coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
On 12/03/2013 07:07 PM in NFL

Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears

The Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears are looking to make the NFL post season, but need some big wins to wrap up the season. The Cowboys come in riding high after a big come from behind win on Thanksgiving and will look to carry that momentum over to the big game with the Chicago Bears. The Bears are off a hard luck loss against the Minnesota Vikings and need a win to stay in the playoff race. READ MORE OF THE GAME PREVIEW HERE

Check back all week as this thread will be updated on a regular basis with information on this game and a free pick by gameday!

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/03/2013 07:53 PM

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has decided rest is more important for his players than to begin early preparation for the Chicago Bears.

The Cowboys returned to Valley Ranch Tuesday for the first time since beating the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving, but will not do any on-field work until Thursday with the Bears game coming on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

“On days like this in the past, sometimes we've gone out and had a light practice, but we just felt like it was better to come in and get in and get them to lift and run and get the blood flowing again,” Garrett said. “Got to get them thinking about Chicago and then get into a normal work week and today is really Monday for us, so we treated it as such and tomorrow’s Tuesday and come back to work on Thursday as if it is a regular Wednesday.”

The Cowboys will have played two games in 28 days before playing the Bears.

Linebacker Sean Lee is expected to play against the Bears after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Justin Durant could also return against Chicago. There is a chance cornerback Morris Claiborne and wide receiver Dwayne Harris could play against the Bears, but the feeling is they will need another week before coming back.

The time off also helps give Jason Hatcher (stinger), DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps), Dez Bryant (back) Miles Austin (hamstring) and other banged up players a chance to heal more.

“We wanted to make sure we maximized their time off and give them as much a chance to refresh mentally and refresh physically and reload for this next opportunity,” Garrett said.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/04/2013 02:22 PM

If you're still thinking of the Chicago defense as that relentless wave of players that caused turnovers and could help the Bears win, even if the offense was struggling, then you are behind the times. The Bears defense has collapsed this season, especially against the run. After watching the All-22 film of the Bears and Vikings game last week, some of their failings became apparent. Based on that game, here is a scouting report of how Dallas should attack them.

A couple of things to note: Dallas doesn't have a running back as good as Adrian Peterson, but they do have a superior QB and receiving corps to the Vikings. So don't expect the Bears to be as concerned with stopping the run as they were against Minnesota, but they still need extra help to slow down the run, so most of the concepts will still hold.

1. Run out of passing formations, pass out of run formations.
The Bears can't stop the run, but they still try. They walked up a safety or just plain loaded the box with tacklers if there was the slightest possibility the Vikes were going to run the ball. If you showed them a "heavy" formation or if down and distance said a run was a possibility, they committed personnel. Throwing out of a run formation put enormous stress on their secondary to cover, and they aren't that good in the secondary. Conversely, when you spread them out, they are not good tacklers and they lack gap control. You get a running back in a little space and he will usually win the battles.

2. Use play-action a lot once you've established the run.
Chicago's linebackers are not top shelf, especially without the injured Lance Briggs. They can be had and they are suckers for play-action. They will jump the line at the slightest hint of a run. This comes from their failure to consistently stop the run, so they are over-anxious to shoot the gaps, Dallas can take advantage of this.

3. Use the middle of the field.
The linebackers and the safeties are not the best cover guys. The Bears linebackers are usually busy blitzing or jumping the play-action to be much of a factor up the middle. The safeties need to help deep, usually leaving a big gap between them and the linebackers. Slants, ins, running backs on arrow routes should be very effective. Jason Witten should prosper this week.

4. Get your hot-read ready.
Dallas needs to have an effective blitz hot-read ready on every play. The Bears front four can't create enough pressure consistently on their own. They rely on blitzes as their effective means of pressuring the QB. Dallas has an opportunity to read those blitzes and burn them.

