8:20 PM EST, FOX – Line: Cowboys -3, Over/Under: 42.5
Underachieving teams looking to remain in the hunt for the Playoffs clash tonight in the Windy City, as the Chicago Bears play host to the Dallas Cowboys from Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. If it felt like the sky was falling after their narrow defeat at the hands of the Patriots, then the Cowboys (6-6, 1st in NFC East) must be in fear of the rapture following their miserable showing on Thanksgiving, dropping them to 6-6 on the year. All eyes were on Head Coach, Jason Garrett, after the team’s outspoken Owner, Jerry Jones, openly lamented that his team was outcoached in the former affair in New England, and was quite frankly tired of it, leaving the world to wonder just how he would prepare his charges for the quick turnaround as the franchise hosted their annual Thanksgiving contest. In that regard, the skipper failed miserably, for the hosts looked largely flat in last Thursday’s 15-26 defeat at home to the upstart Buffalo Bills. Things started well enough for the home side, who opened their account with a clinical 9-Play, 65-Yard Drive culminating in an 8-Yard Touchdown from Dak Prescott (66.7%, 3,788 YDS, 7.91 NY/A, 23 TD, 11 INT, 74.7 QBR) to veteran Tight End, Jason Witten (48 REC, 418 YDS, 8.7 Y/R, 3 TD), but from there things spiraled into disaster. Following a pair of Punts on their first two drives, Buffalo would go on to tally twenty-six unanswered points, scoring on five of their next six possessions, which cold have been even more had they not missed a 50-Yard Field Goal. Speaking of Field Goals, Dallas’ Brett Maher missed two on the day, while the attack devolved into one-dimensional oblivion, with Prescott completing 32-of-49 Passes for 355 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interceptions, suffering Four Sacks and Seven Hits, losing one of a pair of Fumbles. Pro-Bowl Tailback, Ezekiel Elliott (227 CAR, 990 YDS, 4.Y/C, 7 TD), was productive (71 YDS) despite carrying the football only twelve times, and Amari Cooper (64 REC, 971 YDS, 15.2 Y/R, 7 TD) rebounded from a dubious shutout against the Patriots to reel in Eight Receptions on Eleven Targets for Eighty-Five Yards, but it still wasn’t enough. It was yet another perplexing performance from the Cowboys, who gained more Total Yards (426-356) and First Downs (32-22), committed fewer Penalties (5-7), and were better on Third Down (53.8%-42.9%), but still managed to come up considerably short. The Turnovers were indeed a problem (Minus-2), but so was the fact that they were 1-of-3 on Fourth Down in comparison to 2-of-2 for the Bills, while the visitors absolutely controlled Time of Possession (33:18), rushing for 124 Yards on Thirty-Four Carries. The loss was the latest in a highly documented trend in which Dallas has struggled immensely against teams over .500 bringing their record to a miserable 0-5 against such opponents. For a club that fashions itself as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, these performances are simply unacceptable, which is precisely what the aforementioned Jones articulated during his rant two weeks ago. In their five meetings with winning teams, the Cowboys have averaged just 16.4 Points per Game despite producing 402.0 Total Yards, with Turnovers being the biggest problem, infected by a poisonous Minus-9 disparity. And it’s with that said that the seat has never ben hotter for Garrett, who since taking over the helm midway through the 2010 campaign has gone 83-65 (.561), including three NFC East Titles, but has only managed to go 2-3 in the Playoffs, never advancing past the Division Round. Furthermore, it’s not like he’s been without a talented roster, for it was only a year ago that Dallas sent more players to the Pro Bowl than any other team in the league. After all, they’re the only club at this point in the term to rank in the Top-10 in Points For (25.8) and Against (19.7), Total Offense (443.3) and Defense (321.6), Passing Offense (315.7) and Defense (215.2), Rushing Offense (127.6) and Yards per Rush (4.6), Third Down Offense (49.0%) and Defense (32.5%), and Red Zone Defense (47.6%). Simply put, with figures like that on your ledger, you should be doing much better for yourself than meandering around at .500. And that’s the issue in Arlington, where it appears that Garrett’s tenure on the sidelines has finally run its course with the franchise that he spent the majority of his professional career, including seven years as a Backup Quarterback, winning Super Bowls in 1993 and 1995. While Jones has gone on record proclaiming that he will not be making any changes to the Coaching Staff in season, one can’t help but feel that this is a team that is heading towards a hard reset in that regard in the Offseason, with only a Lombardy Trophy likely enough to earn Garrett a stay of execution. Many would argue that he probably shouldn’t have lasted as long as he has, but none could say that he wasn’t given every resource at his Owner’s disposal in order to succeed. With all that said, this outfit remains in First Place within the largely mediocre NFC East, as the Cowboys continue to cling to a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles, who have plenty of flaws themselves. The rest of the schedule is rather soft, with the Bears, Eagles, Rams, and Redskins collectively 22-27 (.449), with only Los Angeles sporting a record above .500, so there is time to correct course and clinch a second straight Division Championship, but as we all know, once they get to the Postseason, anyone they meet will be over .500.
