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NFL Preview - Chicago (1-0) at Dallas (0-1)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Good fortune played a part in the Chicago Bears' successful beginning to the 2010 season, while poor execution is the main reason why the Dallas Cowboys are still in search of their first victory.
The Cowboys will be out to improve upon a sloppy Week 1 showing when the reigning NFC East champions host a Chicago team seeking its first win in Dallas in 24 years this Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
A litany of mistakes along with one questionable decision were the primary culprits in the Cowboys' frustrating 13-7 season-opening loss at division- rival Washington this past Sunday. Dallas was whistled for 12 penalties, including a holding call by replacement right tackle Alex Barron on the game's last play that wiped out a would-be 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to wide receiver Roy Williams, and committed one very costly turnover that ultimately decided the final outcome.
With the Cowboys opting to run a play in their own end in lieu of killing the clock in the closing seconds of the first half, running back Tashard Choice was stripped of the ball after catching a short Romo pass. Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall raced 32 yards into the end zone with the fumble, giving his team a 10-0 lead Dallas could never overcome.
Barron was flagged a total of three times filling in for Marc Colombo, who sat out the contest recuperating from knee surgery performed last month but is expected to be back in the lineup this week. Regular left guard Kyle Kosier, also absent from the opener with a sprained knee, is slated to return to his post as well.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith used some rather bizarre judgement as well in his club's opening-week matchup with Detroit, spurning a chip-shot field goal try with under nine minutes left and Chicago trailing by a point for a chance at a touchdown on 4th-and-1. The Lions would repel the attempt by stuffing running back Matt Forte short of the goal line.
The Bears wound up prevailing anyhow by a 19-14 score, partly due to a 372- yard, two-touchdown performance by quarterback Jay Cutler and a defense that limited Detroit to a meager 168 yards while producing three takeaways. Chicago also got the benefit of a controversial officials' call that nullified a potential game-winning touchdown catch by the Lions' Calvin Johnson in the final minute of play.
With that result now behind them, the Bears can focus on obtaining their first 2-0 start since 2006, a year in which the franchise represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. They'll also be vying for their first victory as the visitor in this series since a Mike Ditka-coached Chicago squad posted a 24-10 decision over the Cowboys in the 1986 regular-season finale. The Bears have lost three straight times in Dallas since.
Dallas officially begins its second season in the extravagant Cowboys Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLV this coming February. Including an opening-round triumph over Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, the Cowboys went 7-2 in the first year of their new home and won six of those games by 14 points or more.
Dallas leads the all-time regular season series with Chicago, 11-8, including a 34-10 road victory when the teams last met, in Week 3 of the 2007 season. The Cowboys were 21-7 winners when the teams last met in Big D, on Thanksgiving Day 2004. The Bears' most recent series win was a 13-12 affair at Soldier Field in 1998, and Chicago is 0-3 in Dallas since last winning there in 1986.
In addition to their regular season edge, the Cowboys also hold a 2-0 lead in the all-time postseason series, winning an NFC Divisional Playoff at home in 1977 and an NFC First-Round Playoff at Soldier Field in 1991.
Dallas head coach Wade Phillips is 3-0 in his career against Chicago, including wins while with the Broncos in 1993 and Bills in 1998. Smith is 0-2 against the Cowboys in his career, and 0-1 head-to-head versus Phillips.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
The anticipated debut of a new-look Chicago offense directed by highly- regarded coordinator Mike Martz would have to be considered a modest success, as Cutler (372 passing yards, 2 TD) had his highest yardage output since joining the Bears in a well-publicized 2009 trade with Denver and was only intercepted once, a recurring problem for the rocket-armed triggerman last season. The defense-deficient Lions may have had something to do with that large total, however. Many of Cutler's throws were underneath stuff to Forte, who took a short screen 89 yards to paydirt in the second quarter and finished with a career-best 151 yards and two scores on seven catches out of the backfield, backfield mate Chester Taylor (3 receptions, 44 yards) and tight end Greg Olsen (4 receptions, 37 yards). Cutler was sacked four times behind a shaky offensive line on Sunday, which helps explain the reluctance to go deep, and also didn't get much help from a suspect group of wide receivers. Top target Devin Aromashodu did have five catches for 71 yards in the win, but nearly as many drops as well. The running game wasn't a big factor either, with Forte mustering only 50 yards on 17 carries and the Bears twice failing to deliver touchdowns in 1st-and-goal situations during the game.
