Game Breakdown: Bears at Cowboys (09.19.10)

September 18th, 2010 - 1:33 pm

Bears offense vs. Cowboys defense
A lot is being made of how the Bears barely squeezed out a victory over the Lions last week and not enough attention is being paid to how well the Bears moved the ball down the field on offense. The Bears had four turnovers that stalled four drives and any of them could have led to points. The average point total put up in Week 1 was 18.28, and the Bears topped that mark. If the Bears had scored a touchdown on just one of those four drives (and thus, wouldn’t have had to go for the two-point conversion that they missed), they would have had 27 points, good enough for sixth-most points last week. Skeptics will say, “Big deal, it was against the Lions.” But the Lions are not as bad as people make them out to be. This week, the Bears will face a tougher defense in the Cowboys who possess one of the best defenders in the game in DeMarcus Ware. Chris Williams will have his hands full and the Bears will surely help him out all game with tight ends and running backs and may try to roll Jay Cutler out of the pocket away from Ware’s side. The Cowboys operate a 3-4 defense, which has given the Bears problems for many years. If Dallas watches any bit of film of the Bears’ preseason opener against the Chargers, they’ll see how susceptible to blitzes the Bears’ offense is. Blitzes are supposed to help Mike Martz’s offense because it allows Cutler to find an open receiver quickly, but that’s if the offensive line — and the backs and tight ends — can pick up a blitz. I expect the Bears to be able to move the ball and committing less turnovers than last week will help them stay in this game, but Dallas’ defense will give Cutler fits.
Advantage: Cowboys

Bears defense vs. Cowboys offense
I don’t care who the Bears’ opponent was last week because speed and play recognition doesn’t lie, and the Bears played as well in that department as they have since their Super Bowl season. That might not be saying much, but it’s encouraging. The Bears did give up a pair of scoring drives and almost allowed Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill to drive down the field and win the game with under a minute to play, but Lovie Smith’s defense has always had a bend-but-don’t-break look and feel to it. What matters is points given up and allowing 14 to a Lions offense that has a few dangerous weapons on it is not that alarming. The league average last year was 21.4 points per game and the team with the fewest points per game allowed was the New York Jets with 14.8, and the Bears came in under both of those marks. The Bears also looked stout against the run holding explosive rookie running back Jahvid Best and the Lions’ run game to just 20 yards, which ranks the Bears as the No. 1 run defense after one week. They’re going to need the same kind of effort against a Cowboys team that features a three-headed attack in Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice. Choice is a finesse back, Barber a physical one, and Jones is a combination of the two. With the Bears being a finesse team, I worry about the toll that they’ll take from a constant running attack. And if the Bears are able to contain the run, they still have to worry about Tony Romo, who is tough to bring down because he keeps plays alive with a relentless effort and good footwork. Without that, he would not have been a starting quarterback in this league. The Bears had trouble containing Romo the last time they faced the Cowboys in 2007, but they also didn’t have Julius Peppers. For as much as the Bears have to worry about Ware, so do the Cowboys about Peppers.
Advantage: Cowboys

Special Teams
Any time a team plays on the road, crowd noise becomes a factor and field position can help quell that noise. If the Bears are backed up deep into their own territory, that’s when the crowd could become a factor and an inexperienced offensive line and a risk-taking quarterback could lead to turnovers. The Bears will need a solid special teams effort to keep the ball on the opposite side of the field as much as possible so that the Cowboys have to work for their points. Robbie Gould connected on a pair of field goals against the Lions and even had a few deep kickoffs, something he is not accustomed to doing. Brad Maynard, ever the coffin corner specialist, pinned four punts inside the 20-yard line and is tied for first in that department after one week. This is what having a good punter and an offense that can move the ball can do for your team. On failed drives, as long as the offense can get the ball to about midfield, Maynard can pin the opponent deep in its own territory and help out the defense tremendously. Dallas’ Matt McBriar is also a good punter, though. McBriar had three punts downed inside the 20 in Week 1 and was third in the league last year in that stat category. With the Bears’ trio of specialists and normally solid coverage units, though, the Bears have the edge in this department and will need it to help keep them in the game.
Advantage: Bears

Intangibles
When analyzing and breaking down a game, I try to look at every possible facet of the game from matchups and personnel to coaching and execution. For as much as I’ve mulled over ways the Bears can beat the Cowboys — and they certainly could leave Dallas with a 2-0 record Sunday — there’s just one aspect of this matchup that I can’t avoid. The Bears, who were overmatched and obliterated in the 2007 matchup against the Cowboys, are such a finesse team that the Cowboys should be able to roll over them like a semi would a motorcycle. The debate about whether coach Smith should have tackling drills in training camp is one for another day, but there’s no argument that the Bears have shown poor tackling technique for several years now. Smith said in training camp this year that he’d like to return to the days of “The Monsters of the Midway” and if there is any substance to that claim, the Bears will have to show it now against one of the most physical teams in the league. The Bears will be playing in the Cowboys’ new stadium for the first time and it is one of the loudest and largest stadiums in the league. It’ll be packed with loud and rabid Texans and the Bears will get their first taste of adversity. I want to say the Bears can shut down the run like they did last week against the Lions and get after Tony Romo due to a shaky offensive line. I want to say the Bears’ offense will take better care of the football and convert those drives into points this time around. But, I invariably return to the Bears’ two biggest weaknesses, offensive line and secondary, and return to the conclusion that they’re just going to come up a little bit short.
Advantage: Cowboys

Final Score: Dallas 27, Chicago 20

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