For a team that's struggled as much as the Bears have to protect their quarterback, it's easy to prioritize their assignments for Monday night's game in Texas against the Cowboys.
On one side of its defense, Dallas lines up right outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who was second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season and already has 4 this year. Most of the responsibility for controlling Ware will fall to left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who allowed an NFL-worst 14 sacks last season and has been porous again this season. Cowboys left outside linebacker Anthony Spencer has 2 sacks this year and had 6 in 2011, along with 4 forced fumbles.
"For us matchup-wise, the two outside linebackers Ware and Spencer, are really good players," Bears tight end Kellen Davis said. "Pretty much for me, that's going to be my concentration, to make sure we try to neutralize those guys as best we can."
The Bears' offense is No. 29 in sacks allowed, while the Cowboys' defense is No. 5 in sacks. Dallas is also No. 2 in passing yards and average gain per pass allowed and No. 1 in total yards allowed, all of which is a direct result of the pass-rush pressure the Cowboys bring to bear on their opponents.
"Just like we talk about pass coverage and how you play the pass, it depends on what you do up front," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "They have one of the best rushers in the game, and they have been getting good pressure."
In addition to tight ends Davis and Matt Spaeth, the Bears will utilize their running backs to chip away at Ware when they aren't allocating two offensive linemen to keep him at bay in passing situations.
"They have DeMarcus and a number of guys that play at an elite level," Bears center Roberto Garza said. "So we have to get ready for a big challenge. They're on their home turf, but we're looking forward to the challenge."
Only against the Packers was the Bears' offensive line clearly not up to the challenge. It was gouged by 3.5 sacks from right outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who took advantage of Webb but also abused since-benched left guard Chris Spencer.
Ware presents even more of a dilemma than Matthews. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Cowboy, in seven previous NFL seasons, has four seasons with 14 or more sacks, including 20 in 2008 and 15.5 in 2010.
The Bears' seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers got his 100th sack in his 154th game. Ware's 2 sacks in this year's season opener gave him 100, and he got to that milestone in just 113 games. Only Reggie White got there faster, doing it in his first 96 games.
"He has just unbelievable God-given talent," coach Smith said. "And he plays hard. Skill-wise, that's what you're looking for on the outside. He has size, but he's it's not like he's a 300-pound guy. But he gives offensive tackles a lot of trouble with his quickness and his power, and he's been productive. Our guys get a chance to go against special guys each day (in practice), too, to get them ready, but it will be a challenge for our offensive line."