Believe it or not the 5-7 Chicago Bears still have a sliver of hope for the 2014 post season. The 8-4 Dallas Cowboys are one of the teams in front of the Bears for a playoff spot, so tonight's game has huge implications in the NFC playoff chase.
I'm talking HUGE implications...
Did I oversell it a bit? Probably, but there is still a game tonight so we talked with Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys about the Thursday Nighter.
WCG: DeMarco Murray is having a fabulous season running the ball, do you attribute that more to him or to Dallas' offensive line?
I would attribute it a little more to the offensive line, but that's not to say that Murray is not doing fabulous work himself. Murray is showing an excellent combination of vision, toughness and patience while running the ball this year. The Cowboys run a lot of stretch plays and zone-blocking schemes which require the running back to be patient then hit the hole when it finally opens. Murray is doing that so well. He's also been very good about choosing when to cut back. And he finishes runs falling forward. But a running back will go nowhere without a good offensive line and the Cowboys offensive line has been crushing defenses for most of the year. Murray leads the league in yards before contact (at least until recently, haven't looked the stat up in a week or two) and that is a testament to his offensive line. Dallas invested three first-round picks to beef up the line and it has worked. Rookie Zack Martin has been fantastic and is challenging left tackle Tyron Smith for the best player on the line.
WCG: Many Bears' fans have a soft spot for Rod Marinelli who was in Chicago for 4 seasons, how do you guys feel Marinelli has fared now that he's coordinating the defense?
I love Rod Marinelli. He has worked miracles with a defense that was absolutely horrid last year. The Cowboys in 2013 were historically bad on defense and then they lost some of their best players for the 2014 season. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher left through free agency and then Sean Lee went down in OTAs for the year. The Cowboys did add guys like Henry Melton, Rolando McClain and Jeremy Mincey, but we didn't really know how effective they would be. Melton was working back from his knee injury, McClain had been out of the game and disinterested in football, it was shaping up to be a horror movie. But somehow Marinelli was able to gather these guys into an average unit. They still have flaws, but they are playing hard, they rally to the ball and they have gotten their fair share of turnovers. Marinelli has his charges highly motivated, and has been able to find the right sport for each player. If he sticks around and gets some more talent to work with, I would be very happy.
WCG: Dallas is currently on the outside looking in for a playoff spot in the NFC, do you think the Cowboys will finally be able to make the post season after a four year drought?
It's really nothing more than hope. I hope they will be able to make the playoffs, but they might have to win out to do that. They have lost some key games in the division and in the conference that puts them behind some of the other teams in tiebreakers. And they will need some help from other teams to catch the Eagles in the NFC East even if they do beat the Eagles in next week's re-match. They can definitely make the playoffs, the opportunity is there in front of them. I hope they can grasp it and not throw away a really promising season.
WCG: The Cowboys are notorious for their December swoons, but on paper I can't see the Bears winning this game. The Cowboys have played well on the road, they have a great running game, a top wide out in Dez Bryant and a good quarterback in Tony Romo. What do the Bears have to do to pull off the upset tonight?
On offense, the Bears should get Matt Forte going. The Cowboys can struggle against the run and a shifty, multi-purpose back like Forte could give this defense fits. The Cowboys linebackers don't cover particularly well so utilizing Forte and Martellus Bennett in the middle of the field could be their ticket. The Cowboys don't get a lot of sacks but they do manage to get a fair amount of pressure against poorer lines, so don't force Jay Cutler into long reads. Let him pick the Cowboys apart in the middle of the field.
On defense, if you can limit DeMarco Murray, you can get the Cowboys out of their preferred game plan. Double Dez Bryant and force the rest of the Cowboys skill positions to beat you.
WCG: Who's the better running back, Walter Payton or Emmitt Smith?
Jim Brown? ;-)
Thanks again to Dave for helping us out this week!
I answered their version of 5 Questions about the game so go check that out too!