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NFL Week 14 Game Preview: Bears-Cowboys

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The Bears return to Soldier Field riding a two-game win streak but the Cowboys still have playoff hopes, despite a two straight losses.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s do or die time for these two teams. More so for the Cowboys, as the Bears’ chances remain ever so slight, although they were aided by the Vikings’ loss on Monday Night Football.

The Cowboys though, have been up and down and were 5-3 at the beginning of November but have stumbled to 6-6 entering December. The Bears have fought the other way to claw their way back to .500.

Things don’t seem to be trending in the right direction for Dallas, what with their owner calling out the coach and recent players giving loud, yelling locker room speeches.

The Cowboys have only beaten teams with losing records and the Bears have mostly beaten bad teams, so is this a battle of losers or will one of these teams use it as a springboard for a strong finish to the year?

Dallas Cowboys

SB Nation site: Blogging the Boys

Game day/time, TV: Thursday, 7:20 p.m. CT, FOX

Record: 6-6, first in the NFC East

Bears all-time record against: 11-13 regular season, 0-2 postseason

Historical meetings: The Bears and Cowboys have met three other times on Thursdays, but the Bears have not won any of those games.

Five of the last six games between these teams has been played in prime time.

Oddly, two of the last three meetings with the Cowboys have fallen in week 14: in both 2013 and 2014. In ‘13 the Bears won 45-28 as Josh McCown threw four touchdowns and rushed for another while the defense slowed the Dallas offense to just DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo threw for 104 yards and three touchdowns but it wasn’t enough.

In 2014 however, the Cowboys bested the Bears by nearly the exact opposite score: 41-28 on Thursday Night Football. Cole Beasley caught two of Romo’s three touchdowns and Murray rushed for 179 yards and a TD.

The offense was totally overwhelmed until some late garbage time TDs as they trailed 35-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. This was Brandon Marshall’s final game in a Bears uniform.

Last meeting: Week three 2016, the Bears traveled to Dallas and were completely outmatched by the 2-0 Cowboys.

The Brian Hoyer-led Bears (0-2), were down 24-3 at halftime before two late Zach Miller touchdown receptions made it slightly more respectable. Rookies Dak Prescott (248 yards, 1 TD pass, 1 TD rushing) and Ezekiel Elliott (160 total yards) shined.

Injury report: The practice report for Tuesday was as follows:

Did not participate: RB Tony Pollard (ankle), DT Antwaun Woods (knee), LB Leighton Vander Esch (neck), LB Sean Lee (Pectoral/non-injury), S Jeff Heath (shoulder)

Limited: DE Michael Bennett (foot), WR Randall Cobb (illness), T La’el Collins (knee), G Zach Martin (elbow/ankle), T Tyron Smith (Achilles), S Darian Thompson (arm)

Full participation: WR Amari Cooper (knee), CB Byron Jones (hip)

Offense: The Cowboys enter the game with the first ranked offense in yards and eighth ranked in points.

Their passing offense ranks first and rushing offense eighth.

The weapons start with quarterback Dak Prescott (66.7 pct. cmp./3,788 yds./23 TD/11 INT) who leads the league in passing yards and is third in touchdown passes.

Catching those passes are Amari Cooper (64 rec./971 yds./7 TD), Michael Gallup (49/796/3), grand old man Jason Witten (48/418/3) and familiar foe Randall Cobb (42/634/3).

Keep an eye on TE Blake Jarwin (22/261/3) who is an endzone target and Ezekiel Elliott (39/326/1), who is also a capable receiver.

Speaking of Elliott (227/990/7), he’s fifth in the league in attempts and sixth in yards. He’s one of the best running backs in the league and will test the Bears without Hicks.

Spelling Elliott when he gets a break are Tony Pollard (58/264/1), but he popped up on the injury report Tuesday and Dak (38/222/3) who is also a capable runner.

Defense: The Cowboys enter the game ranked eighth in both points and yards allowed.

Their passing defense ranks eighth while their rushing defense ranks 16th.

While they’re down Leighton Vander Esch, they still have the incredibly capable Jaylon Smith (112 tkls/2 FF/2.5 sacks/4 TFL/3 PD) who is an all around playmaker.

In the secondary they have Xavier Woods (2 INT/4 PD/2 FF) and Chidobe Awuzie (1 INT/10 PD) and Jourdan Lewis (1 INT/4 PD/3 sacks/3 TFL).

Up front they’re lead by Robert Quinn (9.5 sacks/9 TFL/18 QB hits/1 FF/3 PD), DeMarcus Lawrence (5 sacks/14 QB hits/10 TFL/2 FF) and Maliek Collins (4 sacks/6 TFL/8 QB hits).

As a defense they rank 26th in takeaways with 12. Those have mostly come on fumble recoveries, of which they have eight, compared to four interceptions.

Key match ups: This game could come down to the Bears front seven against Zeke. In their six wins he averages 5.0 yards per carry, but in their six losses that drops to 3.6 YPC.

The Cowboys seem to remain balanced with the run despite leading or trailing (Zeke has 111 carries in losses and 116 in wins) and Dak’s attempts spike only slightly (202 in wins/245 in losses - or 33.6 per game in wins to 40.8 in losses).

The Bears can’t allow Zeke to get going or it will be tough to slow him down.

Now the passing game isn’t exactly easy to stop either with Dallas. The line protects him well, he’s been sacked just 16 times (it helps that his escapability is very good too), the fewest in the league.

Kyle Fuller is going to be tested, but with Prince Amukamara in doubt, it will be up to Buster Skrine and Kevin Toliver to step up and they will likely get tested early and often.

For the offense, it’s just to build on the success of the better games that they’ve had of late against worse defenses. Sure, the Bears have been bad against good defenses, but perhaps they have found some confidence and things that will work for them.

The biggest match up might be Mitchell Trubisky against former Bears defensive coordinator Ron Marinelli. Trubisky struggles against zone coverage, this is a fact that many teams have exploited and until he shows that he can read it and find the soft spots and adjust his to his targets adjusting, he will be in trouble.

What to watch for: This truly could be do or die. Whatever remote chance the Bears have at the playoffs start with them winning out on the season and then they need help along the way.

This should be two desperate teams fighting for their playoff lives.

Key stats: The Cowboys might be the most efficient passing team in the league, they are ninth in attempts but lead in yards.

Dallas ranks 32nd in defensive interceptions with four

The Cowboys are among the best teams on third down, on both sides of the ball. Their offense ranks first in third down conversions while their defense is third, allowing just 32.5 percent of their opponents third down conversions.

Despite having the eighth ranked passing defense, the Cowboys rank 20th in opponent passer rating at 91.9.

The Cowboys are tied for 16th with 32 sacks

They’ve allowed 11 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for 16th.

The Cowboys rank second in explosive pass plays of both 20+ yards (52) and 40+ (12)

Do you think the Bears have what it takes to win Thursday night?