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Pleased to Meet You: Week 14, Dallas Cowboys

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The Bears face the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. We're previewing the upcoming matchup.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears are all but out of the divisional race, and they need a whole awful lot to go right to accomplish any number of things, be it saving any combination of Marc Trestman's, Aaron Kromer's, Mel Tucker's, and/or Phil Emery's jobs, or salvaging any of their approximately four percent in wild card hopes. But if they plan on trying to make the most of any of those, they have to take on a Cowboys team that's right in the middle of the wild card hunt.

Last Year: Finished 8-8, second place in the NFC East.

This Year: So far, they're 8-4, and sitting right on the cusp of the wild card hunt, tied with the Lions and Seahawks, who both hold wild card spots, and in second place in their division behind the 9-3 Philadelphia Eagles.

When Last We Met: In Week 14 last season, the Bears tore down the Cowboys on Monday Night Football 45-28. That win pushed the Bears to 7-6. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and 348 yards and ran for another touchdown in the win. Matt Forte ran for 102 yards, Brandon Marshall caught 100 yards, and four different receivers cashed in at the end zone.

Rankings:

Offense Defense
Total Points 302 (9th) 273 (16th)
Total Yardage 4,527 (8th) 4,369 (22nd)
Passing Yardage 2,783 (17th) 2,934 (20th)
Rushing Yardage 1,744 (3rd) 1,435 (22nd)

Offense: DeMarco Murray is having a fantastic year, already with over 1,400 rushing yards and another 343 receiving yards. It makes sense that he's a huge part of keeping the Cowboys' offense running game after game. Couple that with Dez Bryant having a strong year and Jason Witten still being Jason Witten (even though his numbers on the year are below his career averages, especially in receptions and yardage per game), and it's an offense that still gets things done. Tony Romo takes a lot of guff as a playoff choke, but he's still having his usual good regular season in the end, despite a career high in sack percentage (22 touchdowns to just eight interceptions). Then again, especially lately, starting a rookie in Zack Martin at right guard and with Doug Free both playing and missing some time at right tackle can lead to occasional protection problems (six sacks allowed in the last two games). Twenty-five sacks allowed on the year at this point in the season is not bad, but maybe the Bears can build off the last couple games.

Defense: There are a number of injuries in the Cowboys' 4-3 front - linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant, defensive ends Jack Crawford and Ben Gardner, and defensive back Morris Claiborne are all on injured reserve; Amobi Okoye is out; Rolando McClain, George Selvie, Demarcus Lawrence, Josh Brent, Tyler Patmon, and others are all listed as some kind of injury designation.

But this defense still has some healthy bodies that are getting things done; one of them, ironically, didn't make it through his franchise tag season with the Bears. Henry Melton has performed solidly in the nine games he's played with the Cowboys, picking up five sacks; former defensive end target of the Bears (and current Cowboy) Jeremy Mincey has added three. So far, they've been the most consistent pass rushers on the team. It's not a team that gets after the passer particularly well, with only 18 sacks on the season.

The defense has a couple other solid players on it, though - Barry Church and Brandon Carr haven't performed badly, though they could stand to benefit from a better-performing pass rush.

If the Bears do this: The Bears' less-productive offense and pass protection hopefully can stand against a less-productive pass rush and defense, and maybe we see the return of the Matt Forte run game. Or maybe we just get another bunch of screens for days. Get the run involved early and build the offense from there. Defensively, the Cowboys have turned the ball over in every game this season except for one, a 38-17 win over the Saints, and are 3-4 on the year when turning the ball over twice or more (all four of their losses have involved multiple turnovers).

If the Cowboys do this: Dez Bryant against the Bears' secondary is not a good thought. Kyle Fuller will be seeing a heavy dose of Bryant. Then there's that DeMarco Murray fellow.  The Bears will need to hold down the individual playmakers on the Cowboys' offense, including Terrance Williams, who quietly has six touchdowns on the year.

Closing Thoughts: The Bears aren't making the playoffs, but at least we can see how the team responds at this point as the coaches and players fight for their jobs next season.