5. Watch for cutback lanes, run counters.
Chicago's defensive line can be blocked in one direction easily enough, sometimes their own quick pursuit takes them out of plays. If DeMarco Murray keeps his eyes peeled for the cutback, he could go off. Running counter plays or straight off-tackles with Murray looking for the cutback should be profitable.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/04/2013 02:24 PM

It sounds like Jay Ratliff is itching for more action with the Chicago Bears, not necessarily for payback against the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s just another game,” he told Chicago reporters this week. “It’s just football. I don’t get caught up in all that silly rivalry stuff, or some payback. The thing is, we’re here to win, and we’re going to give every effort to do that.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman said Ratliff did not want to come off the field last week against Minnesota, when he played 23 snaps and recorded one assisted tackle.

“I heard him come off a couple times and say, ‘Let me stay in my rhythm,’” Trestman said. “He felt he was mixing it up in there. So we felt pretty good that he’ll be able to play much longer this week.”

The Bears can only hope Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowl player with the Cowboys, can help their run defense. It is the worst in the NFL, allowing 153.6 yards a game. Last week, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson ran for 211 yards.

The Bears allowed 246 rushing yards to the Vikings. The week before, they allowed 258 on the ground to St. Louis. Over the past six games, the Bears have allowed an average of 205.2 yards.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/04/2013 02:25 PM

The Cowboys have been in this situation before. Win out, and they’re in the playoffs. Yet, in back-to-back seasons, they’ve fallen at the finish line.

Will 2013 be different? Or, will it be yet another December to not remember?

Since Jerry Jones took ownership in 1989, the Cowboys have never gone four seasons without making the playoffs. No pressure, Jason Garrett. Jones claims that Garrett’s job is secure for 2014, but that endorsement may need to be revisited should the Cowboys falter yet again. Prior to the season, Garrett was stripped of play-calling duties, which are now handled by offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.

The popular narrative is that quarterback Tony Romo’s play goes south as the mercury drops, but save for a few moments, that’s somewhat misleading.

In December games since 2011, Romo has averaged 300 passing yards, a 110 passer efficiency rating, completed 68% of his passes, with 22 touchdowns against five interceptions. However, over that same span, he’s 1-4 against the NFC East.

One of Romo’s failed moments came in last season’s finale against the Redskins. To that point in the month of December, Romo was 3-1 with 10 touchdowns, one interception and a 115 passer efficiency rating. But, with a playoff berth on the line, Romo put up a clunker, throwing three interceptions, including a floater to the flats with three minutes remaining in a 3-point game that put the season on ice.

Despite being the ultimate team sport, quarterbacks largely get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. This is understandable to a point, given the volume of decisions they make that impact the outcome of the game, and the amount of money they earn relative to their teammates.

The Cowboys’ evaluation of Romo went beyond his 1-3 playoff record and an 0-3 record in games where a playoff berth was on the line. This offseason, the Cowboys made him a member of the exclusive nine-figure club, inking a 6-year, $108M with $40M in truly guaranteed money.

So far this season, Romo’s play has matched his pay grade.

Through 12 games, Romo has only eight turnovers, the second best mark for quarterbacks who have started every game, trailing only Kansas City’s Alex Smith. But unlike Smith, Romo isn’t asked to manage games, he’s relied upon to win them.

The contributions from their running game have been minimal, but part of that is by design. The Cowboys 249 rushing attempts are the second-lowest total in the league.

Running back DeMarco Murray isn’t a shifty game-breaker who can make cuts in the hole, rather, he’s a downhill runner who works best behind a lead blocker. This made the decision to cut fullback Lawrence Vickers in the offseason a curious choice.

With a true fullback on the roster, the Cowboys ran a lot of I-formation power out of ‘21’ personnel (two running backs, 1 tight end), with designed holes for Murray to attack. This season, the Cowboys have been running from ‘11’, ‘12’, and occasionally ‘13’ in single back sets, with gun runs mixed in.

