The Bears have lost three of four and are watching the postseason slip away from their grasp.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has been ruled out; however, it’s been the Chicago defense that has limited the team. Cutler’s backup Josh McCown has stepped in wonderfully, completing more than 65 percent of his passes, while throwing nine touchdowns and only one interception.
In what should be a great battle, here are five bold predictions for the Cowboys.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
Murray's capable of having a huge game.
The Cowboys are coming off one of their best rushing performances of the season. Against Oakland, Dallas rushed for 144 yards, including three rushing touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Dallas will be without Lance Dunbar for the remainder of the season. The explosive change-of-pace back hurt his knee late in the game on Thanksgiving and has undergone surgery.
The good news for the Cowboys is that they should be able to run against Chicago, like everyone else has thus far. The Bears rank dead last in rushing defense.
Most of the load will be on DeMarco Murray’s shoulders. He’s rushed for 697 yards in 2013, while averaging just less than five yards per carry.
Backup Phillip Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle will fill in for the injured Dunbar. Both have done minimal this year.
When the Cowboys commit to running the football, they’ve shown they can do it effectively. If they don’t find themselves trailing early in the game, look for Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett to stick with the run early and often.
Perhaps if Murray gets rolling, 200 yards isn’t out of the question.
Hatcher and Ware are key for the defense.
Dallas’ defense has had its ups and downs through 12 games. In general, most discussions involving the defense have not been good ones, seeing as how the defense is having one of its worst statistical seasons in the history of the franchise.
The defense currently ranks last in total defense, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Defensive captain, and arguably one of the best linebackers in football, Sean Lee returns from injury this week. Despite missing the last few games, Lee still ranks 22nd in the league in total tackles. His presence in the middle of the defense will be felt immediately.
Another linebacker Dallas has been missing is Justin Durant. After missing the last two games, he too returned to practice on Thursday, per Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News.
But maybe the best news from the team this week is that DeMarcus Ware is feeling like his normal self. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Ware discussed how he’s feeling better.
I was doing a lot of moves I usually don’t do, I was doing them in practice, feeling really confident in it. I’ve got my strength back, so I’m happy about that.
With all of the key components in place, Monte Kiffin and the Dallas defense have no excuses. Although it’s unlikely, a really good effort could hold Chicago to less than 300 yards.
Bryant can beat single coverage too easily.
Bryant is tied for 10th in receptions with 68. That might not seem so bad, but when you consider that’s nearly 20 fewer receptions than the league leader (Antonio Brown), it makes you think.
Even though he’s not leading any statistical categories, Dallas has shown an added effort to get No. 88 the ball. Since the bye week, Bryant has been targeted 25 times in two games, catching 16 of those.
There’s a clear difference in how good Bryant is after the catch compared to everyone else on the roster. He has a chance to beat the defense and take it the distance every time he touches it.
Along with utilizing the run game often, look for the Cowboys to feed their receiver like they’ve been doing recently. Bryant simply gives them the best opportunity to win games.
Romo has been awesome in 2013.
Tony Romo is having a phenomenal season. Since throwing the late-game interception against the Denver Broncos, Romo’s critics have been silenced.
Beyond leading his team to its current winning record, Romo is statistically having one of his best years as a pro. The quarterback ranks in the top 10 in yards, completions and touchdowns. He’s thrown for 3,140 yards, 24 scores and only seven interceptions with a passer rating of 97.3.
The closest Romo has been to a perfect passer rating (158.3) this year was Week 5 against Denver. He was 25-of-36 for 506 yards and five touchdowns in that game.
Even though I don’t expect his numbers to be as bloated as they were in that contest, Romo is quite capable of playing just as well. If he can complete 80 percent of his passes for around 300 yards with no interceptions, a perfect passer rating is attainable.
The Cowboys need people like Lee to remain healthy.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, a game where no one important gets injured has been rare in 2013. Injuries are something teams in the NFL have to be prepared for, but the Cowboys have had a rough time this season.
The amount of players who have been injured this year is too long to list. Some of the most important people to get the injury bug are Lee, Ware, Murray, Durant, Jason Hatcher and Morris Claiborne.
It’s tough to say that something specific needs to happen in order to stay away from injuries, but hopefully Dallas can do just that.
This team can make a deep playoff run when things are going right, however, that won’t be possible if it's missing a bunch of key players.