ReFo: Cowboys @ Bears, Week 14
Ben Stockwell shares his notes on some of the most interesting individual performances from Week 14's Chicago-Dallas Monday Night game.
ReFo: Cowboys @ Bears, Week 14
There were high hopes for this crucial Monday Night Football encounter between the Bears and the Cowboys and after a spectacular Sunday this could have been the perfect cherry on the top of one of the most memorable weekends in the history of the NFL. Though we didn’t quite hit the same heights last night what we did get was a reinforcement that on this most memorable of weekends offense was absolutely king. After another 73 points last night we saw a new record for points scored over the 16 games this weekend. Neither defense ever looked remotely like playing their part in preventing such a record.
Both teams needed this win to tie division leads and it was the Bears who were more clinical on offense, scoring on every single drive putting to one side the solitary kneel down to end the game. On the ground, Matt Forte found consistent gains while through the air Josh McCown — though fortunate to avoid a couple of turnovers — lit up the Dallas secondary, targeting Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on a freezing cold night in the Windy City. There are still question marks surrounding their defense that turned in another poor showing especially against the run, but when the offense puts up 45 points, you have breathing room.
The Cowboys needed this win no less and are now staring down the barrel of wasting a season where early on they looked comfortably the best team in the NFC East. Now a game behind the Eagles with three weeks to go, they can afford no more slips and will be hoping for Chicago to do them a favor in Philadelphia in a fortnight to ensure that their Week 17 finale with Philly is a division decider.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Murray Has His Turn
Putting yards up on the ground against the Bears’ defense this season hasn’t been terribly taxing so it was no surprise to see DeMarco Murray join that list last night. After his three-touchdown display against the Raiders on Thanksgiving, Murray instead turned to do the hard work setting up the scores for the passing game this time around. Murray got things going early with a 19-yard carry on the opening to the game, accruing 37 yards on four carries at the start. As a measure of the space that he was given to work in (his speed helping this stat a little) Murray’s 8.1 yards per carry average splits down with a scarcely believable 4.8 yards per carry before first contact while Murray added a far from pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry after contact. Since his return to the Cowboys’ lineup in Week 9 Murray owns a +8.7 rushing grade and has forced 15 missed tackles (of 30 for the season). Murray had the potential to be a game winner for the Cowboys last night but from Jason Witten’s 10-yard touchdown tying the game at 14 to Michael Bush giving the Bears a 28-point lead on the second play of the final stanza Murray carried the ball just once as the Cowboys lost the identity of the offense that was running the Chicago defense ragged.
Long Night on an Island
The Cowboys’ corners had a long night matching up against arguably the form one-two punch at receiver in the league and with very little help from their pass rush. Josh McCown was pressured on only 10 of 39 drop-backs and Orlando Scandrick (-3.2 coverage) and Brandon Carr (-3.7 coverage) were made to pay the price. Both missed two tackles on the night and surrendered a combined 189 yards in coverage. Scandrick spurned one of two opportunities to snag a turnover from McCown (with Brandon Marshall getting just enough of a hand in to dislodge the ball from his grasp) while surrendering 115 yards on nine catches to four different receivers. On the opposite side Carr surrendered 74 yards predominantly to Marshall who accounted for 68 of those yards on four catches. Further to his yards surrendered in coverage Carr also gave up a defensive holding penalty for a third down conversion (nullifying the Cowboys’ one turnover) and another hold on defense couldn’t prevent a third down conversion by Marshall earlier in the game. This was Scandrick’s lowest coverage grade of the season by far, Carr only has one lower which came in Detroit (-6.0).
