The Dallas Cowboys' Week 14 trip to face the Chicago Bears will probably be a more difficult matchup than many are expecting. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is out, according to NFL.com, but Josh McCown has played well in his place this year.
With head coach Marc Trestman behind the controls, McCown has averaged 7.94 yards per throw and tossed nine touchdowns to only one pick. With playmaking wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery outside and running back Matt Forte in the backfield, the Bears have the potential to be explosive on offense.
Offensively, the 'Boys should be able to move the ball on Chicago, but they might need to score points in bunches to keep up with the Bears offense. Here are five important matchups for Dallas to monitor, which should go a long way in determining its Monday night fate.
LT Tyron Smith vs. DE Julius Peppers
In my game plan for Dallas, I suggested that the Cowboys shouldn't double-team defensive end Julius Peppers. Here's why.
While still a quality pass-rusher, Peppers isn't playing at an All-Pro level anymore. He's going to be matched up primarily on left tackle Tyron Smith, and I believe Smith is up for the challenge. Many people in Dallas think Smith is playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level.
Smith has developed nicely in 2013, and his potential at age 22 is immense. Shutting down Peppers on Monday night or at least containing him without help could go a long way in boosting Smith's confidence.
WR Miles Austin vs. CB Zackary Bowman
Using numbers from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), I charted the yards per route allowed by each Bears cornerback this season.
Cornerback Charles Tillman was the worst, but he's still out with a triceps injury. That means the Bears are down to their third and fourth cornerbacks in the nickel package.
While cornerback Isaiah Frey has played moderately well on a per-route basis, Zackary Bowman has struggled. Part of that is because teams tend to throw away from Tim Jennings, who has been efficient on both a per-route and per-target basis this year.
Either way, the 'Boys need to attack the Bears' weaknesses in the secondary. When Jennings is on wide receiver Dez Bryant, look for quarterback Tony Romo to target Miles Austin, whom I predict will have a big game.
DE George Selvie vs. RT Jordan Mills
Jordan Mills might be the worst offensive tackle in the NFL right now.
Defensive end George Selvie has been quiet of late, but he has a matchup from heaven this week. I'm predicting at least one sack from Selvie, who should see single-teams when he is working against Mills.
DT Jason Hatcher vs. RG Kyle Long
This matchup will just be a fun one to watch. Long is a highly athletic rookie guard who might just have what it takes to hang with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher on the inside.
In terms of generating a pass rush, though, the Cowboys need Hatcher to come up big. I think that Dallas is going to get surprising pressure on the outside, but if it doesn't and Hatcher can't beat Long and Co. inside, it's going to be a long night for the pass defense.
Ideally, you'd like to see Dallas get pressure up the middle so it doesn't have to blitz, which would allow the team to play Cover 2.
CB Orlando Scandrick vs. WR Alshon Jeffery
The primary advantage of Cover 2 against Chicago is that the 'Boys can put a safety over the top of wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. That's going to be important, even though cornerback Orlando Scandrick has played outstanding football this year.
Here are the top five cornerbacks in the NFL in yards per route in 2013. As you can see, Scandrick is hanging with the big boys. Nonetheless, Jeffery is 6'3" and 216 pounds and poses a problem for Scandrick from a physical standpoint.
At only 5'10" and 191 pounds, Scandrick could have good coverage on Jeffery and still not be able to work around his big body. That's especially true in the red zone, where I'm predicting the cornerback struggles this week.