3TFO: Cowboys @ Bears, Week 14
There two squads actually met on MNF last year also, but in Dallas. The result was a 34-18 win for the Bears; Chicago was helped tremendously by Tony Romo’s five interceptions.
The Cowboys are coming off a close victory at home on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders. The Bears are coming off a long over-time loss to the rival Minnesota Vikings. Here are three key matchups to watch in this contest.
Marshall & Jeffery vs. Cowboys Secondary
The Cowboys secondary will be tested Monday Night against this dangerous duo of wide outs. Brandon Carr has been the constant of this unit, starting every game with three ‘green’ graded performances in this area – his best coming against the Redskins, who targeted him 12 times and got four catches, 55 yards, and three passes defensed for their efforts. However, the former Chief has also had four ‘red’ graded performances in coverage, the worst coming against Calvin Johnson, who ate him alive. Despite a clutch late-game interception last week vs. Oakland, he still gave up 70 yards on four catches to the Mike McGloin/Andre Holmes pairing. Orlando Scandrick, normally a slot defender, but moved to the outside sometimes due to injuries, has been much more consistent with only two bad performances. Former first-rounder Morris Claiborne continues to battle injuries and appears to be a bust, while also owning the worst coverage grade on this unit; it’s unclear if he’ll play in this contest. 2013 fourth-rounder B.W. Webb has seen more snaps as a result of injuries and, while he hasn’t embarrassed himself, he still conceded a TD to the Giants two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the safeties are also a liability – rookie third-rounder J.J. Wilcox and undrafted rookie Jeff Heath have combined for a horrific -11.2 coverage grade this year. Barry Church has been significantly better, but still has more negatively graded performances on the year than positive.
Can they contain Brandon Marshall and sophomore Alshon Jeffrey? Marshall has always been a threat, but Jeffrey, despite playing with a backup QB lately, has also put the league on notice. Marshall is ten receiving yards shy of 1,000, is tied for fourth-most catches among wide outs, is tied ninth (with Calvin Johnson) for forced missed tackles among WRs, and has nine TD catches. However he is also tied with Pierre Garcon for fourth-most drops among their peers. Jeffrey meanwhile has just eight less catches than Marshall, has the fourth-most yards among wide receivers, has five scores (including two in last week’s game), and has two 200+ yard performances. Can they exploit this matchup in a game the Bears must have?
DeMarco Murray vs. Bears Run D
DeMarco Murray has not proven himself durable yet, but the Dallas RB is dangerous – he can juke a defender, run over a defender, out-race defenders or just stiff-arm them. Averaging 4.9 yards-per-carry (tied for fourth-best in the league) with 25 forced-missed tackles (10th best), the former third-rounder will be called upon more than usual for two reasons: backup Lance Dunbar’s season-ending injury last week, and Chicago’s horrific run defense.
It’s no surprise that opposing RBs have a great matchup when they play the Bears. Injuries have taken a toll (Henry Melton and Lance Briggs are two examples), but even with that fact it’s hard to excuse how badly they are getting run over. The last time a running back didn’t get at least 100 yards on this unit was Week 5 against the Saints (who still won). All three levels of their defense have been responsible – the D-Line (Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin), the safeties (Major Wright, Chris Conte), and especially the LBs (James Anderson, Jon Bostic). Can they make a stand in front of a national audience?
Matt Forte vs. Cowboys LBs
The Bears workhouse back Matt Forte, like his counterpart in this contest, should see a lot of work on Monday night. Forte currently has the sixth-most yards among his peers, an average of 4.5 yards-per-carry, and 32 forced-missed tackles (eighth best in the league in front of Jamaal Charles). Like Murray, he also has seven scores on the ground.
Like the Bears defense, the Cowboys have been woeful against opposing ground games. The LBs have been a huge part of this – journeyman Ernie Sims continues to put on poor performances, free-agent Justin Durant has disappointed, and Bruce Carter has had trouble even beating fullbacks at the point of attack (he has a -9.7 grade in this area over the last three games). There is some good news though. MLB Sean Lee, who made the 2013 Midseason All-Division NFC East team, is set to return, and sophomore fourth-rounder Kyle Wilber. Wilber, who played primarily on the DL, was moved to LB two weeks ago and responded with a +4.2 run defense grade in those two contests. Can Lee, Wilber, and the rest of this group restore some respectability to this maligned unit?
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