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The Cowboys and the Bears tangle on Monday Night Football. How will the Bears offense look when it arrives in Dallas, and how will they deal with the Cowboys defense?
When this season is all said and done, there may not be a team that resembles the 2012 Dallas Cowboys as closely as the 2012 Chicago Bears. On the offensive side of the ball alone, we've got:
Mobile, strong armed QB with a penchant for ‘Holy S!' (read: good) and ‘WTF?' (read: bad) plays? Check.
Versatile and tough-to-tackle lead RB? Check.
‘Wonder Twins'-style WR corps led by a productive veteran and a younger guy with worlds of physical ability and some growing up to do, backed up by not much else? Check.
OL that's quite capable of sabotaging all of the above? Check.
Follow the jump for a closer look at just how closely the Bears resemble Dallas' offensive doppelganger on the offensive side of the ball and what to expect from the Chicago Outfit on Monday night.
Jay Cutler is, to put it simply, the quarterback who Romo detractors think that Romo is. Athletic, improvisational and with a strong arm to be sure, but capable of morphing into a wild-ass turnover machine at the drop of a hat. Or, more precisely, at the first hint of pressure. Both Romo and Cutler have to deal with more than their fair share of collapsing pockets, blown blocks and free runs from blitzers thanks to sub-par OL play. Both guys are able to turn chicken...um....leavings into chicken salad with a good amount of regularity. While Cutler has had arguably a tougher task than Romo over the last few seasons in terms of lesser weapons (particularly at WR and TE) and even worse blocking, Romo demonstrates better ability to dodge pressure and salvage positive plays. Romo has also been MUCH more careful with the ball - since the start of the 2009 season, Cutler and Romo have thrown a bizarrely similar number of passes (1,393 for Romo and 1,394 for Cutler). Over that span, Romo has thrown 29 INTs for an impressive 2.1% ratio of INTs to passes thrown. Cutler has thrown 52 INTs for a far less-sparkly 3.7% ratio.
If Jay Cutler was as good an all-around QB as Tony Romo, the Bears would be a better team.
Fortunately for Cutler, he's finally been handed some receiving weapons this season after making do with a one-trick-deep-crossing-route pony (Johnny Knox), a Cheshire cat-grinning, skillet-handed drop machine (Roy Williams), a special teams sideshow (Devin Hester) and decidedly average slot guy (Earl Bennett). The Bears traded a pair of third-rounders to the Dolphins for Brandon Marshall, and Cutler probably volunteered to drive from the South Side to South Beach himself to pick up his old Broncos running buddy. Marshall is sort of a combo of Miles Austin's consistent productivity and Dez Bryant's off-field fiascoes. He has been much more of a chain-mover than a deep threat through most of his career, but he's very capable of winning battles at every level and will be another big and physical test for a Dallas secondary that's already seen Hakeem Nicks, Sidney Rice and Vincent Jackson in the first three weeks.
He's paired with rookie deep threat Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery had the hint of the knucklehead about him during his career at South Carolina, but by all reports he's really impressing the Bears' coaching staff and starting to develop nicely. The hope in Chicago is that he'll become a 2009 Sidney Rice-style threat to take the top off a defense with his long speed and leaping ability, but his youth and the Bears' struggles to protect long enough to actually throw a deep ball could conspire to keep him in check on Monday (and for a good part of this season).
At running back, the Bears' Matt Forte is probably one of the closest analogues in the league to DeMarco Murray. Both are patient, shifty and savvy runners who are tough to bring down despite average size and capable of hitting long gainers despite the lack of elite long speed. Forte has fully realized the potential that Murray has flashed in the passing game, and he can beat defenses on everything from screens and dumpoffs to long wheel routes and actual downfield patterns. Forte went down with an ankle injury against the Packers, and his availability for Monday night is still up in the air.
If Forte can't go, we'll see a lot of Bears' backup RB Michael Bush. More than any current Cowboy, Bush resembles a hybrid of pre- and post-contract extension Marion Barber. He's a hard-running guy who can get you a little more than what's blocked - he runs with less attitude and violence than Barber did before he got paid, but with a whole lot more than Barber did AFTER he got paid. The Bears seem to favor this kind of back as a complement to Forte, since Forte's 2011 backup was...Marion Barber.
At tight end, the Bears primarily roll with a Kellen Davis/Matt Spaeth combo. Spaeth is a block-first dude who's fairly similar to John Phillips (and to most backup TE's in the league, for that matter). Davis is more of a receiving threat - at least in theory - but every aspect of his game pales in comparison to Healthy Jason Witten. If we're still trotting Obviously Somehow Broken Jason Witten out there on Monday night, that gap narrows considerably.
To this point, the Bears and Cowboys present a pretty interesting compare-and-contrast at the offensive skill positions. What does the picture look like when we turn our attention to the O-line?
Unfortunately, the picture looks a lot more similar than Dallas fans should be comfortable with given the far-famed struggles of Chicago's front five. Using ProFootballFocus data for the 2012 season to date, we can see just how similar.
Through three games this season, Chicago's starting tackles (J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi, with a few fill-in snaps from Chris Williams) have surrendered a combined 24 sacks, hits and pressures on Jay Cutler and amassed a cumulative +9.6 rating in the run game. Dallas' starting OT's have surrendered a combined 21 sacks, hits and pressures on Tony Romo and amassed a frankly (given their talent level) unforgivable -3.4 cumulative rating in the run game.
Chicago's starting interior OL (Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, with 72 snaps thrown in from 49ers castoff Chilo Rachal at guard with Roberto Garza) have allowed a combined 9 sacks, hits and pressures on Cutler and put together an aggregate -1.9 score in the run game (thanks to Garza's pitiful -2.4 contribution). Dallas' interior OL of Livings, Bernadeau and Mostly Ryan Cook combined to allow 15 sacks, hits and pressures on Romo (six sacks up the gut through three games is baaaaaad) an aggregate -1.8 score in the run game (thanks to Bernadeau's sub-par -3.1 grade).
That picture tells you that the Bears' OL can definitely be had in pass protection (which is no surprise to anyone who witnessed Cutler's Thursday Night(mare) Football game against the Packers) and is spotty in the interior run game with some possible strength on the edges. The fact that Dallas has, thus far, looked just as bad in pass protection and even worse run-blocking is no kind of cheery image.
There's your overview of what the Bears will be bringing into Cowboys Stadium on Monday night - check back in a bit for thoughts on the defense and how this MNF throw-down will go down.