1. Handily win the turnover battle.
No team has fewer interceptions than the Cowboys’ four, and Dallas hasn’t forced a turnover since playing the fumble-happy New York Giants a month ago in Week 9. Takeaways haven’t come in bunches for the Bears’ defense, but will be critically important against a Cowboys offense that’s bizarrely No. 1 in yards per play but No. 8 in scoring.
Meaning: The Bears need to not only generate a short field or two for Mitch Trubisky and their offense, but will probably need to take the ball away from Dak Prescott and the Cowboys deep in Chicago territory. And, too, don’t throw a silly interception against a team that doesn’t get them very often.
Do this and the Cowboys’ talent advantage is negated — as it has been for Jason Garrett’s squad in recent weeks.
2. Don’t let your weakness get exposed on defense.
The potential (if not likely) absence of Prince Amukamara, who’s doubtful for Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury, comes at a concerning time for the Bears. Chuck Pagano’s scheme, like Vic Fangio’s before, doesn’t have its cornerbacks travel with receivers, trusting one guy (Amukamara) to play press and another (Kyle Fuller) to thrive in off coverage. That could mean on Thursday the Cowboys are able to get star wideout Amari Cooper away from Fuller and matched up against second-year undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver II.
Cooper already is a matchup nightmare who has 64 catches for 971 yards with seven touchdowns this year. It’s unlikely the Bears can stop Cooper, but containing him — meaning limiting his explosive plays and yards after the catch — will be critical. If Cooper gets loose, the Cowboys will have no problem marching the ball downfield against a good Bears defense.
And even if the Bears are able to get Fuller on Cooper quite a bit, Michael Gallup is a strong No. 2 receiver, checking in with 49 catches for 796 yards this year. Toliver will need to play well and/or Pagano will need to figure out a way to consistently get him help.
3. Give Mitch Trubisky time to throw.
It didn’t feel like a coincidence that Trubisky’s best game of 2019 came in Detroit when his offensive line consistently gave him clean pockets and time to go through his progressions, make good decisions and step into throws.
The Cowboys’ front is much better than Detroit’s. While edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence is having a down year by his standards (five sacks), he’s still a menacing threat who needs to be contained. Opposite him is a resurgent Robert Quinn, whose 9 1/2 sacks lead Dallas. And Michael Bennett and Maliek Collins are an effective interior duo, with seven sacks despite Bennett being a midseason acquisition from the Patriots.
Thursday night will be a critical test for the Bears’ offensive line. Pass it and this offense will have a good chance of finding success against a solid defense. Fail it and the Bears’ already-slim playoff hopes will disappear.
Prediction: Bears 16, Cowboys 14. The Cowboys will come to Soldier Field with a more talented roster than the Bears, but that hasn’t stopped Garrett’s side from losing some gutting close games this year. Dallas is 1-5 against teams with a .500 or better record on gameday, a surely infuriating stat for a team that, truly, should be better than 6-6. But this deep into the season, the Cowboys are who they are — and that’ll crack the door open for the Bears to eke out a narrow, tough win to improve to 7-6.