Meanwhile, given how their season has transpired thus far, we’d wager that Matt Nagy would love to trade places with his beleaguered counterpart, for the Bears (6-6, 3rd in NFC North) don’t have the luxury of playing mediocre football and still sit atop their Division. That’s because the NFC North has been tougher than most in 2019, with both the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings marching forward to the Playoffs after missing out a year ago. It’s fascinating how things can change in a year, for if you look at the current incarnation of this club and its predecessor, you’d be hard-pressed to recognize them. In 2018, Chicago was arguably the best story in the league, winning the North on the strength of a 12-4 record for the first time in nine years, with Nagy earning Coach of the Year honors thanks to his work with a young Offense, particularly Sophomore Quarterback, Mitch Trubisky (63.7%, 2,196 YDS, 5.28 NY/A, 13 TD, 7 INT, 43.4QBR), and a dominant Defense that harkened back to the franchise’s glory years. If not for a missed Field Goal (and there have been many), this side would have advanced past the Wild Card Round with no telling where they’d stop, leaving many feeling very good about them as legitimate contenders heading into 201. However, almost everything that went right for the Bears last season has gone against them thus far, with an Offense that regressed exponentially thanks in large part to a decimated Offensive Line and an eroding Trubisky, while the Defense, who has been forced to remain on the field far longer than they’d like, has suffered enough injuries to bring them down a peg. So let’s start with the Offense, which as plummeted this campaign, averaging 17.7 Points per Game (28th Overall) on 298.6 Total Yards (29th Overall), including 219.3 Yards via the Pass (26th Overall) on 5.3 Net Yards per Attempt (28th Overall), and another 79.3 Yards from the Run (29th Overall) on 3.4 Yards per Carry (29th Overall). Furthermore, they’ve managed to convert on just 31.4% of their Third Downs (29th Overall), all despite taking relatively good care of the football, committing only Thirteen Turnovers, the seventh-fewest figure in the league. As we stated earlier, the Offensive Line has been ravaged by injuries, with Offensive Tackles T.J. Clemmings (Quadriceps) and Kyle Long (Hip) out for the season with respective maladies, and Bobby Massie hobbled with a bulky back. As a result, they’ve gotten very little traction on the ground, with Rookie Tailback, David Montgomery (172 CAR, 594 YDS, 3.5 Y/C, 5 TD), failing to show the promise that warranted the club selecting him 73rd Overall and trading away his predecessor, Jordan Howard. And then there is Trubisky, who has been the proverbial punching bag in Chicago for the past three months. The third-year Quarterback will always have to deal with the criticism of being selected No. 2 Overall in a Draft class that produced both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, with the regression that he has shown only throwing more fuel on the fire. A year after exhibiting significant growth across the board, completing 66.6% of his Attempts for an average of 230.2 Yards on 6.72 Net Yards per Attempt, with Twenty-Four Touchdowns opposed to Twelve Interceptions, while logging a stellar QBR of 70.8, the 25-Year Old has completed 63.7% of his Passes for 199.6 Yards per Game on just 5.28 Net Yards per Attempt, with Thirteen Touchdowns to Seven Interceptions, and a QBR of 43.4. He hasn’t handled pressure well at all, which is a big problem given the problems along the line; Trubisky has already been sacked more times than he did in 2018, with his Sack Percentage ballooning to 6.7% after checking in at 5.2% a year ago. It all came to a head during a dismal showing in a 7-17 primetime loss at the Los Angeles Rams, in which Nagy finally benched his Quarterback following a 24-of-43, 190-Yard Performance. After the game, the skipper said Trubisky was pulled due to a hip injury, and that he would in fact be the Starter the following week against the Giants. Though he played marginally better, completing 25-of-41 Passes for 278 Yards, a Touchdown and Two Interceptions, he also ran for a score, with the Bears earning a desperately needed second win in six weeks. Then, on a short week, Trubisky put together his finest outing of the campaign, torching the decimated Detroit Lions for a season-high 338 Yards and Three Touchdowns on an efficient 29-of-38 Passing in a come from behind, 24-20 victory on Thanksgiving Day. The visiting Bears rolled up 419 Total Yards on their division rivals, converting 5-of-10 Third Downs, and allowing just One Sack, allowing Trubisky the time to connect with Sophomore Receiver, Anthony Miller (38 REC, 489 YDS, 12.9 Y/R), who hauled in Nine Catches for 140 Yards, and veteran teammate, Allen Robinson (71 REC, 850 YDS, 12.0 Y/R, 5 TD), who added Eighty-Six Yards and a Touchdown on Eight Receptions. Now having won three out of their last four contests, and back on the fringes of a Wild Card, have Trubisky and the Bears actually turned the corner? We’ll have to wait and see, for it’s no coincidence that his two strongest performances of the term came in short order against the Lions, in which he completed 73.8% of his Passes for an average of 255.5 Yards on 8.4 Yards per Attempt, with Six Touchdowns opposed to a Single Interception. Perhaps he just fancies playing against Detroit, for in his other nine starts he’s been far worse, completing 61.7% of his attempts for an average of just 187.2 Yards on 5.6 Yards per Attempt, with Seven Touchdowns and Six Interceptions. Needless to say, Dallas will serve as telling test for not just him, but the team as a whole.