. Jerry is once again out on the limb, but as they say, no guts, and no glory.

It's the very philosophy promoting risk and high returns, but in no shape, way or form should it be employed when game planning Devin Hester. The Valley Ranch film projectors have to be fully-illuminated, humming, and Bruce Read's troops should be burning bulbs with regularity. The Cowboys have to be very careful on how they kick to Devin Hester. Without a doubt, he's one of the biggest game-changers in the League today. You cannot afford to make a mistake. Matt McBriar is one of the best, but this is neither the time nor place to get cute. Testosterone levels run high in the NFL, but even the League's elite need to keep things in check. How they approach Hester will be most important, and while they don't necessarily need to completely avoid him, they can't allow him to change the face of the game. When it comes to Devin Hester, approach with extreme caution.

While Hester should be handled with care, Rex Grossman needs to be abused. The heat must come fast and furious. The defensive front seven has to set the tone for this game, and getting to Grossman is the key. The Bears' offensive line has struggled with pass protection, and Grossman's effectiveness is directly tied to pocket presence. He is not of or from the Tony Romo School of Improvisation, so rattling his cage is paramount to success.

The Cowboys have shown glimpses of sending extra bodies, but through two games, the human missiles have rarely hit their intended targets. This must change, and Rex Grossman has to be legally hit and put on the ground. Repeatedly. Have Brian Stewart and Wade Phillips purposely held back the blitz packages? Could they be unleashed for this game? Is the no Terence Newman and Greg Ellis confidence building amongst the defensive ranks? Will the security wraps be tossed aside for the sake of statement making? Regardless, the words comfortable and Rex Grossman cannot be used in the same sentence. As horrible as he's been, given the proper time and outside weapons, he possesses the arm to carve up secondaries.

If given the choice, dare the Bears, and Cedric Benson, to beat you.

If "Thee, who have the most toys, win," are there more desirables on the Cowboys' offense or the Chicago defense? More than likely, the game will be decided between these two units, and it will boil down to mistakes, forced and/or avoided. It takes all the parts to function as a whole, but the spotlight will be squarely on the Cowboys' offensive line. They hold the key(s) to this entire contest. They'll most likely face formidable front sevens when playing New England and Minnesota, but the Bears' defense will provide the biggest challenge within the 2007 schedule. Nothing like seeing how you measure up with the League's finest and it will take a rock solid effort to come out on top.

LT and Larry Johnson found the sledding very difficult, so the Jones and Barber tandem has their work cut out for them. The line must keep Tony Romo clean. Huddle retreat is a trend which cannot continue. Soldier Field will be loud and crazy, so the Bears' defense will have an added advantage. The untimely and costly penalties have to cease and desist. The Cowboys can ill-afford to shoot themselves in the foot or repeatedly find themselves in third and long. The Bears' defense makes their living on miscues and third and must's. With Marc Colombo's return to his drafted roots, the offensive line must earn those millions which the Cowboys shelled out for their services.

A win is sought, but this is one of those contests where a team wants to show and grade out well. Barring catastrophic injury, the odds are good these two squads will end up post season participants. This being the case, even though very early in a long season, home field playoff implications come into play. The Cowboys won't find a better test. These are the defending conference champions, in their home space ship, on a Sunday night, in prime time, and Da Bears' fans will be more than a little primed at the pump. All factors make for great theatre, and the timing is perfect to see the Cowboys put their best boot forward.

A victory makes the Cowboys the early favorite in the watered down NFC, and with Washington keeping pace, it's a message worth sending.

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