The Chicago Bears’ run defense has been an area of concern this season, and they will be in for their sternest test of the year on Thursday night when they take on Demarco Murray and the Dallas Cowboys.
Sure, the Bears have faced some good running backs this season, with Eddie Lacy and Frank Gore coming to mind, but they haven’t faced an offense that is as predicated on the run as the Cowboys’ offense. In fact, Dallas is one of only three teams in the NFL that runs the ball more often than they pass it, and while Tony Romo does have plenty of weapons to throw to (we’ll get more into that later), things really get started when the ball is in Murray’s hands.
The problem the Bears will face in going up against the running back is that they can’t simply stack the box to stop him. Not only do the Cowboys have guys like Jason Witten and Dez Bryant to distract the Bears’ secondary, Murray himself can also run anywhere he wants to on the field. The Bears can focus on plugging up the middle, but Murray will bounce it outside. If Jared Allen and Willie Young can collapse the edges of the line, Murray can still take it up the gut for a few yards.
If the Bears are going to stop him, then they are going to truly need a team effort. That could be easier said than done, given the unclear status of Jeremiah Ratliff, who has continued to be limited in practice after missing last Thursday’s loss to the Detroit Lions. He has been a big key for the Bears in terms of stopping the run this season, and if he’s unable to play in this game, that could mean Murray and company are in for a good day at the office.
Even if Ratliff is able to play (he was listed as questionable on the Bears' final injury report Wednesday), the Bears’ linebackers are going to play a big role in stopping Murray. Jon Bostic’s speed will be a good asset if Murray can get to the second level of the defense, but considering the difficulties he’s had at times this season in terms of reading run plays, Thursday could be a tough slog for him. Shea McClellin is in a similar boat, as the Bears are almost exclusively using him on passing plays to get to the quarterback. If he is on the field against Murray, it’s a mismatch for the Bears unless he can show some skills that he has yet to show this season.
Missing a guy like Lance Briggs certainly hurts against the Cowboys, but the Bears have shown sporadic ability to stop the run this season. Thursday will be their biggest test in that regard, but if they can even slow the running back down, they will put the team in a great position to pick up a home victory.