This Monday night, two of the NFL’s most storied franchises will square off when the Chicago Bears come to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. Both teams enter the contest at 2-1, looking to prove to the rest of the league that they have what it takes to be an offensive juggernaut.
The Cowboys’ have been nothing short of unimpressive so far this season on offense only averaging 15.1 points per game, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the worst in the league.
The offense begins and ends with Tony Romo, and other than an impressive season debut against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (22-29, 307 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) he has been average at best. Romo only managed one touchdown and two interceptions combined in games against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Getting pressure on Romo will be key for a Bears defense that currently leads the NFL in sacks with 14. The starting front four for the Bears (Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea, Henry Melton, and Israel Idonije) has been extremely productive combining for nine of the teams 14 sacks.
The Cowboys have done a decent job at protecting Romo, giving up seven sacks this season, but have struggled with penalties having the second most in the league with 31. Last week against the Buccaneers, the Cowboys had six false starts—three of them belonging to starting right tackle, Doug Free.
The Bears have been done a great job this season of getting pressure on the quarterback without relying on the blitz. Israel Idonije will get the first opportunity to line up against Free and should be able to excel with his bull rushing abilities.
Rookie Shea McClellin has been effective when on the field and will be a nice change of pace against Free with his speed rushing abilities. Julius Peppers will be faced with the task of going up against second year left tackle Tyron Smith and despite Smith’s athleticism, Peppers should have a leg up on him.
Running back DeMarco Murray burst onto the scene last year for the Cowboys after gashing the St. Louis Rams for 253 yards while filling in for injured starter Felix Jones. The offensive line has not done well opening up holes for Murray this year, who has 213 yards on 50 carries and just one touchdown.
The Bears defensive tackles should be able to crowd the running lanes against a Cowboys interior line that is still getting used to new center, Ryan Cook. The Bears will need to be cautious of Murray’s ability to get to the outside of the defensive ends and with his speed, he has the ability to go off for a long run.
Wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have not been as productive as many expected them to be early in the year—with only one touchdown combined between them. Bryant and Austin both have big play ability and offer Romo a big target down field.
Bears’ cornerback Tim Jennings has been great this season, leading the league in interceptions with four. The smaller Jennings has proved he isn’t afraid to go one on one with bigger receivers and has a new found knack for getting to the football. Jennings and Charles Tillman will likely both try more physical play with the bigger receivers with the intent of slowly wearing them down. With the receivers ability to get down field, safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte will likely find themselves providing deep coverage to try and force shorter throws from Romo.
For years, Jason Witten was viewed as one of the best tight ends in the game and was once Romo’s go to receiver. A lacerated spleen in the first preseason game has limited Witten and his drop off has been increasingly noticeable. He has just eight catches on the year for 76 yards, with 23 of them coming on one play against the Seahawks in Week 2.
He still has the potential for big plays, which may force either Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher to cover him down field. Look for the Cowboys to try and test Urlacher’s knee by trying to match him up on Witten.
Much like previous games this season, getting pressure on the quarterback will be key on Monday night for the Bears. Romo is notorious for making errant throws.
Forcing Romo out of the pocket without having to bring the blitz may just be the key to a Bears victory.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.