Joniak: Keys To Bears-Cowboys

Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m. Thursday from Soldier Field.

Jeff Joniak
December 05, 2019 - 12:24 pm
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(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (6-6) host the Cowboys (6-6) on Thursday evening. Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m. and can be heard on WBBM Newsradio 780.

Here are my keys to the game for the Bears.

Offense

-- The Bears offense wants to have a feisty, physical start to the game to set the tone for complementary football. The Cowboys have bubbling frustration amid a wayward third quarter of their season. The Bears need to keep them frustrated and play angry themselves.

-- It's a common refrain from Bears coach Matt Nagy nearly every week: He wants his offense to have fun and play fast. Against the Cowboys, they will definitely have to play fast. Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s front seven triggers off the snap, and the speed is real.

-- Some quarterbacks have used the Cowboys' aggressive pass rush to their advantage. The Lions' Jeff Driskel ran eight times for 51 yards, including a 23-yard run. The Bills' Josh Allen ran for a 15-yard touchdown as part of a 10-rush, 43-yard day. A few runs by Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for first downs would help in a big way and inflict some damage.

-- Jumping on the Cowboys in the first half works. They're winless in six games when trailing at halftime. 

-- Don’t get in third-and-long against the Cowboys, as they're second in the NFL in defending third-and-6 or more. They've allowed foes to convert in those situations only 14.3% of the time. The Cowboys also have 12 sacks on second and third down this season.

Defense

-- Preventing Ezekiel Elliott from having a huge game must be the starting point for the Bears defense. He's an every down, four-quarter job. Working behind an outstanding offensive line, the rugged and productive Elliott fuels the play-action game. He has been held to fewer than 100 yards in each of the Cowboys' four games amid a recent 1-3 stretch, so he's itching to break free on national television. The Bears are 0-2 when allowing an opposing running back to hit the 100-yard rushing mark this season.

-- With Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury, look for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to test backup cornerback Kevin Toliver early. Prescott leads the NFL in passing yards, and he'll try to spray to all fields.

-- Prescott likes to go deep. His 10 touchdown passes of 50-plus yards since 2016 is tied for the third-most in the league with the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes. Prescott has five games with 40 or more pass attempts this season, more than his previous three years combined. The Bears' pass rush and secondary have to marry up and take care of business.

-- With only 11 sacks since the start of October, the Bears are tied with the Dolphins for the fewest in the NFL during that span.

-- Getting the Cowboys offense off the field isn't going to be easy for the Bears. The Cowboys boast the best third-down attack in the league, converting 49% of the time. They work off of many enviable third-and-short situations to keep the chains moving. Dallas is tied for the second-most 10-play drives in the league and has the third-fewest three-and-outs in the NFL.

Special teams

-- The Bears are in better shape here than the Cowboys, who have struggled in this department all season. 

-- There's no comparison in the return game between the teams. The Bears have a dominant advantage with Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen -- if they get opportunities.

-- The Cowboys have stuck with struggling kicker Brett Maher, who reaches the end zone on kickoffs 90% of the time. But the Cowboys have given up the fourth-most returns of 20 or more yards, including two of 40 or more yards.

-- Maher has a monster leg. He has hit field goals from 63 and 62 yards this season, but he also has nine misses, seven of which are beyond 39 yards. Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro must win this battle.

Intangibles

-- Here’s hoping the Bears come out ornery and light the home crowd up. They did early in the season opener against the Packers and played ferocious football. Now on a two-game winning streak, the Bears have some confidence back and some of their swagger back. They need to unleash some fury against a scuffling Cowboys team with an uncertain future.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.