Four Downs: Keys to beating the Cowboys (10/01/12)

September 26th, 2012 - 9:02 am
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is a beast to defend but is the player the Bears need to focus on stopping.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is a beast to defend but is the player the Bears need to focus on stopping.

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Dallas Cowboys.

Run, run, run … and then run some more

What’s wrong with Michael Bush? Is Matt Forte going to be okay to play soon? Why have the Bears brought in so many running backs for tryouts despite signing Kahlil Bell after the Packers game? These are just a few of the questions being asked as we wonder what is going on with the Bears’ backfield. But no matter how that situation shakes out by Monday night, the Bears need to employ a similar game plan for the Cowboys game as they did last week against St. Louis, at least in terms of the run-pass ratio. The reasons for running the ball so much against Dallas are two-fold. First, it keeps quarterback Jay Cutler in check. For whatever reason, Cutler has had his troubles in prime time games, especially on the road. And secondly, the Cowboys have the No. 1-ranked defense led by the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense. They’re only giving up 137 yards per game through the air and they have a strong pass rush led by linebacker DeMarcus Ware — four sacks and two forced fumbles — who is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and is surely giving offensive coordinator Mike Tice nightmares this week. Conversely, the Cowboys rank 19th against the run and are allowing 113 rushing yards per game.

Limit what Cutler has to do; accentuate what he can do

I can already tell you now with a high level of certainty that if the Bears find themselves trailing in the second half and are forced to go to the air, they’re about as good as dead in the water. For one thing, Bears teams under Lovie Smith have a horrible record when trailing at halftime but have been nigh unbeatable when carrying a lead into the second half. In other words, they don’t have that ability to flip the switch to turn on the burners when they need to and kick the offense into high octane. As mentioned previously, there’s not a good track record for Cutler in night games. It doesn’t mean he can’t do it; it just means he hasn’t proven enough that he can pull his team through these types of games. In order to avoid the Cutler meltdowns that tend to happen, it’s important not to put him in strict drop-back situations where the defense can tee off on him. Run the ball, try to get a lead, and let Cutler play loose and comfortable. Move him out of the pocket where he can make plays with his feet, if need be, and buy himself the time to find his guy, Brandon Marshall, down the field.

Stop the run and force Romo to beat you

The quickest, surest way to get beat on the road is to have the opposing team run the ball down your throat. The Cowboys have a talented beast at running back in DeMarco Murray, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Rick Gosselin, sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News, even wrote this week of the importance of Murray running the ball effectively in order to open up the play-action game. The Bears have the No. 6 run defense in the league and need to take advantage of their strengths in that area. That’ll put more pressure on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and the passing game, which is exactly what the Bears should want to do. Romo, like Cutler, is another quarterback who has had his ups and downs, highs and lows, throughout his career and has struggled to show any kind of consistency when the lights are at their brightest. In leading the Cowboys to a 2-1 record this season, Romo has completed 65% of his passes and has an 89.3 passer rating. The Bears defensive line, which has been playing great this season, needs to amp up the pressure and force the game into Romo’s hands to see how he can handle it.

Match the Cowboys’ physicality

For as long as I can recall, the Dallas Cowboys have been a physical team. Owner Jerry Jones has always been enamored with measurables — size, speed, athleticism, and strength — rather than pure football talent. And whenever a team goes into a game against Dallas, they can expect a physical contest that’ll leave them battered and bruised afterward. It’s vitally important that the Bears don’t head into Cowboys Stadium and get pushed around, for both the sake of winning and the sake of surviving, or living to fight another day. The Bears need to match the physicality of the Cowboys and even impose their will on the game, starting with both the offensive and defensive lines. If the Bears can run the football and control the clock while eating up the Cowboys’ run game, they’ll be in great shape.