8:30 PM EST, CBS/NFL Network – Line: Dallas -3.5
A pair of teams that had a less than savory Thanksgiving look to get back on the right track as the Chicago Bears host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field on Thursday Night Football. By now we’ve all become acquainted with the Cowboys’ (8-4) struggles in he month of December, which has played a major role in each of their past late-season collapses over he last three years; on two of those occasions Dallas went 1-3, and as the starting Quarterback Tony Romo is a mere 13-18 between December and January. So you can imagine the pessimism around this club at the moment, given they,ve now dropped three out of their last five games after a sterling 6-1 start to the campaign. Last Thursday’s 33-10 loss at home to division rival Philadelphia knocked them from not just atop the NFC East, but from the postseason picture altogether; Jason Garrett’s charges trail both Seattle and Detroit for the Wild Cards due to tiebreakers they simply don’t own. And now come the Bears, who despite their struggles have dismantled Dallas in each of their meetings over the past two seasons. Between a 2012 Monday Night matchup and a Thursday Night encounter late last season, Chicago won both tilts in convincing fashion (79-46), with Romo and Co. committing a whopping five turnovers in the former while their defense was gashed for 490 yards in the latter. However, there is a silver lining here; each of their three recent losses have come at AT&T Stadium, while they’ve triumphed in all five of their outings away from home.
It’s difficult to explain the dichotomy between this team’s collective performance on the road as opposed to home, but there is indeed a stark contrast between the two as we mentioned earlier, Dallas is a perfect 5-0 away from home where they have averaged 30.4 points but just 21.4 at home where they are an underwhelming 3-4 and haven’t cracked 20 points in any of their last three contests. However, they had better be more concerned with their defense, which has slowly started to resemble last year’s dreadful incarnation that relinquished the most yards in franchise history. Rod Marinelli has done a tremendous job masking the many weaknesses of this unit as the Defensive Coordinator, the same post he held for three years in Chicago. The veteran coach has used creative disguises and mixed up the traditional Tampa Two scheme that he’s always ran, but at the end of the day this group simply lacks the talent and depth to slow down the better offenses in the league. Remember, this team lost both DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, along with their collective seventeen sacks in the Offseason, while Injured Reserve as since claimed the likes of Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne, who were expected to be the foundation of this defense for years to come. Thanks in large part to the Offense’s over-reliance on the rushing attack (145.3), the defense hasn’t been on the field very often. And with that said, when you take a look at how many yards they’re allowing per pass (7.0) and per rush (4.5), seventh and sixth-worst overall respectively, you will see that Dallas still struggled mightily defensively. It just took an offense that could run a high volume of plays to expose them, which is precisely what the Eagles did last week. For the second week in a row, Garrett saw his defense give up over 400 yards, as Philadelphia trampled them to the tune of 464 total yards,including 256 on the ground. While they’ve habitually been plagued by turnovers (which we’ll get into in a bit), the Bears do possess The requisite firepower to give the Cowboys fits, particularly down field in the passing game where their sheer size alone will create mismatches.
Meanwhile, there is some legitimate concern as to whether or not the Bears (5-7) will indeed be able to do so tonight, for they have remained one of the more perplexing mysteries in the NFL this season. That sentiment has been particularly true at Soldier Field where they have now won back-to-back games after starting the term winless in their first three home outings. However, those two victories came against the likes of Minnesota and Tampa Bay, who together have posted a cumulative record of 7-17. It was a different story altogether at Detroit on Thanksgiving where Marc Trestman’s charges raced out to a 14-3 lead in the First Quarter, only to be yield 21 unanswered points in the second stanza. Defensively, they were shredded for 474 yards, 390 of which came courtesy of Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ passing attack. However, as has been the cases aunties this season, any chance of a comeback was muted by late mistakes from Jay Cutler, who tossed a pair of crucial interceptions in the Fourth Quarter spoiling what was otherwise a solid performance (31-of-48 for 280 yards, 2 touchdowns) to that point. Now, with the likes of Dallas and New Orleans on deck, followed by a rematch with Detroit before the season finale at Minnesota, it looks like a forgone conclusion that this team will be out of the Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, which will undoubtedly spell change for this franchise.
So what in the name of Jim McMahon is going on in the Windy City? Honestly, for that answer you need look no further than in the trenches. At times in 2013, the Bears’ Offense was a juggernaut, even after Josh McCown took over for an injured Cutler, and that can be directly be attributed to the vastly improved Offensive Line. With four new starters, this group quickly came together and provided Cutler with something he hasn’t had since coming to Chicago in 2009: quality pass protection. And the results were startling; Trestman’s offense ranked second in points scored (27.8), eighth in total yards (392.4), fifth in passing yards (278.1) and sixteenth in rushing yards (114.3). However, injuries have ravaged the Line with Starting Center Brian De La Puente (ankle) and Left Guard Matt Slauson (pectoral) occupying Injured Reserve, while fellow Guard Kyle along missed time with a strained calf muscle. As a result, the Offense as a whole has been terribly inconsistent, averaging just 21.1 points (21st overall) on total yards (20th overall), including 262.3 through the air (14th overall) on 6.1 net yards per attempt (22nd overall), and just 93.2 yards on the ground (26th overall), racking up 4.0 yards per carry (20th overall). Cutler has already been sacked ten more times than all of last season (19), and has since been relegated to dinking and dunking down the field at 6.1 net yards per attempt. Furthermore, while posting the second -highest a Completion Percentgae on passes of five yards or fewer, he posted the third-worst figure when throwing over that threshold. Then there is Matt Forte, one of the most versatile Tailback in the league, is rushing for just 69.0 yards per game on 4.1 yards per carry, both representing the lowest mark posted over the past four seasons. Catching 78 passes thus far, he’s been utilized far more as a Receiver, mostly due to the Bears falling behind so early in games. And that of course brings to the defense, which while fixing the run defense considerably (10th overall), have since relinquished the most passing touchdowns in the league, 27.