With the Chicago Bears next on the schedule for the Cowboys, let's look at the team from the Windy City and what they will bring to the party on Monday night. With it now being made clear that back up quarterback Josh McCown will once again take the helm for Marc Trestman's squad, we can take a look at the tools he has at his disposal. Like Dallas, when you take away one option, Chicago has the talent to dial up the next one and beat you with that "next guy" carrying the load. Also similar is the fact that the team has experienced difficulties in translating that ability from being theoretical to actually making it work for them. That being said, let's look at the weapons in Chicago.
When it comes to running backs, Forte is as complete as it comes. No matter what he is asked to do, the Bears former Pro Bowl runner delivers. While he is the third leading rusher in Bears history behind only Walter Payton and Neal Anderson, the Tulane University alum (shameless plug for one of my alma maters) is more than just a ball carrier. Forte is as good as any back in the league when it comes to pass protection and if he is not needed in that capacity, he will slip out into the flat and give his QB another reliable target.
He is going to get the ball several different ways in this scheme. Where I feel like he is the most dangerous is when they throw it to him. Forte has an outstanding feel of how to work himself free in the passing game. He is a very crafty route runner up the field, out of the backfield and on the edge in the screen game. - Bryan Broaddus
Although he suffered a slight hyper-extension of his knee in recent weeks; last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Matt Forte demonstrated that he is not having any ill effects from the injury. Against the Vikings, he carried the ball 23 times for 120 yards, including a carry that went for 41. Forte also added a pair of receptions for an additional 31 yards. Look for Chicago's offense to get the ball into his hands in every possible way.
Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery
This season Dallas has faced some of the better receivers in the league, including Calvin Johnson, but now they will be tested by what is arguably the best 1-2 tandem in the league. Thanks to the pair both possessing a rare combination of size and play-making ability, Cowboys defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson and his players are going to have their hands full on Monday night.
... there hasn’t been a more productive tandem in the NFL this season than the Chicago duo, who have combined for 148 catches, 2,099 yards and 14 touchdowns. Marshall ranks fourth in the NFL with 78 receptions and Jeffery fourth in yards with 1,109.
Both men are athletic enough to adjust their routes to deal with poorly thrown balls and they are more than powerful enough to go up and out fight the defender for the ball when they are well covered. This is precisely the type of wide out that has given the Cowboys fits this season. Earlier this year Calvin Johnson torched the Boys for 329 yards and the Saints WR, Marques Colston, also went over the century mark on the Dallas secondary. That is a mark that Marshall has eclipsed five times this season, while his colleague has twice broken the 200-yard barrier. Unless Dallas can find a way to limit these two outstanding pass catchers, it could turn into a long night at the office.
When he was in Dallas Bennett was primarily a blocking tight end, and that is still something that he does well, especially when his head and heart are in the game. There is little doubt that the "Unicorn" will be motivated when he lines up against the team with whom he spent the first part of his professional career. With the opportunity to see more action in the passing game, 'Tellus has shown the talent that Dallas saw when they originally drafted him.
In my view of Bennett, he is still as talented as the day he left here to join the Giants. He has never been a great route runner, but what makes him difficult to deal with is his size. When he can lean on the defender, he can create separation just with his movement. - Bryan Broaddus
It is that ability to lean on a defender and create space that makes Martellus Bennett a weapon that the Bears like to use in the red zone. He can post-up his man and then give his QB a little space to thread the ball in for a simple pitch and catch. So far, Bennett has 48 receptions for the Bears, and is on a pace for 64. That mark would be the second-highest single-season total for a Chicago tight end; only Mike Ditka would have caught more.
The Other Guys
The players who will see more limited snaps on Monday night but who also could play a factor are pretty decent as well. In the backfield the Bears switch things up by bringing in Michael Bush, who is not the athlete that Forte is, but he makes up for it by bringing a punishing style of running to the game. Originally brought in to be the short yardage and goal line back for Chicago, Bush is a tough guy in the Mike Ditka mold. Last season he played through a broken shoulder. When Chicago goes three wide, Earl Bennett will take the field as that third pass catcher. Although the Bears primarily target the top two receivers, Bennett does receive a few targets a game. Over the last month he has averaged four catches per game.
In The Trenches
For Chicago, it seems like the offensive line has been in a rebuilding mode forever. Now they are making some progress, although that progress took a hit last week against the Vikings when the Bears surrendered four sacks. The anchor of the Chicago offensive line is long-time Bear Roberto Garza, who has moved from guard to center. He is a mauling type of player who brings it on every snap, so the man he squares off against had better pack a lunch. It is going to be a busy day at the office. Moving out to the guard slots, the Bears front office brought in free agent Matt Slauson, formerly of the New York Jets, for the left side and drafted former Oregon tackle Kyle Long for the right. Slauson struggles against a quicker man and has trouble sustaining his blocks. Long plays with both power and athleticism; he also brings a mean streak with his game. To fill the tackle slots, Chicago again went free agency for the left and draft on the right, this time raiding bayou country. The left tackle is former New Orleans Saint and 2012 Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod, against whom DeMarcus Ware played one of his best games in 2009. Once a major liability on the line, he has developed into a pretty solid player. The rookie on the right is former Louisiana Tech Bulldog Jordan Mills, who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Although his technique leaves a lot of room for improvement, Mills has been able to use his athletic ability to recover from the bad situations he has put himself in.
Over at our sister site, Windy City Gridiron, they have been tracking something that they refer to as the "Sack Watch" as this has been an issue in recent seasons. As it stands right now here are how this season stacks up to the past few seasons.
Sackwatch after 12 games
2010 - 45
2011 - 34
2012 - 36
2013 - 21
That is a major improvement. Still there have to be questions about the way they are playing right now, especially after the Vikings were able to sack Josh McCown four times. Although the back up quarterback is known for favoring quick pass plays, DWare, Jason Hatcher, and George Selvie should find themselves in a position where they can have the type of impact that will help out their teammates tasked with the responsibility of covering the vaunted pass catching duo that the Bears will rely on.
This week's Monday night game will be a challenge for the Dallas defense but not one that is insurmountable. With the return of Sean Lee (and perhaps a little help from Barry Church) the Cowboys can counter the threat posed by Matt Forte. If, and this is a big if, the defensive line can get in the quarterback's face the way Minnesota did and the Cowboys corners can stand up to the pressure that Marshall and Jeffery will put on them, the team will find themselves in a solid position to go three games over .500 for the season. If they cannot do so, it will be another long night for Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli.
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