The Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot more in common than people may realize. Both are from tough divisions, both have much-maligned starting quarterbacks, and both are hoping to make a statement on what promises to be a huge Monday Night Football stage. At the same time, neither can really be considered a complete team, and neither is the odds-on favorite to win their division.
Tonight’s game won’t make or break anyone’s year, but it could provide a bit of a cushion as we head into the second fourth of this young NFL season.
Dallas has games against the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles over the next five weeks. Chicago has a relatively easy October, but then they get the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers back-to-back in November. With opponents like that on the agenda, both of these teams have to take their wins where they can get them.
Here are three things to keep an eye on from each squad heading into tonight’s showdown:
1. How does Tony Romo look?
Heading into Week 4, the Bears led all teams in the NFL with 14 total sacks. They know how to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Tony Romo is mobile enough to make it work, but he can’t use that as an excuse to get sloppy.
For what it’s worth, according to ESPN, Romo is among the league’s best passers when he gets chased out of the pocket. Since 2010, he has thrown an NFL-best 12 touchdowns and no interceptions when facing that sort of predicament.
2. Can Brandon Carr shut down Brandon Marshall?
There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Dallas gave Brandon Carr the hard sell this summer, but he has definitely earned his big payday thus far. Last week he held Vincent Jackson to one reception and 29 total yards on the day.
This week he has the unenviable task of chasing Brandon Marshall around. On the year, Marshall has put up 214 yards and one touchdown on 16 receptions. However, it is worth noting that Marshall's lone score on the year came versus the Indianapolis Colts during Week 1. Nothing since then. He’s either due, or a prime candidate to get locked up by Carr – we’ll find out what’s what tonight.
3. Which DeMarco Murray shows up?
After starting off the 2012 season with a 131-yard showing (on 20 carries) versus the New York Giants, Murray cooled down dramatically in the next two games. Against the Seattle Seahawks he could only muster up 44 yards on 12 carries, and against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he had 38 yards on 18 carries. His 4.3 yards per carry is totally inflated thanks to his first game. Given Chicago’s propensity for rushing the passer, a solid outing from Murray could ultimately make or break this offense tonight.
1. Can Jay Cutler limit his mistakes?
Heading into this weekend, Jay Cutler had more interceptions than all but one quarterback in the league. Over the past two games, against the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams, he threw a total of five of his six on the year. He must be more cautious with his throws – there is no way around that.
Also, according to ESPN, he has the lowest Total QBR of any quarterback when facing five or more pass rushers. Can you guess how the Cowboys will play him tonight?
2. How is Matt Forte feeling?
After sitting out last week, Matt Forte is apparently good to go today.
Sources tell me barring a freak setback Matt Forte is healthy and set to play tonight. He's telling teammates he will be active, good to go!— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) October 1, 2012
And for those asking plan is for Forte to start. Teammates say he's had a great week of work— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) October 1, 2012
How will he look? We’ll all find out together.
3. Can the offensive line offer Jay Cutler any sort of protection?
The Bears have given up 11 sacks and 20 quarterback hits this year. While that doesn’t excuse all of Cutler’s woes, being 11th in the NFL in both of those categories is not a recipe for success. Dallas will do everything in their power to get after this line tonight, and how they respond will likely dictate whether Chicago wins or loses this game.