5 things to watch in the Chicago Bears-Dallas Cowboys game — plus our Week 8 predictions – The Denver Post

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The Chicago Bears don’t have an easy follow-up Sunday to their upset of the New England Patriots. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-2 and have held opponents to just 14.9 points per game, second best in the NFL.

As kickoff approaches at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, here’s our snapshot look at the game.

1. Pressing question

How will the Bears formulate a plan to slow Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons?

Less than a week after Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon terrorized the Bears with 2½ sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hits, the offense will take a step up in class facing a tenacious Cowboys defense led by Parsons.

Parsons has eight of the Cowboys’ NFL-high 29 sacks and has been the ultimate chess piece for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

“It’s just his flexibility,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “The guy literally lines up all over the place. There are not many interior linebackers in the history of the game who can rush the passer the way this guy can. … He’s amazing. And the challenge of knowing where he’s at is definitely one of the biggest tasks to have success against these guys.”

Coach Matt Eberflus remains impressed with the combination of quickness, strength and intensity of Parsons, who popped up on the Cowboys injury report this week with a shoulder issue.

Getsy acknowledged his behind-the-scenes challenge this week has revolved around finding unconventional ways to handle Parsons, even with an understanding that they won’t know exactly where he’s coming from play to play.

“You have to,” Getsy said. “If you don’t, he’ll make you look bad for sure.”

2. Players in the spotlight

Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson

The Bears’ trade of defensive end Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday leaves a big opening. Quinn played 68% of the defensive snaps over the first seven games, according to Pro Football Reference, and coordinator Alan Williams said Quinn made a bigger impact than his one sack and three quarterback hits suggested.

Now the Bears need players such as Gipson, in his third year with the Bears, and Robinson, a rookie, to step up and fill the void. Gipson has two sacks, six quarterback hits, three passes defended and three tackles for a loss. Robinson has 1 ½ sacks, two quarterback hits, two tackles for a loss and a pass defended.

Robinson, who converted to defense late in college, is still developing, and Williams said he wants to see “mental and physical stamina” as his rookie year wears on.

“It gets to be a long year,” Williams said. “Where colleges are almost done, we’re at Game 7, 8, and we want to see that — can they keep improving? Can they keep getting better? And still practice well, still walk through well, take care of their bodies, get the proper rest that they need to and still continue to ascend.”

The Bears will look to get after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed five games with a fractured right thumb but returned last week in a win against the Detroit Lions.

3. Keep an eye on …

Special teams could make a big difference Sunday.

The Cowboys have a dangerous young return specialist in KaVontae Turpin, who had a season-high 52-yard punt return against the Lions on Sunday and averages 16 yards per punt return and 24.6 yards per kickoff return.

The Bears, meanwhile, have the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Cairo Santos, who made all four of his field-goal attempts against the Patriots.

Both players could play a big role this weekend.

Turpin’s combination of quickness and aggressiveness is undeniable. During the preseason, he had an 86-yard punt return touchdown as well as a 98-yard kickoff return score. It’s no wonder Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower labels Turpin as “electric.”

“He does a great job of catching it and attacking it,” Hightower said. “He’s fearless. He can make that first guy miss. And then he also has some stop-and-start ability that’s phenomenal.”

Santos hasn’t missed a field-goal attempt since Week 14 of last season, bringing his streak of 17 consecutive makes into AT&T Stadium and not pausing to think too hard about the groove he’s in.

“I hit this streak and now I’m just kind of grooving with the routine that’s working,” Santos said. “I feel like I’m at such a good point in my career now as far as my rhythm with the snap and hold.”

4. Something to build on

There was a lot to like about what Bears quarterback Justin Fields and the offense did against the Patriots. Fields completed 13 of 21 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception and ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

The offense amassed a season-high 33 points and 390 yards and converted 11 of 18 third downs. Getsy said more than the stats he was pleased with the way they played, noting it was their most physical game and one that required players to make a difference off the bench.

