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Pregame Shuffle: Cowboys vs. Bears (Week 8)

The Cowboys have one more game before their bye, so let’s dig in to the Bears’ matchup..

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Cowboys improved to 5-2 after ending on a high note against the Lions, with Dak Prescott making a triumphant return to the field. They have one more game on the schedule before heading into the bye week, and they’ll be hosting a Bears team that just blew out the Patriots in Gillette Stadium on Monday night.

The game will also be a homecoming of sorts for Bears head coach Matt Eberflus, who coached in Dallas for seven seasons between Rob Ryan and Rod Marinelli. Eberflus is in his first year as Chicago’s head coach after four seasons running the defense for the Colts.

So what can the Cowboys expect from Eberflus’ team? Well, Monday’s game muddied the waters somewhat on that. The Bears were looking like a team with a scrappy but young defense and an offense that struggled to score points. Chicago was averaging just 15.5 points per game as they got off to a 2-4 start, with one of those wins coming over the lowly Texans and the other unfolding in a literal monsoon.

That’s why the Patriots were favored by more than a touchdown going into their matchup with the Bears, but the offense - led by quarterback Justin Fields - had a field day while the defense made plays against two different quarterbacks. All in all, Chicago walked out with a shocking 33-14 victory.

A big part of that had to do with the Bears’ schedule: they lost to the Commanders on Thursday Night Football, and their next game was Monday Night Football. That gave Chicago a mini bye of sorts, and Eberflus admitted that the coaching staff took the time to reassess their offensive schemes and make some tweaks. It seems to have paid off in a big way.

This week, though, the Bears won’t have extra time to prepare. In fact, they’ll be at a disadvantage, as the Cowboys have an extra day of prep for this team. According to Eberflus, the Bears spent a portion of their mini bye looking ahead to Dallas in an attempt to offset the disadvantage, but that’s still one less day of rest for the players.

So what can the Cowboys expect from the Bears offense? Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, in his first season calling plays, has implemented the wide zone running game that Kyle Shanahan is most known for. Unsurprisingly, the Bears have had success running the ball: they now lead the league in rushing attempts and their 5.2 yards per carry are fifth in the league. The wrinkle that Getsy added against the Patriots was getting Fields more involved as runner with a much more extensive use of both read option and RPO plays.

That makes this Bears offense similar, though not identical, to the type of offense the Eagles run. In that game, Dan Quinn’s defense suffered from three straight drives starting in Cowboys territory but ultimately held strong, holding the Eagles to their lowest yards per carry number of the year. It was a positive development for a defense that had struggled against the run to start the season; that should bode well for the Cowboys this week, especially after adding run-stopper Johnathan Hankins earlier in the week.

If the Cowboys can have success against the run, things will get ugly for this Bears offense. Fields is the most sacked and most pressured quarterback in the NFL, and he’s also holding the ball for the second longest amount of time. Meanwhile, this Dallas defense leads the league in both sacks and pressures, More than that, 75% of their sacks have come from edge rushers; the Bears’ starters at tackle feature Braxton Jones, a fifth-round rookie out of Southern Utah who’s given up the fifth most pressures among tackles, and Larry Borom, a fifth-round pick a year ago who’s missed practice this week with a concussion.

If the Bears are forced into calling more dropback passes than they’d like, this Cowboys defensive front is in good position to have their way with Fields and a fairly young offensive line. Of course, it’ll be easier to force the Bears into that situation if the Cowboys offense can get off to a hot start against an improving Bears defense.

This defense will look very familiar to Cowboys fans who remember the Marinelli days; it’s a fairly straightforward 4-3 Tampa 2 defense. Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams don’t blitz much - in fact, they’re dead last in blitz rate - but they’ve still managed to rank 12th in pressure rate. They’re also tied with the Cowboys for fifth most takeaways in the league, and this is a very opportunistic defense even without the recently traded Robert Quinn.

However, Chicago is also giving up the ninth most yards per carry and the third most rushing touchdowns. That explains why this defense is ranked 24th in run defense DVOA despite being 15th in total defensive DVOA. The Cowboys remained committed to their highly efficient run game even with Dak Prescott returning last week, and they should feel encouraged to do so again. Ezekiel Elliott might miss this game, but Tony Pollard has proven how dangerous he can be as a lead back already, and Dallas should be able to find success on the ground regardless.

Had the Bears lost to the Patriots, this would have the feelings of a trap game. Now, the Cowboys have no choice but to pay attention. Either way, this Bears team is similar to the Lions team they just beat: the talent isn’t quite there yet, but Chicago is more than capable of taking advantage if you underestimate them. The Cowboys have a clear talent advantage, but it’ll require total focus across the board to avoid being the latest upset victim for these Bears.

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