Whenever people try to razz me about the Cowboys, I’m quick to remind them that Dallas has the best winning percentage in the NFL since the beginning of the Super Bowl era. If it wasn’t for the Chicago Bears, it wouldn’t be necessary to add that last part, but as it stands now - the Bears edge out the Cowboys in overall winning percentage (.570 vs. .568). With the way these teams are trending, it won’t be long and the Cowboys will jump them, but it will go a lot faster if Dallas can just take care of business this week against the Bears.
Here are five things to keep an eye on Sunday night.
I’m Coming Up So You Better Get This Party Started
If this sounds like a song you’ve heard before, that’s okay - it is. Last week, Ezekiel Elliott was supposed to have his coming out party. He fumbled that opportunity away. But this game is different. While Chicago will attempt to stop the run just like the teams before them, the Bears just don’t have the manpower to do it. The Cowboys offensive line will face their easiest task of the year as they go against a decimated Bears defense. With nose tackle, Eddie Goldman (ankle) and linebacker, Danny Trevathan (thumb) injured, Elliott will have his share of holes to run through.
The last time these teams faced each other, the Cowboys running game was in full swing as DeMarco Murray rushed for 179 yards. This game could be just what the rookie running back needs to get himself rolling.
Prediction: Zeke will have 22 carries for 151 yards.
The Rookie QB Who Plays Like A Veteran
Dak Prescott has thrown 75 passes in the first two games with no interceptions. His ability to read the defense has been instrumental in protecting the ball. Prescott’s athletic skills are impressive enough, but it’s his mental game that pushes him in a higher echelon of quarterback performance for rookies. The kid prepares very well and has shown the ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage to give the offense the best chance at success. He’s playing like a savvy veteran and he’s showing off some of Tony Romo’s moves.
Dak Prescott trying out the Romo spin. https://t.co/GL9AYSCZVu— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) September 18, 2016
The Bears defense is banged up so this should entice Prescott as he’ll have several options to choose from. To this point, Prescott has made great choices and this seems like another game where he can flourish in the passing game, but the Bears will have no choice but to take some risks. This has a high risk/reward for the Cowboys rookie. A bad decision could result in his first interception of his career. A good one could give the Cowboys an explosive play and give Prescott his first passing touchdown of his career.
Who Wins: Prescott. There is no reason to think he’s going to suddenly start making poor decisions. If he keeps playing like he has been, he should get his first, second, and third touchdown pass of the season.
A Royal Pain
Alshon Jeffrey is the Bears biggest offensive weapon. This is quite the step down since the last time these teams faced each other in 2014 when Chicago also had Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall. The Cowboys will focus on stopping Jeffrey which will include either Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr. Dallas will also be quick to provide some help over the top to ensure the Bears’ star receiver doesn’t go crazy.
So the question becomes – who else on the Bears can hurt the Cowboys? One name that comes to mind is Eddie Royal. The Bears veteran receiver doesn’t make a lot of plays, but when he does, they can be big ones. With Orlando Scandrick a possible injury scratch, this could mean the rookie Anthony Brown would have to step in and fill the slot position. Dallas has been vulnerable to big passing plays this season, giving up six passing plays of 25 or more yards this season.
Fun Flashback: If the Bears mount a comeback, the Cowboys defense is going to need someone to step in and seal the deal, just like Orlando did in 2014.
Redemption For #83
The last time we saw Terrance Williams he was running out the clock in Week 1 against the New York Giants. He didn’t play last week…oh wait, yeah he did. The Cowboys fourth-year receiver is off to a troubling start to the new year, which is especially disappointing considering he is playing for a new contract in 2017. Despite the absence of good plays, Williams is a good receiver. He’s caught all three catchable passes that have been thrown to him. The problem is – Dak just doesn’t look his way. Prescott has been slinging the ball around equally to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley as they have 17, 18, and 18 targets respectively. But Williams has been left out of the reindeer games with only four targets, including none last week.
Was last week’s disappearance some type of punishment? Not likely. Prescott has shown he’s an equal opportunity passer throwing it to anyone and everyone in the preseason. Williams just hasn’t had the good looks up to this point. But that could change as the Bears defense must find ways to stop the Cowboys more dangerous receivers. This could leave Williams in some favorable situations.
Cowboys fans have been looking for that deep passing play and they may be in luck this week. Look for Williams to remind fans he’s still on this team.
Key Matchup: RT Doug Free vs. DE Akiem Hicks. The Cowboys tackle is nursing a quad injury and his effectiveness could be hindered. Hicks will try to bull-rush his way through Free, but if the Cowboys veteran blocker can fend him off, this could open the door for Prescott to deliver the long ball to Williams.
Sack Em If You Got Em
The Bears offensive line has given up eight sacks this season, which is worst in the NFL. They cannot protect anyone. This is great news for a Cowboys pass rush that struggles to put pressure on the quarterback. You won’t hear this very often, but the Cowboys have some favorable matchups in the trenches. Newly-assigned defensive end Tyrone Crawford will face the Bears most suspect blocker, right tackle Bobby Massie. If Crawford starts floating like a butterfly in his new role, this week could provide a great opportunity for the Cowboys pass rush.
And with Crawford moving outside, the rookie defensive tackle, Maliek Collins, will get a good dose of snaps on the inside. His partner in crime Terrell McClain is off to a great start this season and will face a rookie at center, second-round pick, Cody Whitehair. The Cowboys should be able to generate some pressure up the middle.
The most disappointing part of these match-ups is that the Cowboys won’t be able to take advantage of the Bears’ left tackle, Charles Leno Jr. The Bears’ blindside protector is not terrible, but he’s not very good as far as LT’s go. Unfortunately, the Cowboys just don’t have anyone who can be productive from that spot.
Don’t Be Surprised If: Maliek gets his first career sack. While big games are expected from rookies, Prescott and Elliott, the Cowboys third-round draft pick could introduce himself to the world on Sunday night.
Those are the things I will be watching. What will you be looking out for in this game?