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Heading in opposite directions

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 12:22 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Tim Sharp)
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) hands the ball to DeMarco Murray during last Thursday's game against the Raiders. Unlike the Bears, the Cowboys seem to be on a trajectory for the playoffs.

The Dallas Cowboys will come calling Monday Night at Soldier Field in front of a national TV audience, traveling a course that could be the exact opposite of where the Bears are heading.

After jumping out to a 3-0 and 4-2 start to the season, the Bears have lost four of their last six, including division games to the Lions and Vikings.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, come in at 7-5 and winners of five of their last seven, including division wins over the Giants, Eagles and Redskins.

While the Bears are running away from the playoffs, the Cowboys just might be running into them.

Dallas has struggled to run the ball all season, ranking just 27th in rushing, but they are 15th in the league in passing.

Tony Romo is second in the league in avoiding interceptions, and the Cowboys are eighth protecting the passer and fourth in scoring, just ahead of the sixth-place Bears.

On defense, the Cowboys have been awful, dead last in the league in yards allowed, 27th vs. the run, 31st vs. the pass and 22nd in points allowed.

Statistically, the Cowboys and Bears have a lot in common.

They also have a lot in common on the defensive line, where each has one of the best players in the game – DeMarcus Ware for the Cowboys and Julius Peppers with the Bears. Beyond those two, both clubs have been devastated by injuries.

Dallas has had 19 different players get reps on their defensive line this season.

One constant for the Cowboys, though, is Romo, who’s taken every snap at quarterback this season and is again playing at a very high level. Romo has completed 64.8 percent of his 440 attempts for 3,140 yards, 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His passer rating of 97.3 is eighth in the NFL, oddly right behind Josh McCown, who is seventh at 103.6.

As luck would have it and as badly as the Bears’ run defense needs a break, the Cowboys are coming off their best rushing game of the season, racking up 144 yards on 30 carries Thanksgiving Day against the Raiders.

DeMarco Murray is the bellcow and, in addition to 63 yards on 17 carries against the Raiders, he notched three touchdowns on the ground.

The Cowboys really only have two receivers who scare you, but Jason Witten is a future Hall of Famer at tight end, and at 6-2 and 222 pounds, Dez Bryant is one of the only receivers in the league who can match Brandon Marshall’s production.

Since the beginning of 2011, Bryant has caught 223 passes for 3,206 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Dallas’ offensive line is average at best, but left tackle Tyron Smith is athletic enough to battle Julius Peppers. Former Northern Illinois Huskie Doug Free, at right tackle, could be too much for Shea McClellin.

In addition to their struggle to keep defensive linemen healthy, the Cowboys also have been without their second best defensive player, middle linebacker Sean Lee, who’s been out the past 3 weeks with a hamstring injury. But he plans on returning versus the Bears.

Brandon Carr has been a solid free agency acquisition at one cornerback spot, but Morris Claiborne, who Dallas traded up to draft in the first round last year, is suffering a bit of sophomore slump. Dallas also has really struggled at safety, where J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church are the starters.

Dallas’ special teams are among the league’s best in all categories and most of their special teamers were coached until this year by Bears Special Teams Coach and Assistant Head Coach, Joe Decamillis.

This game has all the makings of a shootout, much like the Cowboys’ 31-30 loss to Detroit 5 weeks ago, and it’s one the Bears have to have to retain any hope of a trip to the playoffs.

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