After three weeks, the NFC East has proven to be just as competitive as many experts anticipated, and things may become increasing difficult for the Dallas Cowboys when they face the Chicago Bears on Monday.
The Cowboys' 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday exposed holes in the offensive line and things could get much worse against Chicago’s defensive front.
Chicago traditionally fields a top defensive unit, and things are not much different in 2012. The Bears are led by defensive end Julius Peppers, who has 2.5 sacks this season, and has seven Pro Bowl visits on his resume.
The Dallas offensive line may have a tough test against Chicago's imposing defensive line. Peppers, along with defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Israel Idonije will be facing a Cowboys’ line that committed six penalties, including four false starts in Week Three.
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray appeared on ESPN on Wednesday and was asked how the team was preparing for Chicago.
“Just match their intensity,” Murray said. “They have a very fast defense, and are great at stopping the run.”
Many experts would likely agree with Murray and the second-year back may have a tough challenge against him as the Bears haven’t allowed a 100-yard rushing game by any rusher in their last 14 games dating back to last season. The Bears are sixth in rushing defense, allowing 76 yards per game, which is just a shade under what the Cowboys have averaged on the ground this season.
After three games this season, the Bears also lead the NFL with 14 sacks and opponents only have a 24 percent success rate on third down.
Sacks could be a key issue on Monday, as protecting quarterback Tony Romo proved very difficult for the line against the Buccaneers. Romo was sacked four times and was hit another four, and as a result he coughed up two fumbles and an interception.
Dallas right tackle Doug Free was responsible for four of the line’s penalties and acknowledged his struggles.
“I haven’t pass-protected well enough,” Free said to the Dallas Morning News. “We haven’t run the ball well enough. That definitely contributes to what I’ve done,” Free said Wednesday. “I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job and we got to get it fixed.”