Chicago Bears: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 14

Andrew Dannehy@@ADannChiBearsCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2013

The Chicago Bears are reeling and will host another team fighting for its playoff life on Monday Night Football with the Dallas Cowboys coming to town.

The Bears' overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings may end up being the one to keep the Bears out of the playoffs, as they fell a full game behind the Detroit Lions—who also hold the tiebreaker—and the NFC loss puts them even further behind in any tiebreaking scenarios with other wild-card teams.

Like the Bears, the Cowboys have their sights set on a division title. They're tied with the Philadelphia Eagles and own the tiebreaker due to their 17-3 win in Week 7. I'll get back to that.

The Cowboys and Bears are mirror images of each other. Both have highly criticized quarterbacks, explosive running backs, physical wide receivers and terrible defenses trying to run variations of the Tampa 2 without anywhere near enough pressure on the quarterback.

As they get ready to square off, here are some things you have to know.


Cutler and Briggs Are Iffy

While the Bears certainly hope to have their starting quarterback and defensive leader back in the fold for the game, they're far from a sure thing.

During his weekly Monday press conference (via, head coach Marc Trestman said both players remain week-to-week and he won't have an answer on them until Thursday.

Cutler has missed the last three games after suffering a high ankle sprain and the Bears offense has struggled to score points without him.

In games that Cutler has completed, the Bears have averaged 28.7 points. They have yet to score more than 27 with backup Josh McCown under center, averaging 22.8 points per game in his four starts. 

While McCown has put up impressive statistics, it's clear the Bears offense operates better with Cutler at quarterback. The most obvious reason is Cutler's ability to put the ball in tight spots, something McCown hasn't been able to do consistently. 

Briggs seems a little likelier to play.

Trestman said Briggs got some work in last week and his shoulder is healing.

Briggs injured his shoulder in the team's Week 7 loss to Washington and Pro Football Talk originally reported that he was expected to miss four to six weeks. The loss to the Vikings was the Bears' fifth game without himsixth week if you include their Week 8 bye.

In those five games, they've given up 1,022 rushing yards for an an average of 204.4 per game.

It's unlikely that Briggs' return to the lineup will be a solution to their woes in that area, as they gave up 209 rushing yards to Washington in a game he played the majority of before being injured, but it should help.

Prior to his injury, he did call the plays and make the adjustments for the Bears defense and is seen as a leader. If nothing else, his leadership should be a big help to rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic.


Cowboys Have 1 Win Against a Winning Team

The same could be said about the Bears, as their win over Cincinnati in Week 1 was the only time they've defeated a team with a winning record this season, but their other wins have come against better teams.

The opponents the Bears have beaten have a combined 32-38-2 record, while the teams Dallas has beaten are 32-51-1 and boast an average of just 4.6 wins. 

The Bears' record may be inflated by defeating a mostly Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay team, but you can say the same about the Cowboys.

The only winning team Dallas beat was Philadelphia, with third-string quarterback Matt Barkley throwing 20 passes and three interceptions.

The Cowboys deserve some credit for their strength of victories. They did blow out St. Louis and won relatively easily against Washingtontwo teams who defeated the Bears. Three of their losses were also very close, as they fell to Denver, Kansas City and Detroit by a combined five points. 

Considering what the Eagles were dealing with when the Cowboys beat them, it's entirely possible that Dallas hasn't beaten a team as good as the Bears all season.


Murray Could Will Be in for a Big Day

By now, you have a pretty good idea of how bad the Bears' run defense is, so Dallas' talented running back could be a good bet for a huge game.

It doesn't seem to matter who the Bears line up, their run defense has been downright awful.

After it gave up 258 rushing yards to the Rams, it allowed Adrian Peterson and the Vikings to run for 246. This was with defensive tackle Stephen Paea back in the fold and Jay Ratliff getting some snaps for the first time this season.

There is something very wrong with the Bears defense. Clearly, it extends beyond the players.

As one would expect against Peterson, tackling was an issue last week. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credited the Bears with 11 missed tackles. The problem isn't as simple as wrapping up. A number of those misses came when a player was isolated on Peterson or Cordarrelle Pattersona matchup most defenders will lose.

