By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The temperature was frigid, but the Bears offense was anything but in a 45-28 rout of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night football.
The Bears protected their struggling defense by scoring on all eight of their offensive possessions, dominating time of possession and piling up nearly 500 yards of total offense.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Cowboys defense had allowed the most yards in the league and Monday night was no exception.
The Bears offense had their way with the Cowboys defense. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, they protected the ball, and their physical receivers manhandled the Cowboys porous pass defense, working through man coverage and finding voids in their zones.
Save for a few questionable decisions, quarterback Josh McCown (27/36, 348 yards, 141.9 passer efficiency rating) became the first Bears quarterback since Jack Concannon in 1970 to have four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a game. McCown has now thrown for 300 yards in three straight games and has posted a 90+ passer rating in all five of his starts, three times being above 102.
McCown’s pre-snap reads of the Cowboys defense put the Bears in advantageous positions to make plays. McCown frequently used motion to bunched sets to free up receivers releases, and used pick screens to running backs Matt Forte (20 carries, 102 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 73 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown) and Michael Bush (8 rushes, 39 yards) for big gains, including Bush’s 17-yard catch-and-run touchdown to start the fourth quarter.
Additionally, McCown’s pocket awareness was a boon. He climbed the pocket when pressed from the edge and broke it when he was flushed, all the while keeping his eyes down the field. The Bears converted eight of their eleven third down situations, and seven different receivers caught passes.
No pass was prettier than the 25-yarder to Alshon Jeffery (5 receptions, 84 yards, 1 touchdown) in the corner of the end zone at the end of the first half. Trusting his sophomore star, McCown lofted a ball to the pylon in a position where only Jefferey could make a play, which he did, hauling in a touchdown to give the Bears a 10-point lead going into the half.
Bears receivers are making names for themselves by the highlight catches they make on a weekly basis, but their blocking shouldn’t go unnoticed. In addition to making critical catches, Brandon Marshall (6 receptions, 100 yards) and Earl Bennett (2 receptions, 18 yards, 1 touchdown) threw several key blocks down the field to turn short gains into explosive plays. The Bears offense played unselfish football, which translated to great offensive success.
If the Bears were to somehow back their way into the playoffs, their offense will certainly be a tough matchup for any defense, but their defense will be their undoing.
For the third straight game, they’ve allowed their opponent to average more yards per rushing attempt than passing attempt. Tonight, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (18 carries, 146 rushing yards) became the sixth-straight opposing running back to go over 100 yards.
The Cowboys scored on two of their first three offensive possessions, both of which were dominated by the run. Yet, in their two-minute drill at the end of the first half, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan abandoned the run. The drive stalled and left the Bears with enough time to go down the field and score.
Hindsight is 20/20, but this game provides more film for offensive coordinators of Bears future opponents to realize they should never abandon the run against this defense.
Rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene remain complete liabilities against the run and are being manipulated in play-action. They’re playing anxious, not reading their keys (player actions immediately post snap), and continue to overrun plays, which breaks the integrity of a gap-control defense. As long as they’re both in the lineup, every week will be an adventure for the Bears defense.
The Bears pass rush wasn’t getting home with four, so defensive coordinator Mel Tucker resorted to the blitz. Tucker has routinely used a “mug” (double A-gap linebacker pressure) look on passing downs and James Anderson was able to knife through a few times to collapse the pocket from the inside.
The Cowboys have had success through the air this season, so it was a huge win for the Bears defense to hold Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to a combined three catches (two of which went for touchdowns) for 22 yards, and quarterback Tony Romo to 104 yards.
Any game your punter only takes the field to hold on field goals and extra points is a good thing. Adam Podlesh didn’t have to punt, and Robbie Gould rebounded well from his miss against Minnesota, going three-for-three on his field goal attempts.
There were however, some curious decisions by Joe DeCamillis on kickoffs.
Dewayne Harris broke off a long kickoff return, but re-aggravated a hamstring injury which knocked him out of the game. With Harris not back as the deep man, the Bears attempted to squib a kickoff, which went out of bounds, giving the Cowboys the ball at the 40-yard line. DeCamillis has to be more aware of the personnel on the field in situations like this. With a struggling defense, field position is crucial and you can’t give yards away.
Perhaps the Bears have stumbled upon their winning formula: build a big enough lead with your offense that you force your opponent to become one-dimensional and abandon the run. As it stands, if the Bears are in a one-possession game, the defense can’t be trusted to hold up.
In a must-win game, the Bears did what they had to do to keep their playoff hopes alive. They’ll finish the season against two NFC foes who will be in the playoff picture, but they can’t overlook the Browns this week on the road.
My Know Your Opponent blog about the Cleveland Browns will be up this Wednesday.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin