Monday night in Dallas the Bears will have to prove they can win on the road in a hostile environment. The have continued to struggle offensively since week one and their matchup against the terrorizing Dallas front seven will be something to keep an eye on.
Here is my list of five players to watch this Monday:
Jay Cutler again did not look sharp against the Rams this past Sunday. Cutler finished the day going 17 of 31 for 183 yards and he threw one interception. He never seemed to get in a rhythm with his receivers and over threw Devin Hester on what would of been a sure touchdown in the end zone.
His accuracy has been off much of the year and has benefited from a guy like Brandon Marshall who is able to make some difficult catches. The Cowboys boast a secondary with cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, both who have played well early in the season.
Early on this season the Bears have struggled to find the right identity for their offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice will need to simplify the game plan and allow Cutler a chance to get into a rhythm with his receivers early which will open up opportunities down field.
If Cutler again has a mediocre performance this Monday there is no telling what Bears fans will be thinking about their much maligned quarterback.
Until left tackle J’Marcus Webb plays consistently on the offensive line or is benched, he will continue to make the “5 Players to Watch” list weekly.
Webb a bit better Sunday against the Rams, but he did struggle at times against Robert Quinn until offensive coordinator started to give Webb more help with running back Kahlil Bell adding some chip blocks.
Webb may be facing his biggest test of the year, going up against Cowboys’ outside linebacker, DeMarcus Ware. Ware has four sacks on the season and is considered by many as the best blitzing outside linebacker in the NFL. Webb faced a similar test in week two against Clay Matthews and the Bears should learn from their mistakes.
Expect the Bears on Monday night to support Webb with chipping backs, tight ends, and even a pass eligible tackle (i.e. Chris Williams). Ware will be unrelenting and likely has watched the tape of Matthews against Webb to gain an edge.
Like the weeks before, Webb will have to use his footwork and athleticism to try and force Ware to the outside on pass plays and the offense may need to rely on short quick passes in the beginning to set a rhythm.
Chris Conte was considered a project when drafted before last season. Conte was thrust into the starting lineup in the middle of last season and has played solid football since.
Monday night in Dallas, the Cowboys’ receivers, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Kevin Ogletree, all possess big play abilities for quarterback, Tony Romo. Other than a big performance from Ogletree in the opener, the receivers have struggled for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys may look to jump start the offense with big plays and may view Conte as a weak link. Few teams this season have tried to attack the somewhat inexperienced Conte and Monday night could be his first real test. He will have to rely on the basics of the cover-2 by keeping the receiver in front of him, but the Cowboys could combat that by trying to use their physical receivers against him in his deep half or they could force him to have to cover the bigger and more physical tight end, Jason Witten.
The biggest strength of Conte’s game is his speed and fluidity and he rarely gets himself into the wrong position but look for the Cowboys to try and expose some of the inexperience he still has at the position.
Kahlil Bell made his 2012 debut last Sunday after being a final cut by the Bears at the end of training camp when he was not willing to take a pay cut.
It has been disputed by head coach Lovie Smith that Michael Bush is injured, but there is a strong case for neither Matt Forte or Bush to be available Monday night (h/t Chicago Tribune), opening the door for Bell.
Forte was able to practice Wednesday afternoon (h/t Chicago Tribune) and despite his desire to play on Monday, Lovie Smith seems a bit more apprehensive:
“I would hold off on … he has a long way to go still, but he is making progress,”
Bell is similar to Forte in his ability to get to the outside and has decent hands out of the backfield. The biggest issue throughout his career has been holding onto the football, particularly last year when he had three fumbles. He got ten carries last Sunday but only gained 20 yards.
If Forte and Bush are both not available on Monday night, Bell is going to have to prove that he can play like he did at the end of last season when he was averaging more than 4.6 yards per carry filling in for the injured Forte and Marion Barber.
Back in February, head coach Lovie Smith felt that tight end Kellen Davis could be a featured tight end in the league (h/t ESPN Chicago):
“I think if you want to feature Kellen Davis you can do that,” Smith said Thursday. “Great size, great in-line blocker, skilled enough of an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things. I really like him.”
Davis has yet to breakout as a featured player in the Bears offense in the early going. Through three games, Davis only has three catches for 41 yards and one touchdown. Most of his duties this season have been in max protection and run-blocking. He has improved his blocking this season but the Bears need to utilize his size against smaller defenders.
With safety Barry Church injured for the Cowboys the Bears could try and utilize Davis’ speed and size against an inexperienced safety like Mana Silva. Despite a desire to be featured in the pass game, expect Davis to still be an important aspect in trying to slow down the terrorizing outside linebacking duo of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
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.