NFL Preview – Dallas (8-4) at Chicago (5-7) (ET)

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) – Neither the Dallas Cowboys or the Chicago Bears had all
that much to give thanks for last week.

Each team will try to rebound from lopsided divisional losses on Thanksgiving
Day when they kick off Week 14 of the NFL season on Thursday night at Soldier
Field.

The Cowboys laid a 33-10 egg against visiting Philadelphia on Turkey Day, and
the Bears suffered a 34-17 setback at Detroit.

Dallas is now a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East with just four to play
and the Bears are all but done in the NFC North at 5-7, three games south of
the Lions and four behind division-leading Green Bay.

“No excuses,” Cowboys defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey said. “We just gotta get
better. Sometimes it’s good to get a good old fashioned butt-kicking to get
you going again.”

The Eagles ended Tony Romo’s consecutive games streak with a touchdown pass at
38 in North Texas and held league rushing leader DeMarco Murray to under 100
yards.

Romo completed 18-of-29 passes for 199 yards and threw two interceptions as
Dallas dropped its third straight home game.

“Today was an opportunity that we didn’t cash in on, but we have to learn from
this game and move forward,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.

Murray failed to reach the century mark for only the second time in 2014,
finishing with a season-low 73 yards on 20 carries against the Eagles.

The Cowboys will meet the Eagles again in Philadelphia on Dec. 14, meaning
this could serve as a bit of a trap game for Dallas, although the Bears
haven’t scared many foes this season.

In the Motor City on Turkey Day, embattled QB Jay Cutler was 31-for-48 for 280
yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery along with two
interceptions for Chicago, which had won its previous two coming into the
contest. Jeffery had nine catches for 71 yards.

“We had a fast start which was good,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said.
“Then they got on a roll and really made their money throwing the football and
moving it around.”

The all-time series between the ‘Boys and the Bears is tied at 11 apiece but
Garrett has yet to beat Chicago in his head-coaching career, losing three
straight.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Cutler has always seemed very comfortable against Dallas and has passed for
552 yards with five touchdowns and a gaudy 138.2 passer rating in his previous
two starts against the Cowboys.

He has plenty of weapons offensively starting with lengthy wideouts Jeffery,
who has seven touchdown catches this season, including four in the previous
three games, and Brandon Marshall as well as 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus
Bennett.

“We’ve got a big game in primetime this Thursday night,” said Marshall, who
has 22 catches for 432 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against
Dallas. “We’ve definitely got to put our best game forward against the
Cowboys.”

Meanwhile, running back Matt Forte has been nearly as productive as Murray
this season with the two ranking first and second in the NFC, respectively, in
scrimmage yards this season.

Forte (828 rushing, 650 receiving) is the only NFL player with at least 800
rushing yards and 650 receiving yards in 2014 and he tends to be even better
at home where he 147.2 scrimmage yards per game with four touchdowns (three
rushing, one receiving).

“(Forte is) almost half of their offense if you put it all together,” Garrett
said. “Very versatile, very productive, and they use him really well – similar
to what Philly does in using their backs a lot of different ways.”

Despite all that skill-position talent, however, Chicago is just 21st in the
league, averaging only 21.1 points per game.

“I think with the guys we have and character and integrity of the guys, I
don’t think anybody’s going to quit,” Cutler said. “I think the coaches won’t
let us, they’re not going to quit on us.”

Dallas has been much better on the road this season than at home, piling up
over 30 points per game and compiling a perfect 5-0 mark away from the Lone
Star State.

“I think (it) turns me on a little bit – to come into someone’s house and hear
the boos and all that,” Murray said. “I think it’s a great thing. We’ve just
got to focus, and have more patience, especially on the road, and not make
many mistakes. I think we’ll be fine.”

Romo has been exceptional as the visitor, passing for 1,164 yards with 12
touchdowns and a league-best 122.0 passer rating when he is in unfamiliar
surroundings. .

As a starter on Thursday games, Romo has led the Cowboys to a 7-2 record
with a 103.1 passer rating. Of course, he is also coming off one of those
losses.

The recipe for Dallas’ success this season has been getting Murray going and
they need to get back to that default setting. The NFL’s leading rusher has at
least 100 rushing yards in 10 of 12 games heading into Thursday, and has 1,427
yards this season.

In three career Thursday games, Murray has 343 scrimmage yards (114.3 per
game) and four rushing touchdowns.

With all the focus on Cutler and the offense’s failings that has masked the
bigger issue in Chicago, a poor defense which lacks playmakers.

Overall the Bears’ stop unit is 26th in a 32-team league and really doesn’t do
anything all that well. It’s 10th against the run but that is more indicative
of just how easy it has been to throw the ball against Chicago.

“We’re going to come out and play ball,” said Bears defensive end Willie
Young. “We’re going to stick to our game plan against Dallas. It should be a
good game.”

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Bears are technically still alive in the NFC playoff race but they would
need to win out and get plenty of help. Dallas on the other hand is a
legitimate player but one that could be heading for another late-season
collapse if it can’t get things done here.

“I think it’s just about this week, this Thursday against the Chicago Bears,”
Romo said. “More than anything, it’s a time to start playing your best
football and our football team needs to understand the sense of urgency is
now. I think our guys understand what’s ahead of them if they can go on and
play their best football.”

Romo and the offense isn’t the problem, though. The Cowboys defense, which
allowed a season-high 464 yards against Philadelphia, is starting to leak oil
and that figures to continue here.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bears 28, Cowboys 23