So, at what point do we get back to a normal schedule of games here? We started out on a Sunday, then had four days off, then ten days off, and now eight days off until the Bears play their second primetime game of the season. At least the extra rest helps the team get a little healthier (Forte has a chance to play on Monday?). Either way, let's get into the Dallas Cowboys.
Last Year: Finished at 8-8, good for second in the NFC East, and square in the middle of everything.
This Year: Currently, they sit at 2-1, which is good for a three-way tie at the top of the NFC East. They started off with a 24-17 win against the Giants, got pasted by the Seahawks 27-7, and just finished up with a 16-10 win against the Buccaneers.
When Last We Met: The Bears and Cowboys met again in week two of 2010, and the Bears walked out with a 27-20 win. The Cowboys put up 410 total yards of offense (including 374 yards passing) to the 308 yards total the Bears put up in MIke Martz's second game as a Bear offensive coordinator. Greg Olsen (remember him?), Matt Forte and Devin Hester all caught touchdown passes, and Tony Romo threw two interceptions among his 51 pass attempts in the defeat.
Points Rank: 31st
Yards Rank: 20th
Passing Yardage: 13th
Rushing Yardage: 29th
Tony Romo is having a pretty interesting season to this point. His yardage-per-game is as good as it's been in his career, his completion percentage is still close to his career average, but his quarterback rating is the lowest it's been in his career, as are his net yards per attempt and his touchdown percentage. The Cowboys have given up six turnovers this year and three have those have come off the arm of Romo. The other three have been coughed up on the team's six fumbles, three of which have come by sacking Romo (out of his seven sacks). As far as his weapons go, Miles Austin is the number one, and Dez Bryant for all his issues is a more consistent number two, but Kevin Ogletree has fallen to the wayside a bit. Against the Giants, Ogletree had 8 receptions, 2 touchdowns and 114 yards, but over the last two games he's had six receptions for 93 yards total. Aside from that, Jason Witten's still recovering from the spleen injury - it's John Phillips and James Hanna after him in the depth chart, but neither are as effective as Witten. Rushing the ball, it's DeMarco Murray or bust. Felix Jones is a decent receiving threat in the backfield, but has only gotten one carry for two yards. And let's continue with this string of rough offensive lines that the Bears have faced - this one puts in a first round pick at left tackle in Tyron Smith, and Doug Free, who has been pretty bad the last 19 games without a good guard next to him.
Points Rank: 7th
Yards Rank: 1st
Passing Yardage: 2nd
Rushing Yardage: 19th
The Cowboys present yet another 3-4 defensive front for the Bears to contend with, and of course the name at the top of the list is DeMarcus Ware, with four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. But Anthony Spencer has two sacks himself, and that's a pretty talented linebacker corps in general, particularly getting after the quarterback. The secondary's a pretty good one as well, adding first round pick Morris Claiborne and free agent prize Brandon Carr, who's been forced to see some time at safety due to all the injuries. Their defensive strengths come from their pass rush, as well as facing a Seattle offense and Tampa Bay offense that aren't exactly blazing down the field - they held Tampa to 166 total yards and twelve first downs.
If the Bears do this: Step one will always be getting after the quarterback, even more so when the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders - and the Bears have been able to get after the quarterback. Free is a bit of a turnstile - and side note, Free is not a name I want for my offensive lineman (kind of like Grant Balfour for a pitcher). On offense, the Cowboys' defense ranking against the rush is a little misleading, since they've faced the tenth most rushing attempts and are 18th in yards per rush allowed - it really is a quantity stat. If Forte is able to play at full speed, his receiving out of the backfield should be really helpful when it comes to stretching the defense. Carr and Claiborne are 6'0" and 5'11" respectively, so if the Bears are able to get the ball deep with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, there could be opportunity, but as Tim Jennings has shown, don't sleep on the smaller people.
If the Cowboys do this: If DeMarcus Ware is in the backfield all day, doing his Clay Matthews impersonation, it probably means the Bears' offense isn't doing anything. Miles Austin appears to be back to his All-Pro form after falling off the face of everything last season, and Romo will be looking for him. Then there's also the matter of Romo's mobility - the Bears have the speed to pursue, but the Bears can't give up in downfield coverage; the Cowboys have a nice collection of weapons.
Closing Thoughts: Really, these two teams have a lot in common - defenses that have held up pretty well, bad offensive lines, one painstakingly awful game, one pretty good game, and a game where they won without their best stuff. And they're both 2-1, and this could potentially lead to a wild card tiebreaker. Win it.