Chicago's protection issues could be exposed by a Dallas defense that's been quite adept at rushing the passer over the past few years. Though the Cowboys only recorded one sack of Washington's Donovan McNabb in Week 1, they were consistently able to disrupt the veteran quarterback's timing with pressure, resulting in a subpar 47 percent completion rate. Outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware (6 tackles, 1 sack) and Anthony Spencer (3 tackles) excel at creating heat off the edge, while All-Pro nose tackle Jay Ratliff is an outstanding interior rusher who's garnered 13 1/2 sacks over the previous two seasons. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins (2 tackles, 1 PD) and Terence Newman (3 tackles) are also key components on a unit that yielded just 161 net passing yards to the Redskins. The Cowboys can play the run as well, having allowed the fourth- fewest yards (90.5 ypg) on the ground a year ago and holding Washington to 89 rushing yards last Sunday. Dallas is particularly stout inside, where Ratliff can wreak havoc up front and linebackers Bradie James (8 tackles, 1 PD) and Keith Brooking (7 tackles, 1 PD) are both intelligent and experienced.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
A Dallas offense that contains a wealth of playmakers still looks like a work in progress at this early stage of the season. The Cowboys didn't have much trouble moving the ball in the middle of the field against Washington, but scored on only one of three red-zone trips and was continually set back by penalties. The chemistry between Romo (282 passing yards, 1 TD) and wide receiver Miles Austin seems to be in midseason form, however, as the 2009 breakout star hauled in 10 of his quarterback's throws for 146 yards and the team's only touchdown in the opener. Rookie sensation Dez Bryant (56 receiving yards) added eight grabs in his pro debut, albeit mostly on short quick looks as the Cowboys took few shots down the field behind the makeshift front line. Getting Colombo and Kosier back should help open up the play-calling and aid the ground attack as well, though the backfield duo of Marion Barber (8 carries, 39 yards) and Felix Jones (8 carries, 38 yards) were both effective when they had their number called last week. Tight end Jason Witten, Dallas' leader in receptions in each of the last three years, should also benefit from the reinforcements up front, as the perennial Pro Bowler had a pedestrian three catches for 27 yards while often called upon to pass protect.
A major disappointment in 2009, the Chicago defense acquitted itself far better in last week's lid-lifter and received big contributions from two of its expected anchors. End Julius Peppers made an immediate impact in his first game since signing a hefty six-year free-agent contract during the offseason, as the ex-Panther notched a critical sack on Detroit's Matthew Stafford that forced a fumble that set up a Bears field goal and also knocked the young quarterback out of the game. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, playing for the first time since suffering a year-ending dislocated wrist in Week 1 of last season, racked up eight tackles and a sack while spearheading a front seven that held the Lions to a paltry 20 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Weakside starter Lance Briggs (10 tackles, 1 PD) had an active afternoon as well, with cornerbacks Charles Tillman (4 tackles, 1 INT) and Zackary Bowman (6 tackles) keeping the dangerous Calvin Johnson in check to help assist an all-around fine effort under new coordinator Rod Marinelli.
Forte was one of the fantasy stars of the Week 1 slate, and the versatile back's top-notch receiving skills make him safe to use in all formats and a absolute must in points-per-reception leagues. Cutler could be primed for a big year as well in the Martz system, but owners would be wise to glance over all available options in a matchup against a tough defense this week. The Cowboys did have some trouble covering the tight end last week, giving Olsen a bump in value, and Taylor might not be a bad choice as a flex player, as he may get more of a look in short-yardage scenarios after Forte struggled badly in that area in the opener. The Chicago wide receivers still need to show more, however, before getting a recommendation here. Austin certainly gets a thumbs-up on the Dallas side, though, as does Witten and a Cowboys defense that will be facing a questionable offensive line and a quarterback with a tendency for turnovers. Romo's almost always a solid start, but the timeshare between Bryant and Williams at the No. 2 receiver spot assigns risk to both players. Among the top two Dallas running backs, Barber appears to be the safer play as the likely starter and goal-line guy.
Last week's careless performance should serve as a wakeup call to a Dallas team that has an overall talent advantage on its opponent and will be playing at home. While an offense that's yet to mesh may remain out of sorts against a Chicago stop unit that looks pretty legitimate, the Cowboys defense will show the way in this one by stuffing the run and harassing Cutler into a few pivotal mistakes that will create short fields and turn a close contest into a relatively easy win for the defending NFC East champions.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 24, Bears 9
09/16 14:00:07 ET
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