5 things to watch for in the Chicago Bears-Dallas Cowboys matchup — plus our Week 8 predictions

The Chicago Bears don’t have an easy follow-up Sunday after their upset of the New England Patriots. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-2 and have held opponents to just 14.9 points per game, second best in the NFL.

As the home opener approaches at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, here’s our snapshot of the game.

1. Urgent question

How will the Bears formulate a plan to slow down Cowboys quarterback Micah Parsons?

Less than a week after Patriots edge Matthew Juden terrorized the Bears with 2½ sacks, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits, the offense will take a step up in class against a tough Cowboys defense led by Parsons.

Parsons has eight of the Cowboys’ NFL-high 29 sacks and is the ultimate chess piece for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

“It’s just his versatility,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsey said. “Man literally lines up everywhere. There aren’t many inside linebackers in the history of the game that can rush the passer the way this guy can. … He is amazing. And the challenge of knowing where he is is definitely one of the biggest tasks to be successful against those guys.”

Coach Matt Eberfluss has been impressed with the combination of speed, strength and intensity of Parsons, who appeared on the Cowboys’ injury report this week with a shoulder problem and is listed as questionable to play.

Getsy acknowledged that his challenge behind the scenes this week revolves around finding unconventional ways to deal with Parsons, even with the understanding that they won’t know exactly where he’s coming from play-by-play.

“I must,” said Getsy. “If you don’t, he’s sure to make you look bad.”

2. Players in the spotlight

Travis Gipson and Dominic Robinson

The Bears’ trade of defensive end Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday leaves a big opening. Quinn has played 68 percent of the defensive snaps through the first seven games, according to Pro Football Reference, and coordinator Allen Williams said Quinn has made more of an impact than his one sack and three quarterback hits suggest.

Now the Bears need players like Gipson, in his third year with the Bears, and Robinson, a rookie, to step up and fill the void. Gipson has two sacks, six quarterback hits, three passes defensed and three tackles for loss. Robinson has 1 ½ sacks, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and a pass defensed.

Robinson, a defensive end late in college, is still developing, and Williams said he wants to see “mental and physical toughness” as his rookie year winds down.

“It’s going to be a long year,” Williams said. “Where the colleges are almost done, we’re at Game 7, 8, and we want to see that — can they continue to improve? Can they continue to improve? And they still practice well, they still walk well, they take care of their bodies, they get the proper rest they need, and they continue to rise.”

The Bears will try to pursue Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed five games with a fractured right thumb but returned last week in a win against the Detroit Lions.

3. Keep track of…

Special teams could make a big difference on Sunday.

The Cowboys have a dangerous young return specialist in KaVontae Turpin, who had a season-high 52-yard punt return against the Lions on Sunday and is averaging 16 yards per punt return and 24.6 yards per kickoff return.

Meanwhile, the Bears have an NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Cairo Santos, who made all four of his field goal attempts against the Patriots.

Both players could play a big role this weekend.

Turpin’s combination of speed and aggressiveness is undeniable. During the preseason, he had an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a 98-yard kickoff return. No wonder Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower labeled Turpin “electric.”

“He does a great job of catching it and attacking it,” Hightower said. “He’s fearless. He can make the first guy miss. Plus, he also has some stop-and-go ability that’s phenomenal.

Santos hasn’t missed a field goal attempt since Week 14 of last season, bringing his streak to 17 straight at AT&T Stadium, and he doesn’t stop to think too much about the way he’s at.

“I hit that streak and now I’m just going with the routine that works,” Santos said. “I feel like I’m at such a good point in my career right now as far as my click-and-hold rhythm.”

4. Something to build on

There was a lot to like about what Bears quarterback Justin Fields and the offense did against the Patriots. Fields completed 13 of 21 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception and ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

The offense racked up a season-high 33 points and 390 yards and converted 11 of 18 third downs. Getsy said more than the stats he was happy with the way they played, noting it was their most physical game and one that required players to make a difference off the bench.

Getzi said Fields’ performance is another step in the gradual growth he preaches.

“He’s getting more confident every week, not only in our relationship, our scheme, but being on the field and understanding what it looks like, what it feels like, coverages, fronts and all that stuff,” Getsy said. “As he continues to get this experience, he will continue to feel better.”