Minnesota's first touchdown came when Patterson got into the open field with only backup safety Craig Steltz in front of him. Steltz made a number of good tackles in the game, but whiffed on this one and Patterson ran 33 yards for the touchdown.

Whether it be a matter of scheme or pursuit, the Bears can't let Murray get isolated on any of their defenders—particularly their weak tackling safeties—or they're asking for trouble.

Murray is coming off a three-touchdown game against the Oakland Raiders and has rushed for 697 yards in 10 games with an average of 4.9 yards per carry. The Cowboys are 3-1 when Murray tops 85 rushing yards, although he's only run for over 100 yards once this season.

If the Bears have any chance of winning, they're going to have to find a way to slow Murray down.

Keeping him under 100 yards may be a tad unrealistic, but they can't let him run for over 150 and expect to even be close.


Cowboys Struggle vs. Big Receivers

I don't think anybody expected Andre Holmes to go off on Thanksgiving, but seven catches and 136 yards later, most people know who he is.

Holmes came into the game with just five catches in his career before using his size (6'5") to beat the Cowboys defense. He isn't the first receiver to do that.

New York's Rueben Randle (6'4") had nine catches for over 160 yards in two games against Dallas, New Orleans' Marques Colston (6'4") had seven catches for 107 yards. Denver's Julius Thomas (6'5") is technically a tight end, but he is used like a receiver and had nine catches for 122 yards against the Cowboys.

Of course, who could forget Calvin Johnson (6'5") going off for 329 yards on 14 catches?

The Bears' lineup of Brandon Marshall (6'4"), Alshon Jeffery (6'3") and Martellus Bennett (6'6") could be a huge problem for the Cowboys.

Chicago's receivers aren't just big, they're talented. Marshall and Jeffery make for arguably the best duo in the league, while Bennett is on pace for over 60 catches and 700 yards.


Jason Witten Will Be a Handful

Witten is going to slow down at some point, but it doesn't appear to be this year, as he's on pace for 72 catches, 829 yards and eight touchdowns.

He could be a huge problem for a Bears team that has struggled with opposing tight ends.

The Bears allowed Minnesota's second tight end, John Carlson, to catch four passes for 61 yards last week. Before that, they were destroyed by Jimmy Graham, Brandon Pettigrew, Jared Cook and Jordan Reed, all of whom caught at least four passes for at least 70 yards.

Chicago's linebackers have had a hard time staying with tight ends and their safeties are almost always out of position, leaving the middle of the field wide open. 

In the screen shot above, you see Carlson making a catch over Steltz with Chris Conte arriving late for a 22-yard pickup. Below, you see Carlson sneak behind Bostic for a 16-yard gain with Conte far down the field.

If the combination of Matt Cassel and Carlson could do this to the Bears, what can Tony Romo and Witten do?


Cowboys Defense Is Almost as Bad as Bears Defense

I already went over Dallas' struggles against big receivers, but that's not all the team struggles with.

In games against teams that rank in the top half of the league in scoring with their starting quarterback, the Cowboys have given up 29.7 points per game. 

They rank 22nd overall, giving up 25.2 points per game. They're 31st in passing yardage, 27th in rushing yardage, 26th in sacks and 22nd in opponent passer rating.

The Bears are 28th in scoring defense, last against the run and 14th against the pass, which may be misleading because teams don't typically have to pass against them. They're 28th in sacks and 16th in opponent passer rating.

Both teams excel at taking the ball away. The Cowboys—with Tampa 2 architect Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator—are fourth in the league in takeaways, while the Bears are seventh. 

This game could very well be a shootout.

However, the Bears offense has struggled in recent weeks. The Vikings rank dead last in scoring, giving up 30.5 points per game, but the Bears scored just 20.


Ratliff Should Have Extra Motivation

One thing that is quite clear is that Ratliff is not a fan of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, so you can expect him to be quite motivated for this game.

Ratliff spent his entire career playing for the Cowboys before a highly dramatic departure.

Last week was his first game in a Bears uniform and he looked rusty, as expected. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that he only played 23 snaps and was credited with one hurry.  

It's hard to know what to expect from Ratliff, but he showed some flashes of being his former self against Minnesota. It might take him time to get back in game shape, although playing his former team may speed up that process.


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