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4 things to watch: Bears-Cowboys

The Bears will look for their first win of the season when they visit the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) How will key injuries on both sides of the ball impact the Bears?

The Bears entered last Monday night's game against the Eagles with only cornerback Kyle Fuller on their injury report. A week later, there are 13 names on the sick list, including some of the team's most important players such as quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Alshon Jeffery, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerback Tracy Porter.

Trevathan has been ruled out of the game after undergoing thumb surgery, while Cutler (thumb) and Goldman (ankle) are both listed as doubtful, which in NFL parlance means that it's unlikely they will play. The prognosis is more positive for Jeffery (knee) and Porter (knee), both of whom are questionable, which means only that their availability is uncertain.


Running back Jeremy Langford has averaged three yards per carry on 28 carries through the first two weeks of 2016.

With Cutler unlikely to play, backup Brian Hoyer could be the Bears' starting quarterback Sunday night. The eight-year NFL veteran appeared in 11 games with nine starts for the Texans last season, passing for 2,606 yards with 19 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 91.4 passer rating. Trevathan is expected to be replaced by Jonathan Anderson, Christian Jones or Nick Kwiatkoski.

(2) After two sub-par performances, will the Bears offense perform at a higher level?

The Bears have struggled moving the chains and putting up points in their first two games, losing to the Texans and Eagles. Their offense has scored on just three of 22 possessions this season and has been shut out in the second half in each of their first two games.

The Bears will enter the weekend ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring, 31st in total yards and 32nd in time of possession. Their focus this week in preparing to face the Cowboys has been to improve their third-down execution and run the ball with more consistency. Better performances in those two areas would enable them to sustain drives and create more scoring opportunities.

The Bears lead the NFL in average yards on first down (8.23) but are tied for 22nd in third-down efficiency with a success rate of 34.8 percent (8 of 23). Their rushing attack has produced just 137 yards on 38 carries in two games, with starting running back Jeremy Langford limited to 85 yards on 28 carries, a 3.0-yard average. With backup Ka'Deem Carey listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury, rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Howard could see expanded playing time after rushing for 22 yards on three attempts last Monday night against the Eagles.

(3) Will the Bears defense pick up where it left off in the first half versus Philadelphia?

The defense kept the Bears in last Monday night's game, making key third-down stops to force the Eagles to settle for three field goals in the first half. Philadelphia didn't pull away until the second half after the Bears offense committed turnovers on three of four possessions.

The defense will need to perform even better Sunday night against a balanced Cowboys offense that features star receiver Dez Bryant, 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten and promising rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft.

As always, the defense is focused on generating more takeaways. The unit hasn't produced one since the opening possession of the season when Tracy Porter intercepted a Brock Osweiler pass in Houston. Last Monday night the Bears fell to 1-11 when not producing a turnover since 2014.

"We emphasize it each and every day," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "Ultimately, we've just got to find the ball a little bit more. It comes with better play and better coaching."

(4) Will the Bears be able to take advantage of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott's inexperience?

The Bears lost their first three games last season to three top veteran quarterbacks in the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Cardinals' Carson Palmer and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson. This year they're 0-2 against the inexperienced Osweiler and Eagles rookie Carson Wentz and will face another rookie in Prescott Sunday night in Dallas.

The Cowboys are just 2-14 since 2011 without injured starting quarterback Tony Romo. But one of those wins came last Sunday when Prescott completed 22 of 30 passes for 292 yards and a 103.7 passer rating in a 27-23 road victory over the Redskins.

"He's got good composure," Fangio said. "The game doesn't seem to be too big for him. You can see why he did well in college. He came from a winning program at Mississippi State. He helped turn that program around. It just looks like it comes natural for him."

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