Game preview: Bears and Cowboys mirror one another

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When the Chicago Bears meet the Dallas Cowboys Monday night in Texas, both clubs will have more in common than just 2-1 records.

Neither club has lived up to lofty preseason expectations. Both the Bears and Cowboys are led by veteran quarterbacks in Jay Cutler and Tony Romo, respectively, who are magnets for criticism yet possess exciting play-making skills.  Each has struggled early in the 2012 season behind suspect offensive lines. Cutler’s accuracy has been off the mark, evidenced by a completion percentage of just 53%. He’s thrown six interceptions as opposed to three touchdowns, and enters Monday’s game with a QB rating of 58.6

 He’s connected on a 65% completion rate on 70-of-108 pass attempts.

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The key to the game could be which team does a better job of protecting their signal callers. Both defenses have dominated. Dalls boasts DE Demarcus Ware, a nightmare match-up for Bears LT J’Marcus Webb. Ware combines speed and strength, to go along with a quick first step. He can be relentless off the edge. Expect Webb to receive help from a tight end or back in order to allow Cutler time to find wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Devin Hester’s chatter about more touches might impact the game as well, as he can be dangerous in certain situations. Bears running back Matt Forte is expected to play after sitting out last week with a high ankle sprain.

Conversely, the Cowboys could challenge deep with receivers Miles Austin and inconsistent, but talented Dez Bryant. The Dallas offensive line has been hampered by injury, but may turn to the ground game in an effort to keep Chicago off balance. DeMarco Murray is a one-cut speedster who can take explode through the hole and take it to the house. Murray’s ran 50 times for 213 yards in three games with a long gain of 48-yards.  If the Bears concentrate too much on Romo’s downfiel

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d weapons, Murray could get loose. Chicago needs to control the line of scrimmage and tackle well, a given but something the Bears struggle with at times.  Veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs must make an impact as Cowboys tight end Jason Witten poses a big threat down the seam.

Special teams could provide an edge for Chicago. The Bears have a solid kicking combination in place kicker Robbie Gould and punter Adam Podlesh, while Dallas was forced to sign former Buffalo punter Chris Moorman after Chris Jones was injured in practice this past week. Moorman has a history of having kicks returned, which bodes well for Hester.

Extra Points: Chicago is 7-2 (.778) on Monday Night Football under head coach Lovie Smith, including winning five out of their last six. Chicago and Dallas will be facing each other on Monday Night Football for the just the second time, with the first meeting coming on September 2, 1996, a 22-6 victory by the Bears at Soldier Field….Dallas owns a 13-9 edge over the Bears in the all-time series, with Chicago winning the last meeting, also at Cowboys Stadium, a 27-20 victory during the 2010 season….The Bears will follow up this Monday’s contest by traveling to Jacksonville six days later to take on the Jaguars before entering their bye weekend.

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