By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears matchup against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
Offense: Defuse The Bomb
For the third time in four games, the Bears offense prepares for a 3-4 defense.
The Dallas version includes a bomb that can go off at any time. DeMarcus Ware ruins gameplans. This season he has four sacks, five knockdowns and two hurries.
J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi will see a lot of the six-time Pro Bowler and they will need assistance in keeping him off of Jay Cutler’s back and out of his face. Ware’s first step quickness, explosion off the edge and his attack mentality is still strong eight years into his great career.
How the Bears scheme Ware and how they execute the plan is a big key to the overall execution of the Bears offense. The Bears have a lot of room for improvement with low efficiency ratings in the passing game (28th-NFL), first down offense (32nd-NFL), and third down conversions(26th-NFL).
The Cowboys have played a lot of press coverage in three games, and corners Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, and rookie Morris Claiborne are good at it. Carr in fact, has yet to allow a completion in 21 snaps playing press. They have injuries to both starters at safety, so Carr could move to the back end of the Rob Ryan’s defense at times.
Defense: Dual Containment
It’s been a good start for the Bears defense against Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, and Sam Bradford.
The trio has managed to direct drives leading to a combined 36 points. In order to continue the trend, the Bears defense must not allow Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to ad lib his way out of a pressured pocket.
He’s elite when he maneuvers through and around collapsing protection. That’s when he makes big plays down the field. The Bears will try to eliminate Romo’s escape routes with waves of consistent pressure. Tampa blitzed Romo non-stop last week. It made his line jittery with an NFL season-high six false starts at home, which is unthinkable. The line also committed two holding penalties and gave up four sacks.
Against the run, the Bears have to prevent second year back DeMarco Murray from getting the edge. He’s averaging 4.9 yards/carry running to the left sideline, and 6.6 yards/carry running to the right sideline. Murray has speed to turn the corner, so containment on the edges is critical.
Special Teams: Launch Hester
It appears Devin Hester is very close to launching his NFL record tying 19th return touchdown with his mentor Deion Sanders.
He was close to breaking one against the Colts and close to doing the same against the Rams. He is returning the ball well on kickoffs (27.3avg) and punts (11.7avg). He’s doing his best at making the most of his limited opportunities. For the most part, punters are just kicking it out of bounds, or challenging him with sky-high hang time.
However, there is bound to be a miss-hit coming soon, and a kick intended to go out of bounds, could land in Hester’s wheel house. Dallas has a very good special teams unit ranking fifth in kick coverage (19.3avg) and second in punt coverage (4.4avg).
Intangibles: Mute The Noise
Dallas Cowboys stadium is a massive facility that holds more than 80,000 fans, so it can be noisy.
With the kind of pressure the Cowboys are capable of creating defensively with their rush linebackers Ware and Anthony Spencer, a sack or two will crank up the volume. The Bears offense has to find a way to mute the crowd, and the best way to do that is field position, first downs, scoring drives and forcing three and outs defensively.
Improvement on first down is critical. In a league gaining better than five-yards per play on first down, the Bears are earning just 3.32 yds/play, by far the worst in the league.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.