|Keeping Bears QB Jay Cutler upright will be a challenge against the Cowboys. (US Presswire)|
Bears at Cowboys -- Week 4
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas (turf, indoors)
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Spread: Cowboys by 3.5
Records: Bears (Overall: 2-1, NFC North: 0-1); Cowboys (Overall 2-1, NFC East: 1-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 19, 2010: Bears 27, Cowboys 20. Sept. 23, 2007: Cowboys 34, Bears 10. Series record:Cowboys hold 13-9 edge. Teams have split the last six.
What matters: A battle of two very similar teams: Dominant defenses with shaky offenses behind struggling lines, with Bears QB Jay Cutler and Dallas QB Tony Romo are both taking their share of criticism for inconsistent play. Both teams got out with season-opening wins in good offensive efforts, followed by poor Week 2 efforts, and then ugly wins in Week 3. The Bears have the sixth-ranked defense overall, against the pass, and against the run while Dallas is No. 1. The Bears lead the league in sacks with 14 behind Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, while Dallas has DeMarcus Ware (4 sacks), who is tied for fourth. While they both get to the QB, their styles are different with the Bears using their cover-2 and four-man defensive front against the 3-4, man-to-man look shown by Dallas' defense.
Who matters: Cutler is off to a slow start in the new passing attack, ranking next to last in the NFL in passer rating (58.6) while completing eight percent below his career average of 60.8 (52.7). Cutler hasn't had much time as he'd like to throw, but has also held the ball too long. ... Wide receiver Devin Hester remains almost invisible in the offense, with only two catches -- both in Week 1 -- and has not had a catch in eight of his last 11 games. So getting him more involved is critical. ... Nickel back D.J. Moore returns to the place where he first became a viable part of the Bears defense, with two INTs in the Bears' 2010 win over the Cowboys. ... Tight end Kellen Davis, who has just three catches on the year but has been targeted 10 times. The tight end position has been targeted 15 times with just six catches, and it's a big reason why the passing game hasn't opened up as defenses focus on wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Key matchups: LT J'Marcus Webb blocking Ware. This is a huge mismatch. When the Bears beat Dallas two years ago at Cowboys Stadium, Webb wasn't playing and Ware was playing hurt, anyway. Webb couldn't handle Clay Matthews and Ware is in the same class of rusher. No doubt the backs and tight ends will be on Webb's side much of the night. ... WR Brandon Marshall against CB Brandon Carr. A battle of veteran stars. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys try to bracket Marshall with the safety as teams have been trying to do. Marshall has a 5-inch height advantage, but Dallas could have enough confidence in the former Chiefs DB to do this less. ... Bears CB Charles Tillman on Cowboys WR Dez Bryant. There were concerns in preseason when Tillman had a rough game against the Giants but he has been a rock at right corner and teams have instead focused on trying to beat Tim Jennings on the other side -- with Jennings making four INTs. Expect the Cowboys to try for the big play in this one to Bryant, who had a punt return TD against the Bears last time they played. ... LB Brian Urlacher on TE Jason Witten. Its two players trying to get through early-season injury problems. Urlacher has been a bit slow to come up on the short over-the-middle pass as he protects against deep middle, and Witten could be a weapon there.
Injuries of note: Forte's ankle injury is the biggest concern, but wide receiver Earl Bennett has a minor hand injury which could be a factor. Forte's backup, Michael Bush, took a shot to the shoulder last week and had to leave the game but was able to practice all week. Fullback Evan Rodriguez has a knee sprain which knocked him out of all but one play against the Rams. It causes the Bears to drastically alter their running game by making it difficult to run with a lead back. Backup Kyle Adams is more of a tight end or receiver than a lead blocker on run plays out of the backfield.
Inside stuff: Brian Urlacher could be very close to 100 percent now after three weeks of play following his knee surgery. He figures he had the same amount of playing time now as other players got in training camp, so his regular season is, in essence, just beginning. Urlacher seemed to have better strength and agility in the last game than in the first two.
Connections: Dallas QB coach Wade Wilson was Bears QB coach from 2004-06 under offensive coordinators Terry Shea and Ron Turner. ... Cowboys backup QB Kyle Orton started 33 games for the Bears with a 21-12 record as starter. ... Dallas special teams assistant Chris Boniol ws Bears kicker in 1999. ... Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is the son of former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
Stat you should know: The Bears are 7-2 under Smith on Monday Night Football. ... The average Bears first down play nets an average of negative one foot this season. ... The Bears lead the NFL in third-down defense since Smith became coach, yielding first downs just 33.8 percent of the time. This year they are second in the league in this category (24.3 percent), having allowed 25 percent or less in each game. ... While Cutler has struggled in prime time games during his career with a 6-7 record and 70.1 passer rating, he does have a 4-1 starting record on Monday Night Football.
Record watch: Hester needs one TD return to tie former Cowboy Deion Sanders for the most combined TD returns (INT-fumble-kick-punt) in NFL history at 19. Hester is averaging 27.3 on kickoff returns this year, which is up over his 23.8-yard career average. But his punt returns 11.7 have been down from his 12.8-yard career average. One of Sanders' returns came against the Bears in Dallas.
Looking ahead: The Bears travel to Jacksonville for a 3 p.m. (central time) Sunday, Oct. 7 game against the rebuilding Jaguars.
Prediction: Cowboys 17, Bears 13.
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.