Just yesterday, they signed former-Bear fullback Tyler Clutts to a one-year deal. While this move doesn’t signal a shift in philosophy, it should bring more balance and two-back power down the stretch to an offense that passes nearly 65% of the time. The Cowboys are 5-0 in games where Murray has more than 100 yards rushing.

But the fact of the matter is, the Cowboys didn’t give Romo $108M to hand the ball off.

Romo’s decision-making wavers under pressure, but he’s an improvisational playmaker. The Cowboys have merged Garrett’s Air Coryell roots with Callahan’s West Coast roots into an offense based on the threat of vertical passes with dangerous intermediate route runners, specifically wide receiver Dez Bryant (115 targets, 68 receptions, 896 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Jason Witten (82 targets, 54 receptions, 622 yards, 6 touchdowns).

Physically, Bryant is as talented as any receiver in the league. He possesses a rare size-to-speed ratio, but is also still learning the nuances of becoming a complete receiver, specifically with assignments and route running. The challenges for the Cowboys are finding ways to keep coverage away from Bryant and getting him the ball while moving.

Recently, they’ve been deploying Bryant from the slot. This alignment makes it more difficult for teams to double team, typically matches him up against a slot corner, and gives him the ability to run the full route tree based on coverage. Only once this season has Bryant been targeted less than six times in a game and 70% of his receptions have gone for a first down.

Witten remains one of the league’s most complete tight ends. While he’s not the receiving threat that Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski are, he’s a premier in-line blocker and still commands a double team in certain formations. Rounding out the Cowboys receiving corps is vertical threat Terrance Williams, and reliable third down target Cole Beasley.

Defensively, things have not gone as planned for the Cowboys.

They’re giving up a league-high 421 yards per game, 25 points per game, and have the sixth-least sacks in the league. Injuries have played a part, but more than anything, the Cowboys aren’t getting enough contributions from key defenders.

So far this season, the Cowboys have given up an NFL-record four 400-yard passers, an NFL-record 40 first downs in a game against the Saints, two games of 600+ yards, and a 329-yard performance to Calvin Johnson. This defense gives up a lot of explosive pass plays, eight of the 22 passing touchdowns surrendered have gone for 20+ yards.

The Cowboys undertook a radical overhaul in philosophy, jettisoning defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s complex, high-pressure 3-4 man scheme for a pioneer of 4-3 zone defense, Monte Kiffin. Kiffin is best known for architecting a Cover-2 variant in Tampa Bay – appropriately dubbed the Tampa-2 – that buoyed a Super Bowl run in 2002.

The hire was a head-scratcher for a few reasons, Kiffin had been out of the NFL since 2008 and the Cowboys have recently made heavy investments in cornerbacks – Brandon Carr in free agency, and Morris Claiborne in the draft – adept at press man, which is antithetical to a true Tampa-2 scheme.

The Cowboys are applying Tampa-2 principles with their front, one-gapping with their four down linemen. But their coverages have been a mixture of Cover-1 (Man), Cover-2 (Zone), and a hybrid Cover-3 where their linebackers and safety play zone while the corners press.

During Sean Lee’s absence, the Cowboys have been playing more dime coverage (six defensive backs), bringing safety Barry Church in as a hybrid safety-linebacker. Lee is set to return on Monday night from a hamstring injury, which will be a boost for a defense that desperately needs it.

DeMarcus Ware is one of the key defenders that hasn’t performed to expectations. Ware is adjusting to playing with his hand on the ground, but is on pace for the lowest sack total of his career. One bright spot on the defensive line has been the play of three-technique Jason Hatcher. In a contract year, Hatcher has been one of the league’s most disruptive interior lineman.

While it’s tempting to look ahead to the season finale against the Eagles, the Cowboys can ill afford to do so. Yes, the Eagles are the only team on their remaining schedule with a winning record, but with the Bears clinging on to slim playoff hopes, Monday Night’s matchup is a crucial game for both teams.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/05/2013 04:41 PM

While Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys have generally struggled in December, they're hoping to see their recent efforts carry over into the regular-season's final month.

