For all the unrealized potential, speculation and rumors, the Cowboys are very much in prime position to advance to the playoffs as they are healthy frontrunners in a stunningly bad NFC East.
For all the unrealized potential, offensive ineptitude and uproar, the Bears would be tied for first if they found themselves in the aforementioned NFC East. Instead, they’re on the wrong end of the NFC North and in need of some inspired play and a huge amount of help if they are to find their road to the playoffs.
Equal records with playoff chances far different.
Nonetheless, both teams are still alive in the NFC playoff race. Both teams are absolutely overflowing with star talent on each side of the ball. And both are still very much high-profile NFL heavyweights with plenty of quandaries left to answer this year and far more whenever their offseasons come about.
In the Week 14 installment of Thursday Night Football, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys (6-6) venture north to face Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears (6-6) at 8:20 p.m. ET from Soldier Field live on FOX and the NFL Network with division title hopes and fleeting playoff aspirations at stake.
As the regular season winds down, speculation goes along with every Cowboys game as to the future of head coach Jason Garrett, and it’s just the same for the Bears and former first-round quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
With the Cowboys comes the No. 1 offense in the NFL, averaging 432.8 yards per game, but Dallas is still reeling with consecutive losses and defeats in three of its last four. It needs to presumably fend off the second-place Eagles (5-7).
The Bears, who basically need to win out to catch the likes of the 49ers (10-2) and Vikings (8-4) in the wild-card race, will counter with a much-ballyhooed defense that’s seventh in the NFL and allowing only 17.4 points per game.
In the penultimate offering of “TNF” this season, two of the most storied NFL franchises collide with superstars aplenty looking to shine.
Here are four things to watch for.
Khalil Mack-led defense looks to contain No. 1 Cowboys offense
This will be the third consecutive week in which the Cowboys‘ top-ranked offense faces a daunting defense. In the previous two, Dallas combined for 24 points and two defeats.
That’s the thing, for all the yards that Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys offense are gobbling up, they’re not scoring as of late and they’re not scoring in their losses. Over the team’s six defeats this season, Dallas is scoring 17.3 points per game.
Statistically, Prescott is phenomenal. The Cowboys are averaging more than 300 yards passing per game for the first time in franchise chronicle. Prescott’s 3,788 passing yards lead the NFL, his 23 touchdowns have already matched a career high and his 8.5 yards per attempt are also a career best.
But his .500 winning percentage is the worst its ever been in his days in Dallas, despite having four receivers with better than 40 catches so far — Amari Cooper (64 receptions for 971 yards and seven touchdowns), Michael Gallup (49/796/3), Jason Witten (48/418/3) and Randall Cobb (42/634/3).
The Bears pose a similarly arduous obstacle for Dak and Co.
Chicago is the No. 4 scoring defense and has allowed more than 20 points in a game this season just twice. In direct contrast to the Cowboys, though, the Bears‘ stellar defense hasn’t resulted in wins. They’ve allowed just 17.3 points per game, which is better than last year’s league-best 17.7. Never the less, the 2018-19 Bears find themselves, per NFL Research, on pace to join the 1955-56 Browns as the only teams in NFL history to lead the league in scoring defense one season and then allow fewer points per game but miss the playoffs.
Whether he’s getting credit for it or not, Mack (five forced fumbles, 6.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits) is still performing at an outstanding level. Nick Williams (six sacks) has become a pleasant surprise, Roquan Smith (97 tackles) is having a great year and the Bears defense is still ferocious. Much like the Cowboys offense, it’s just not piling up the wins as much as it is the stats.
Will Ezekiel Elliott turn it on down the stretch?
Conventional wisdom during the summer days in which Ezekiel Elliott was holding out was that the having the talented back for the season’s onset wasn’t as important as having him now, when the games mattered most and a bruising runner could wear down defenses on cold days.
Well, Elliott’s certainly not producing such as he did in seasons past, but he’s still producing and just 10 yards removed from a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season and the third in his four-season tenure.
After stringing together three consecutive 100-yard showings from Week 6 through Week 9, Elliott has yet to hit the century mark since. Dallas is 4-1 this season when Elliott surpasses 100 yards.
Still a huge part of the Cowboys offense and still one of the best backs in the league, Elliott is nonetheless under performing based on his resume.
Zeke’s rushing yards per game have decreased in each season, but his 82.5 average in 2019 is roughly 13 yards less than last season.
Through his first three seasons, Elliott had just four games with 60 yards or fewer rushing. He has four already this season. During the Cowboys‘ victories this season, Elliott is averaging just more than 92 yards per game, per NFL Research. In their losses, Elliott is only churning out 62.3.
The better Elliott is, more often than not, the better the Cowboys are.
The trials and tribulations of Mitchell Trubisky
Kicking has been adventure from the offseason through the here and now. Some key injuries (ie: Kyle Long and Trey Burton) have been hindrances. Matt Nagy’s play-calling, at times, has been head-scratching. The offensive line has struggled. There have been more dropped balls than any other team.
As a former No. 2 overall pick in his third season, though, Trubisky has hardly accounted for himself in a manner befitting a franchise quarterback that’s benefited from sharing the same locker room as a Super Bowl-caliber defense.
And so we have arrived here. Trubisky is playing for his future with the Bears and perhaps as a starter.
A season ago, Trubisky was averaging 230.2 yards passing per game with a 95.4 QB rating. Now, he’s averaging 199.6 yards per contest with an 84.4 rating.
The Bears are scoring nearly 10 points less than they were in their NFC North title march a year ago.
Trubisky is coming off the best game of his season, having tallied season-highs of 338 yards, three touchdowns and a 118.1 rating against a porous Lions defense.
Against a Cowboys defense that’s eighth against the pass, this Thursday will be tougher than last Thursday, according to conventional wisdom. An arduous schedule awaits, as well, with the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings left in the regular season.
Are these the final games with Trubisky as the Bears starter? His play might well need to make a resounding argument for another season in Chi-Town, beginning with all the world watching tonight.
Allen Robinson’s relatively quiet big season
While big seasons for wide receivers are about as synonymous with Chicago as warm winters, Robinson’s closing in on a phenomenal campaign by Bears standards.
Checking in before kickoff with team-highs of 71 catches (ninth in NFL), 850 receiving yards (19th in NFL) and five touchdown grabs (tied for 21st in NFL), Robinson has four games left to become the first 1,000-yard receiver for the franchise since 2014, when Alshon Jeffery tallied 1,133 yards. Only three Bears players (Brandon Marshall, twice; Matt Forte and Marty Booker) have posted 100-catch seasons and Robinson could also accomplish that feat if he continues on his course as of late.
His stats are all the more impressive considering he had a one-catch showing in Week 9’s defeat to the Eagles and turned in just four catches for 15 yards in a Week 11 loss to the Rams. Over the last two games, Robinson has turned it on and the Bears have prevailed. In a Week 12 win over the Giants, Robinson had a season-high 131 yards on six catches and last week in a Thanksgiving win over the Lions had eight grabs for 86 yards. He’s scored in each of the last two, as well.
Nauseating as the Bears offense has been through the season, Robinson has offered the closest thing to a consistent producer. If his run of good play continues, the Bears‘ victories are more likely, along with the former Jaguar earning a second career Pro Bowl ticket.