Getsy said Fields’ performance was another step in the incremental growth he has been preaching.

“He gets more confident each week, not only in our relationship, our scheme, but being on the field and understanding what it looks like, what it feels like, coverages, fronts and all that stuff,” Getsy said. ‘As he continues to get that experience, it will keep feeling better.”

The Cowboys defense is among the best in the NFL against the pass, holding opposing offenses to 185 passing yards per game and 5.47 yards per pass play, ranked fourth and third, respectively. Along with the aforementioned prowess at rushing the quarterback, they also have seven interceptions.

So perhaps the Bears do more of what has worked: a heavy dose of the running game, including with Fields.

“It’s just staying within who we are, what we do,” Getsy said. “Teams that are really, really good, they usually do what they do pretty well and then just make it look a little different to the defense or the defense makes it look a little different to the offense. … That’s the challenge of every coach across the league to find ways to do what your guys do well without letting it be so obvious or predictable.”

5. Injury report

The Bears will have more shuffling on the offensive line this week with center Lucas Patrick going on injured reserve with a toe/foot injury and Sam Mustipher taking over his starting spot.

Right tackle Larry Borom missed practice Wednesday and Thursday while in the concussion protocol, so the Bears could have a second hole to fill, with veteran Riley Reiff or Alex Leatherwood among the options.

The Bears already are playing without left guard Cody Whitehair, who is on IR.

“The way we work every day and the way we come into the building every day, the guys in that room, we’re just a group of fighters,” Mustipher said. “The guys are going to get after it. I come into the game last week, (Michael Schofield) comes into the game, that’s his first game starting as a Chicago Bear … there was no, ‘Uh-oh, what do we do now?” We didn’t skip a beat.”

The Cowboys have a much deeper injury list, starting with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who missed practiced Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury. Wide receiver Noah Brown (foot), safety Malik Hooker (hamstring) and defensive end Sam Williams (knee) didn’t practice Thursday. Parsons, linebacker Devin Harper (Achilles), tight end Dalton Schultz (knee) and offensive tackle Terence Steele (neck) were limited.

Predictions

Brad Biggs (3-4)

The Cowboys have been stingy on defense all season, allowing only eight touchdowns. Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence lead a ferocious pass rush that is No. 1 in the NFL with 29 sacks — five more than the next-closest team. That has contributed to seven interceptions, tied for seventh-most in the league. Quarterback Dak Prescott is settling in after returning last week from a broken right hand. The Bears dominated the New England Patriots up front on both sides of the ball and were really tuned in with extra time to prepare. It’s asking a lot from them to perform at the same level on a short week.

Cowboys 24, Bears 16

Colleen Kane (4-3)

I’ve been thinking with trepidation about the Bears and Justin Fields having to face this defense and its 4.1 sacks per game on the road for weeks. Having more uncertainty on the offensive line with Lucas Patrick on injured reserve and Larry Borom in the concussion protocol doesn’t help. Obviously what the Bears were able to do against the Patriots in all phases of the game was impressive. I’m not certain they will be as successful, especially on offense, against the Cowboys, though the Bears defense could catch a break if Ezekiel Elliott is out. Maybe Matt Eberflus’ crew will surprise us all again, but I’m not banking on it.

Cowboys 20, Bears 17

Dan Wiederer (4-3)

Playoffs?!?! Playoffs?!?! Dream with us for just a second. What if the Bears can replicate Monday night’s performance against the Patriots and score another road upset over a quality opponent this weekend? What if they can improve to 4-4 inside an NFC that is totally up for grabs? What if this season suddenly takes on a bit of surprising November relevance? That’s the golden opportunity sitting in front of Matt Eberflus’ team. And Monday’s blowout in New England has provided fuel. Alas, the Bears offense also has to deal with Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs and Dan Quinn.

Cowboys 23, Bears 17

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