Among the notable numbers the Chicago Bears will carry into Monday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, one statistical category jumps out. The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks.
Three defensive linemen have collected at least 2.5 sacks, with defensive tackle Henry Melton (3), defensive end Julius Peppers (2.5) and defensive end Israel Idonije (2.5) all ranking among the league's top 20 players this season. That projects as a matchup challenge for the Cowboys (2-1), who have an offensive line in transition that surrendered four sacks in Sunday's 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay as well as several other hits on quarterback Tony Romo.
That is why Bears coach Lovie Smith has spent the early part of this week praising his pass rush while Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is wary of what the Bears (2-1) can do to disrupt Romo, who lost two fumbles in pass-rush situations against Tampa. Romo also was intercepted once.
"We want to make sure he is hit as little as possible," Garrett said. "We have to do a better job of that. We have to protect better up front and he's got to get the ball out ...Those guys up front can rush."
The Forte factor
During a Monday news conference in Chicago, Bears coach Lovie Smith left open the possibility that Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte could play against the Cowboys after missing last week's 23-6 victory over St. Louis with a sprained right ankle. But nothing is certain.
"Matt Forte is getting better. We have an extra day this week, so we're hopeful," Smith said. "Eventually, we'll get him back out there. As far as when, I don't know that right now."
Michael Bush started Sunday and rushed 18 times for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. Bush leads Chicago in rushing (151 yards, 3 TDs) but carried just four times in the second half, with Kahlil Bell getting most of the work. Smith said Bush took some "good shots" against St. Louis, including one hit that sent him to the sideline for a play, but did not mention an injury-related issue in regard to Bush.
Smith said fullback Evan Rodriguez, a key lead blocker, "hurt his knee a little bit," which kept him out of Sunday's second half.
With the Cowboys thin at safety, Danny McCray projects to take lots of defensive snaps against Chicago. But the team's top special teams player said he will lobby to stay on as many coverage units as possible to face Bears returner Devin Hester, who has 16 career touchdowns on kick returns. Hester has averaged 11.7 yards per punt return and 27.3 yards per kickoff return this season.
"I always want to be on the coverage units," McCray said. "We all know what kind of player Devin Hester is. We're just going to have to try to go out, work hard and prove a point."
Jason Garrett said coaches "certainly want" McCray on special teams against Chicago, but McCray was limited in that role against Tampa Bay as he played more defensive snaps because of injuries to other safeties. Garrett said coaches will seek to balance McCray's duties Monday in efforts to "control Hester the best we can."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler ranks 31st in passer rating (58.6) among the NFL's 32 starting quarterbacks and shares the league lead for interceptions (6). But he is reunited this season with receiver Brandon Marshall, who played with Cutler in Denver and has emerged as the team's top target (16 catches, 214 yards, 1 TD). Jason Garrett said Dallas has "great respect" for the tandem.
"They've thrown and caught a lot of balls together in this league, so we have to be ready," Garrett said. "They're a great combination."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760