The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction.

Looking to continue their quest for the NFC East crown, the visiting Cowboys go for a season-high third straight win Monday night against the slumping Bears, who will be without Jay Cutler yet again.

After pulling out a 24-21 road win over the New York Giants on Dan Bailey's last-second field goal in Week 12, Dallas (7-5) stormed back to beat Oakland 31-24 on Thanksgiving Day. DeMarco Murray ran for a career-high three touchdowns as the Cowboys erased a 21-7 deficit.

"I don't know how you can get any better practice with a lot on the line than to have a game like that," owner Jerry Jones said. "I think that's something our team can build on that's what you hope to have happen with three or four positive endings to maybe get ready to have a big year."

Dallas, which has won five of seven, remains neck-and-neck with Philadelphia for first place in the division. While Jones is hoping to see his team stay hot down the stretch, the Cowboys have compiled a 13-17 record in December since Romo took over as the starting quarterback in 2006.

Romo, who missed more than half of 2010 due to injury, is 11-15.

"We've always known that what they remember is what you do in December," Jones told the team's official website. "We need to change that. That was our goal this year. And we've got a chance to do something about it this year."

Coach Jason Garrett isn't putting too much stock into those past results.

"You hear me say this all the time, but we're focused on winning one game," Garrett said. "We want to play one good ballgame. That's really what we're focused on. We'll let everyone else figure out what the history of the world is."

It's been a rough couple weeks for the Bears (6-6), who were blown out 42-21 at St. Louis on Nov. 24 before suffering a wild 23-20 overtime defeat at Minnesota last Sunday. Chicago had a chance to win with just over four minutes left in OT but Robbie Gould missed a 47-yard field goal on second down.

While running another play or two may have put the Bears in better position, coach Marc Trestman doesn't regret his decision.

"I didn't do it from an analytics standpoint. I did it from having been around Robbie the entire year and knowing how he kicks the ball," Trestman said of Gould, whose field goal percentage of 85.8 ranks third-highest in NFL history dating to 1938.

Despite dropping six of nine, the Bears are just one game behind first-place Detroit in the North.

"We've got to put up a win in the win column," backup quarterback Josh McCown said. "The standings don't matter if you don't win football games."

Cutler has missed the last three games with a high left ankle sprain and was ruled out again despite practicing on a limited basis Thursday. McCown has played well in his absence, however, throwing for 923 yards, five touchdowns and one interception for a 103.8 quarterback rating in his last three games.

McCown had 355 yards against the Vikings, finding Alshon Jeffery 12 times for a team-record 249 yards and two scores. The Bears' passing game could be in for another big performance against the Cowboys, who are surrendering an average of 294.9 yards through the air to rank 31st in the NFL.

"There's a whole lot of football to be played. We show signs of having enough to finish, of playing offensively well enough to finish, of doing things we need to get done," Trestman told the Bears' official website. "But we haven't done it on a consistent basis over the last month. We've got to start on Monday night and do that. That was the message: Let's worry about what we can control and that's being at our best on Monday night against the Cowboys."

Dallas could get a boost with linebacker Sean Lee (pulled hamstring) expected to return following a two-game absence. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), though, remains out.

Chicago is seeking a third consecutive victory over the Cowboys after winning 34-18 in Dallas on a Monday last October. Cutler threw for 275 yards and two TDs while Romo was picked off a career high-tying five times.

Chicago is among the league leaders with 15 interceptions, but its run defense has been abysmal. The Bears are allowing an average of 205.2 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry in the last six games.

Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who was signed Nov. 6, could be out for revenge against his former team. Ratliff was cut in October after spending the first eight years of his career with Dallas.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/06/2013 10:28 AM

The resistible force that is the Cowboys’ run game meets the movable object that is the Chicago Bears’ rush defense come Monday night. It would appear that something has got to give as the nation tunes in to watch.

Some numbers: The Cowboys rank 27th in the 32-team league in rushing. Only five other teams have more trouble moving the ball on the ground this season. None in that run-challenged quintet has won more games than they have lost.

