The Chicago Bears made a statement in prime time tonight, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 34-18 on the road. Under the bright lights and big stage of Monday Night Football, Chicago's defense was absolutely dominant, with the offense playing nearly mistake-free football. The team moves to 8-2 on MNF since 2004 when Lovie Smith became head coach.
The Bears move to 3-1 on the season and have four very winnable games on the upcoming schedule – Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Titans. It's not inconceivable for the Bears to go 7-1 through the first eight weeks of 2012.
The Bears walked away from this game unscathed, suffering no significant injuries. RB Matt Forte limped off the field after his first carry but came back during the next series and finished the game.
Notes from Week 4
-The defense tonight had one of its best games in years. They picked off Tony Romo five times, returning two of those for interceptions. Charles Tillman returned one pick for a 25-yard TD in the second quarter and Lance Briggs returned a third quarter pick 74 yards for a TD. The franchise is now 17-2 since 2005 in games when the defense scores a touchdown.
Major Wright had two interceptions, one of those on a tipped pass by Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore hauled the fifth pick. The secondary easily handled Dallas' passing attack, although the Cowboys didn't do themselves any favors, dropping at least six passes on the night.
The Bears now have 14 turnovers this season, which leads the league.
-The Cowboys had no luck running the ball, as Chicago's front seven was just as dominant as the secondary. The Bears held DeMarco Murray to just 24 yards on 11 carries. As a team, Dallas rushed for just 2.9 yards per carry. Stuffing the run forced the Cowboys to be one-dimensional, which allowed Chicago to drop eight defenders and get into the passing lanes.
-Pressure up front also helped rattle Romo. Henry Melton finished with the club's only sack, giving him 4.0 on the season, second most amongst NFL defensive tackles. Yet the defensive line was able to flush Romo out of the pocket on a number of occasions, forcing him into hurried throws on the run into coverage.
-The Cowboys were just 3-9 on third downs and could never get into a rhythm on offense.
-For the last two weeks, Jay Cutler has looked awful. He threw just one touchdown compared to five interceptions during that span and came into tonight's game with the second lowest passer rating in the league. Yet against the Cowboys, Cutler was on point. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His passer rating was a stellar 140.1.
Cutler was only 2-5 in prime time games heading into tonight's contest yet he was on fire against Dallas, making great decisions and not hurting the team with critical interceptions. He did hold onto the ball too long during a third quarter pass play, which resulted in a sack and turnover, but beyond that, Cutler was nearly perfect.
-The reason Cutler was so effective had a lot to do with the protection up front. Chicago's offensive line gave up just two sacks – one of those was on Cutler – and gave their quarterback time to throw all night. It's amazing how good Cutler can be when he has time to throw the ball.
Much of the credit should go to J'Marcus Webb, who did a great job keeping DeMarcus Ware, one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league, out of the backfield. Yet even more credit should go to coordinator Mike Tice, who chipped on Ware with tight ends and running backs all night, not forcing Webb into too many one-on-one situations.
-The Bears knew they needed to establish the run coming into this game. The Cowboys were ranked 2nd overall against the pass but just 19th against the run. Tice knew the key to putting up points against Dallas was moving the ball on the ground and staying committed to the run. He did just that, calling 28 rushing plays compared to just 18 passes. Matt Forte rushed 13 times for 52 yards (4.0 avg.) and the team picked up 93 total yards on the ground.
-Cutler's favorite target tonight was Brandon Marshall, who caught seven passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys lined up Brandon Carr, one of the best cover corners in the league, on Chicago's No. 1 receiver, yet Marshall beat him repeatedly.
The play that defines Marshall's value to the team came on a third-quarter, third-down play. With Marshall wide right, Dallas lined up in Cover 1 with the safety to the play's left. Cutler dropped back, realized Marshall had one-on-one coverage with no safety over the top, and heaved a pass downfield. Marshall broke back on the pass and highpointed the ball for a 31-yard gain. It was an athletic play by a No. 1 wide receiver that Chicago would not have been able make the past few seasons.
-Kellen Davis finally showed up on game day. He dropped a pass early, yet Cutler kept going back to him. He finished with three receptions for 62 yards, one of which was an amazing grab where Davis tipped a pass in the air and made the catch on his back. It was good to see him finally make an impact as a pass catcher.
-The play of the game came in the second quarter with the Bears up 10-7. Devin Hester was wide right and faked a slant across the field. He then gave a double move and released down the field. Cutler stepped up and threw a perfect pass, which Hester hauled in at the goal line for a 34-yard touchdown, from which Dallas was never able to recover.
-Key stat of the night: the Bears' offense went 7-12 on third downs.
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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.