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Five things to watch when the Cowboys travel to Chicago to face the Bears

What should we expect in Cowboys vs. Bears? Here are few things...

Chicago Bears v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There is nothing like playing a cold game in December in Chicago. It’s sorta becoming a regular thing when these two teams face off as Thursday’s game will mark the third time in their last three matchups where the Cowboys have to travel to Soldier Field in Week 14 to play the Bears. The schedule makers must love watching the Cowboys freeze their tails off, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Whatever the case, this Cowboys team better warm themselves up in a hurry and be ready for this big NFC game.

It’s always interesting to play against Chicago because of the long history of both these organizations. Not so much against each other, but against the rest of the NFL. Entering this season, the Cowboys have the highest winning percentage of any team in NFL history, and the Bears are a team who are right on their heels.

It’s always nice to add a little more space between the two with a Dallas victory.

Winning in Chicago won’t be easy. The Bears boast one of the strongest defenses in the league. And playing in the elements of the Windy City late in the season could neutralize some of the effectiveness of the Cowboys top ranked passing attack. Here are five things to watch when these two teams face off on Thursday night.

1. Feed the Zeke

The Cowboys are pretty consistent in the way they attack offensively as we know they are going to give a steady attack of both rushing and passing. It doesn’t matter if the Cowboys win or lose, the rushing and passing attempts in each of those games are fairly similar.

When it comes to the Bears defense, there really isn’t a glaring weakness. They are good against the run, and they are good against the pass. But for Dallas to have success, it’s going to be paramount for them to control the line of scrimmage. The offensive line needs to show up and we need to see a heavy does of Ezekiel Elliott.

The Bears are ranked fourth in the league allowing just 3.7 yards per rush. That’s exactly what Zeke averages in the Cowboys losses this year. However, in their wins, Elliott churns out 5.0 yard per carry. It’s going to be a battle in the trenches to which side can prevail, but whether or not Elliott can get going may loom large in deciding which team leaves Thursday night with the win.

2. Too good to be Trubisky

Don’t look now, but the Bears young quarterback is coming off a good game. That’s one in a row! On Thanksgiving, Trubisky was 29/38 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, it was against a Lions defense that gives up nearly 400 yards a game, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Trubisky led a nice fourth-quarter comeback with a nine-play, 90-yard drive, capped off with a touchdown pass. That’s certainly something.

While that’s something to hang his hat on, things haven’t been so good for the Trubisky this season as he’s struggled with accuracy and continues to have problems diagnosing defenses and reading zone coverages. So, the question begs - was last week just an aberration or is the young quarterback gaining confidence? Cowboys fans are hoping for the former and would love to see the Dallas defense force him into making mistakes. When he’s bad, he’s really bad, and the Bears offense goes nowhere.

3. Take it away!

In Rod Marinelli’s last season as defensive coordinator of the Bears, his defense was no. 1 in the league in taking the ball away. The Bears had 44 takeaways in 2012. So, when Marinelli became the Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2014, there was reason to be hopeful that he would help the team in this department. And he did. The Cowboys finished second in the league that season in takeaways.

Unfortunately, that season seems to be the anomaly as the Cowboys defense hasn’t finished in the top half in this category since, and they currently sit 26th in the league in takeaways. Chicago was tops in the league last year, but their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is now the head coach in Denver. The Bears defense ranks 14th in takeaways this season.

Sloppiness will hurt your chances in a heartbeat, and the Cowboys need to play a clean game in a potentially challenging environment. Running up and down the field will never be enough if they are giving the ball away. It sure would be nice if they could end this four-game drought of not forcing a turnover from their opponent. It’s football 101 that turnovers impact games, but the Cowboys need to come out on the winning side of this battle for a change.

4. Watch out for these guys

It’s hard imagining the Bears offense really posing any type of threat to the Cowboys as they rank near the end of most offensive categories. Their ground and air attack are equally inefficient as they rank 28th in both rushing and passing yards. While the Cowboys offense leads the league in yards per play (6.5), the Bears offense is third-worst in the league (4.6).

While that sounds more comforting, that’s not to say there aren’t playmakers on their offense who can hurt the Cowboys. Tarik Cohen is a great pass-catching back who can be trouble if he gets in space. Last year’s second-round pick Anthony Miller is starting to come to life. After not having a game with more than five catches through the first 25 games of his career, he’s now eclipsed that mark in the last three contests, including a nine reception, 140-yard performance on Thanksgiving. And always be mindful of Cordarrelle Patterson. The Cowboys special teams has been terrible this year, and the last thing they want to do is give them new life by allowing Patterson to get loose for a big run. The Bears like to use him as a weapon in the running game too as he’s got some wheels.

5. Avoid dry spells

It feels like this game is going to come down to which group asserts themselves as the real deal - the Cowboys offense or the Bears defense. Both are great, but both have had their moments of being not-so-great. Which one of these units will get the upper hand on Thursday night?

It sure would be nice for the Cowboys offense to get rolling early and often. Last week, we predicted a fast start for the Cowboys, and it came through...

Bold prediction: The Cowboys offense scores on their opening possession for the first time this season.

But sadly, they couldn’t keep it going as the Bills went on to score 26 unanswered points and it ended up being the Cowboys biggest point-differential loss of the season. Prior to that game, the Cowboys started their last three contests by falling into a hole 14-0, 7-0, and 10-0. For some reason, the offense just disappears for stints in the game.

To win this game, the Cowboys have to avoid these dry spells. Falling behind means Trubisky can play more conservatively. It means the team may have to deviate from their ground attack. For example, Zeke reeled off 54 yards in the first quarter alone against the Bills, but only had 17 yards in the remaining three quarters. The offense needs to hit the Bears defense with their full arsenal of weapons, and get their stars to shine.

What will you be looking for on Thursday night?

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