On the other side of the line, the Bears’ matador defense, gored by injuries, is dead last in the league when it comes to allowing runners to ground out yards. That’s per carry (5.0 yards) and per game (153.6).

Now the final digital ingredient: The weather forecast for game night at Chicago’s open-air Soldier Field, which sits only a long Dan Bailey field goal off blustery Lake Michigan. It calls for a low of 5 degrees with winds gusting to 13 mph. Certainly, some Cowboys will be yearning for their dome sweet dome in Arlington.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett knows exactly what kind of game frigid weather conditions dictate:

“Well, you certainly want to be able to run the ball and be physical in bad-weather games,” Garrett said. “Sometimes you’re not able to throw the ball as well as you’d like because of the conditions and the next-best thing to do is run it.

“Being physical, being able to run downhill would certainly help you in those kinds of environments,” Garrett added.

Does that sound like the description of any Cowboys offense since the likes of Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, Erik Williams and Moose Johnston retired to less stressful activities?

The Cowboys’ running game this season could best be described as a series of starts and stops.

DeMarco Murray has played four consecutive games since returning from a sprained knee. The last time he played in frigid conditions on the road, he rushed 14 times for 86 yards at the New York Giants two Sundays ago.

But Murray has carried the ball at least 20 times in only two games this season. Both have been at home in the cozy confines of AT&T Stadium. He opened with a 20-carry, 86-yard performance against the Giants and reached his penultimate career production against the St. Louis Rams (26-175), his personal patsies. The most productive of Murray’s 33 career games was also against the Rams in Arlington. He rushed for 253 yards on 25 carries in 2011.

To say that the Cowboys’ running game behind Murray is thin may be an understatement. The team waited all season for a dinged-up Lance Dunbar to carry his share of the load. After missing three of the Cowboys’ opening 11 games, Dunbar finally produced on Thanksgiving. He gained 82 yards on 12 carries before he was forced to leave the victory over the Oakland Raiders with a season-ending knee injury.

“[Dunbar] got banged up a little bit earlier in the year, but we certainly had plans for him being a factor in our offense,” Garrett said.

That leaves rookie Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner as what Garrett likes to call “the next men up.”

They should be well rested. Randle’s last carry came in a cameo appearance Nov. 3 against Minnesota. He gained 3 yards on his lone attempt of the game. He has been an afterthought when Murray has been healthy.

Tanner’s last rushing attempt came Oct. 27 at Detroit. He carried twice in that game for 8 yards. Consider him an after, afterthought.

In an effort to lend comfort and blocking for a running game, the Cowboys have signed fullback Tyler Clutts. The team had elected to go without a bonafide fullback this season, instead carrying four tight ends and using linebacker Kyle Bosworth or offensive lineman Phil Costa as faux fullbacks on a need basis.

Clutts (6-2, 254 pounds) has made nine starts in 35 games over the last three seasons with the Bears, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. His next rushing attempt will be his first in the NFL.

Clutts replaces Dunbar on the roster. He won the spot over four running backs who also tried out Tuesday.

“The biggest thing we want to do is add the guy that can help our team the most,” Garrett said.

In Chicago, critics have pointed at rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene as the keys for the Bears’ failure to stop the run. But even the debut of Jeremiah Ratliff, better known in these parts as Jay, couldn’t help clog the middle.

“It takes everybody around them to get that done, not just them,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

The Bears allowed Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to rush for 211 yards on 35 carries last Sunday. OK, Murray is no Peterson. Consider then the previous week when Rams rookie Bennie Cunningham, an undrafted free agent, rushed for 109 yards against the Bears.

Cunningham has gained 145 yards total in the eight other games he has gotten a carry. Several weeks earlier, Giants free agent Brandon Jacobs gained 106 yards against the Bears.

Trestman did see a bright spot for his beleaguered defense against the Vikings.