The Cowboys’ defense is among the NFL’s best against the pass, holding opposing offenses to 185 passing yards per game and 5.47 yards per passing game, ranked fourth and third, respectively. Along with the aforementioned ability to rush the quarterback, they also have seven interceptions.

So maybe the Bears are doing more of what has worked: a heavy dose of the running game, including with Fields.

“We’re just staying within who we are, what we do,” Getsy said. “Teams that are really, really good, they usually do what they do pretty well and then they just make it look a little different to the defense or the defense makes it look a little different to the offense. … It’s the challenge of every coach in the league to find ways to do what your guys do well without letting it be so obvious or predictable.”

5. Injury report

The Bears’ offensive line will be without two more starters on Sunday. Center Lucas Patrick went on injured reserve this week with a toe/foot injury, and right tackle Larry Borom was ruled out Friday with a concussion.

The Bears were already without left guard Cody Whitehair, who is on IR.

Sam Mustifer will take over for Patrick at center, while 11-year NFL veteran Riley Reiff could fill in for Borrom, though Eberfluss did not confirm as of Friday. The Bears signed Reiff to a one-year deal in the offseason to compete for starters at both positions, but instead settled on Borom and rookie Braxton Jones.

Now Reiff could be in line to start for the first time this season. The Bears also plan to activate Alex Leatherwood from the non-football illness list, though Eberfluss said Leatherwood’s knowledge and readiness are “a work in progress.”

“Raif was ready. He was ready to go,” Eberfluss said. “He’s obviously played a lot of shots in the league and he knows his job, he knows how to do it. He has always been a consummate professional as well. He’s always been helpful in the room for these young guys and certainly for Braxton.

The Cowboys listed running back Ezekiel Elliott as questionable for the game with a knee injury. Elliott leads the Cowboys with 443 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but Tony Pollard also has 375 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

“Obviously, Zeke, I’ve known him for a long time — he’s a powerful and incredible running back,” Eberfluss said. “Pollard is also a good back. They took a hit or two just like we did. It will adjust their thinking a little bit, but we will see how it is during the game.”

The Cowboys listed seven players as questionable: Parsons, wide receiver Noah Brown (foot), safety Malik Hooker (hamstring), defensive end Sam Williams (knee), defensive end Devin Harper (Achilles), tight end Dalton Schultz (knee) and offensive tackle Terence Steele (goal).

Predictions

Brad Biggs (3-4)

The Cowboys have been stingy on defense all season, allowing just eight touchdowns. Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence lead a ferocious pass rush that is No. 1 in the NFL with 29 sacks — five more than the next closest team. That has contributed to seven interceptions, which is seventh most in the league. Quarterback Dak Prescott is settling in after returning last week from a broken right hand. The Bears dominated the New England Patriots up front on both sides of the ball and were really set with extra time to prepare. It is asking a lot from them to perform at the same level in a short week.

Cowboys 24, Bears 16

Colleen Kane (4-3)

I’ve been thinking with trepidation about the Bears and Justin Fields having to face this defense and its 4.1 sacks per game for weeks. More uncertainty on the offensive line with Lucas Patrick on injured reserve and Larry Borom in the concussion protocol doesn’t help. Obviously, what the Bears were able to do against the Patriots in all phases of the game was impressive. I’m not sure they’ll be as successful, especially on offense, against the Cowboys, though the Bears’ defense could take a break if Ezekiel Elliott goes down. Maybe Matt Eberflus’ team will surprise us all again, but I’m not counting on it.

Cowboys 20, Bears 17

Dan Wiederer (4-3)

Playoffs?!?! Playoffs?!?! Dream with us for just a second. What if the Bears can replicate Monday night’s performance against the Patriots and score another upset over a quality opponent this weekend? What if they can improve to 4-4 in an NFC that is completely up for grabs? What if this season suddenly takes on a somewhat surprising relevance in November? This is the golden opportunity before Matt Eberfluss’ team. And Monday’s blowout in New England provided fuel. Alas, the Bears offense also has to deal with Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs and Dan Quinn.

Cowboys 23, Bears 17

()

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *