The Chicago Bears (2-1) are currently atop the NFC North, despite offensive dysfunction, with the Green Bay Packers (2-2) in their rearview mirror, and they have the power to hold them back even further in the division with a Monday night win in Dallas against a defensively hot Cowboys team.
On the surface, this match-up presents itself with the possibility to be a shootout or a blowout for the Bears. With an offense that can be best described as sporadic (24.7ppg, 14th-NFL), Chicago has its biggest test of the season as they travel to Dallas to face a defense that has allowed only 18ppg for the season (7th-NFL).
Not to mention the uncertainty about the health of running back Matt Forte (111yds, 1TD, 22att) and Earl Bennett (6rec, 86yds) and offensive line issues that continue to put quarterback Jay Cutler in jeopardy and cripple the cohesiveness of an offense that predicates on building the run to setup the pass. The Bears understand this, as some players alluded to earlier in the week when asked about the sputtering offense.
"It's the first year in this offense," Cutler said to reporters. "It's going to take time. Very few teams go out there in the first year of an offense with a new offensive coordinator, a new system, and put up 30-40 points per game. It's a whole season, and you've got to build each and every week and get better."
If the Bears can pull out a win in Big-D, it gives them the illusion of flexibility when it comes to addressing and correcting whatever defects the offense has, while still contending within the division. The Falcons (4-0), Cardinals (4-0), 49ers (3-1, with a win over Green Bay), Minnesota (3-1) and Philadelphia (3-1) stand before Chicago in the NFC standings. A win at Dallas (who beat the Giants in Week 1), gives Chicago an edge in the division early which would serve favorable implicating playoff seating later.
Aside from playoff implications, the Bears winning Monday gives players like Matt Forte, Evan Rodriguez and Earl Bennett the comfort of not feeling obligated to return back to full duty prematurely. Last season when Cutler went down, Forte picked up more responsibility, which may or may not have served as the catalyst to his knee injury. That injury forced him to sit out of the final weeks of last season, and as a result, forced the Bears out of playoff contention after a 7-3 start.
It's also important to get the rookie Rodriguez—who has shown great technical intangibles that have helped the Bears in the power formation—back on the mend as offensive coordinator Mike Tice alluded to when asked about the offense in his absence.
“Evan we moved and put a 40 number on because we felt like he could play on the line of scrimmage and play in the backfield," Mike Tice told ESPN's Jeff Dickerson. "We know he had a couple of good games and some good plays. When you lose a guy like that we take a step backward in that area.
"We have to come up with other ways to run other plays. Like last week, we ran the ball good in the first half then we were strictly single back wing, it takes away from things. So you have to massage that a little bit and come up with some other ways to run the football, as opposed to always being in single back, wing or single back, two tight ends on the edge.”
No matter the circumstance, for this Bears team to have success, starting off strongly is the type of catalyst they could use to pick up where they left off last year. Before injuries to Cutler and Forte jackknifed hopes of an NFC Championship return the Bears were one of the hottest teams in football and this was without Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush. For the Bears, 3-1 after Monday Night serves as therapy on many levels:
- Mentally: A win with a clicking offense gives the unit added confidence going into the "second quarter" of the season. Players like WR Devin Hester, who have expressed frustration in the offense, can get going and get confident. Plus, Hester getting the ball isn't exactly a bad thing.
- Physically: If Chicago can escape Dallas without wearing too much of the tread on Forte and Bennett, it would only be beneficial. The season is still early and the Bears will need a healthy roster late in the season as they face four divisional opponents in the final six weeks of the season (Minnesota(2x), Green Bay, Detroit).
- Substantive: Playoff implications start during Week-1, and with a win over the Giants, and Minnesota and Philadelphia both at 3-1, this would leapfrog the Bears to the 6th spot in the conference. After Dallas, Chicago has a considerably favorable schedule during the month of October. The teams the Bears will face have a combined record of 4-12 before they face the Houston Texans on November 11th.
Lovie Smith's coaching record against the Cowboys is 3-3.
Jay Cutler is 1-1 against the Cowboys.
The Bears are 9-11 against the Cowboys all-time.
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