“We didn’t make every tackle in the hole we wanted to,” he told the Chicago media. “But we were in the right position to do it — we just didn’t get it done — and that’s a plus.”

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/06/2013 10:29 AM

The Chicago Bears are the only team in the NFL that has two receivers ranked in the top 10 in the league in receptions and receiving yards.

Brandon Marshall ranks fourth in the NFL with 78 catches and ninth with 990 receiving yards. Alshon Jeffery is tied for eighth in the league with 70 receptions and ranks fourth with 1,109 receiving yards.

The duo should give the Dallas Cowboys’ secondary problems Monday night. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr will often be matched up against Marshall.

Marshall said Thursday that he’s not looking forward to it.

“I don’t like playing against Brandon Carr,” Marshall said. “He presents a lot of tough challenges throughout a game. You’ll notice he changes up his game when he plays against bigger receivers. He’s strong. He’s physical. He plays that way against guys like myself. I absolutely hate the matchup. It’s like playing chess out there with him. Every single play is a battle. He just makes you work so hard.”

Marshall is also tied for sixth in the NFL – along with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant – with nine touchdown receptions.

Marshall said that Jeffery’s improved play has helped him. Jeffery is coming off a game last week at Minnesota in which he caught 12 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

“Teams now have to play fair,” Marshall said. “He’s starting to put on tape and show the NFL that the Chicago Bears have two wide receivers that can dominate, so if you want to double me or roll coverage, Alshon is going to be on the other side, licking his chops and taking advantage of each opportunity.”

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
12/07/2013 01:23 AM

While complimentary overall of the Dallas Cowboys, three former members of that organization now with the Chicago Bears considered the atmosphere there "Hollywood" compared to their current locale.

Bears special teams coach and assistant head coach Joe DeCamillis spent four years with the Cowboys (2009-12) and said "there can't be two (more contrasting) spectrums." Two more former Cowboys -- Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and tight end Martellus Bennett -- agreed as the teams prepare to face each other Monday night at Soldier Field.

Asked about the biggest difference between the Bears and Cowboys, Ratliff didn't hesitate.

"Football, first-class organization," he said of the Bears. "Just to put it bluntly, and it's not a shot -- if they take it like that, so be it. Here, it is all about football. You can really just focus on your craft. Focus on what it is you do. And no matter what's going on, you never forget what you're here for. That's a good thing."

A four-time Pro-Bowler, Ratliff was picked by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, but he was released by the club on Oct. 13 and signed by the Bears on Nov. 2. Ratliff made his Bears debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, participating in 23 snaps, and his workload will increase Monday night against his former team.

Ratliff said earlier in the week that Monday's matchup is "just another game," but that isn't the case for DeCamillis.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say it's like Ratliff and say it's like any other game," DeCamillis said. "Anytime you leave some place you always have a little bit more juice going back against them."

As for the differences between the Bears and Cowboys organizations, DeCamillis said "there, it's a lot different from the standpoint of just the things that go on. It's a little bit more like Hollywood, and here it's a little bit more, probably a little tamer. But they're both great organizations, and both have had a lot of storied tradition and championships. That's the main thing."

A second-round pick of Dallas in 2008, Bennett spent his tenure with the Cowboys as a backup before leaving in 2011 to take a free-agent deal with the New York Giants. Coming off a breakout season in 2012, in which he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns, Bennett signed with the Bears in free agency.

Bennett is currently on pace to better those marks, and apparently Chicago's atmosphere is more conducive for him to do it.

"I mean, I'm a Hollywood person. I would agree with [DeCamillis and Ratliff]," Bennett said. "Since I've been born, I've been meant to be on Disney. But they don't really like to take too many kids from the 'hood and put them on Disney nowadays. But for the most part, it's different. Everything here is based on football, and [there's] just a different type of chemistry with this team. Everybody is just about football all the time. We have our relationships and we have fun; there's not really any cliques or anything. It's just a bunch of guys who come together every week, play football, and tell jokes."