Contrasting Fortunes at Linebacker
Not many Dallas defenders walk away from last night’s game with any positive credit, but one of the few that does is Sean Lee who put in a solid performance in his first outing since Week 10, though he would leave the game early through injury. In the passing game he was targeted only twice surrendering one catch for 3 yards to Matt Forte but his strongest work came against the run. Facing a busy night against linemen working up to the second level, Lee made his share of plays notably working off of blocks by Kyle Long a couple times to register stops. When Lee left the game it was over to Ernie Sims to fill the void at middle linebacker and he was once again found wanting as the Cowboys’ fallback option. A fifth straight negative grade against the run featured him getting consistently bullied at the second level by the Bears’ guards struggling to get close to the ball even when he tried to give himself more space to work in to try and use his speed against the Chicago offensive line. There are issues all over this Dallas defense, injuries forcing them to move from Lee to Sims at middle linebacker is just one of a litany of problems.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
It All Starts Up Front
The Bears’ offense crushed the Cowboys’ defense and it all started on the offensive line where only center Roberto Garza earned a negative overall grade with three members of the line earning a +3.0 overall grade or higher (Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills). The offensive line has still been far from a roaring success for the Bears this season (though positive steps have been made) but last night’s dominance is the sort of level that every line dreams of. In pass protection the five linemen accounted for only four pressures (2 Ht, 2 Hu) and played their part in allowing their quarterback to be pressured on only just more than 25% of his drop-backs. The guards also had a role in splintering a fractured Dallas run defense up front, helping pave the way for Matt Forte to earn 2.3 yards per carry before contact with the guards, Slauson (+2.6 run block) and Long (+1.6 run block) having particularly strong games on the ground. Facing another misfiring pass rush in Cleveland on Sunday this offensive line will look to carry some positive momentum into and through that game.
Bowman Provides a Positive
Somewhat masked by another dreadful display of run defense up front was a strong performance in the secondary from Zackary Bowman continuing to stand in for the injured Charles Tillman. Of his 40 yards surrendered last night, 33 came on two grabs in the deepest depths of garbage time on the Cowboys’ consolation touchdown drive with Kyle Orton at the helm. Prior to that he surrendered two catches on five targets notching a pass defense on a third down pass to Terrance Williams late in the second quarter (getting the Bears’ offense back on the field for third touchdown drive) and notching two stops on his only two completions allowed before garbage time. Since entering the starting lineup after Tillman’s season ended in Week 10, Bowman is surrendering only 5.3 yards per target while breaking up three passes. He may not be Charles Tillman but he is doing a solid job of deputizing.
Lighting It Up Again
Maybe not the performance or the production of a week ago but Alshon Jeffery only reinforced what has been a spectacular breakout season with more big plays against the Cowboys last night. Topping 80 yards for the fourth time in the last five games Jeffery also added a remarkable touchdown grab to end the first half to give Chicago extra cushion going into the half. Working deep, Jeffery snagged two of his four targets for 51 yards while logging a reception each on intermediate (15 yards), short (7 yards) and behind the line (11 yards) targets to exhibit the variety of ways that you can get him the ball. On the opposite side, Brandon Marshall also built on an outstanding season both as a receiver and an open field blocker. His 100 yards receiving takes him over the 1000-yard mark for the seventh season in a row but his blocking left just as big a mark on the Dallas defense. His big hit on Sean Lee might feature in the highlight reels, but check out his block on Ernie Sims leading the way for Michael Bush’s touchdown reception on a swing screen on the second play of the fourth quarter. Marshall located Sims in the middle of the field, getting into position to seal him inside, and rode him upfield all the way to the goal line to ensure the Cowboys’ reserve linebacker couldn’t cut Bush off short of the end zone.
– Chicago’s linebackers combined to earn a -11.5 grade in run defense last night.
– For the fifth straight week Tyron Smith earned a grade of +1.7 or above. Grading positively as a run and pass blocker Smith earned a +3.9 grade to take his grade for the last five games to +14.9.
– Notching a passer rating of 138.1 when the Cowboys didn’t blitz, on the rare occasions he did face extra rushers Josh McCown made Dallas pay all the more. The Cowboys’ eight blitzes resulted in no sacks to go with passing stats of 6-of-8 for 94 yards and a touchdown for McCown
PFF Game Ball
It’s tough to isolate one player from the brutal efficiency that was Chicago’s display last night but for his work both as a receiver and a blocker Brandon Marshall gets the nod for Week 14’s final game ball.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.