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4 things to watch in Bears-Cowboys game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (3-4) will look to record their second straight win Sunday when they visit the Cowboys (5-2) in Dallas. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) Will the Bears be able to keep running the ball effectively?

The Bears boast a dynamic 1-2 backfield tandem of David Montgomery (77 carries for 308 yards and two touchdowns) and Khalil Herbert (75-464-3). But they wouldn't lead the NFL in rushing without the contributions of Justin Fields, who has generated 364 yards and two TDs on 68 attempts—the second most rushing yards by an NFL quarterback behind only the Ravens' Lamar Jackson.

After a mini-bye, the Bears implemented more designed runs and read-option plays into their game-plan Monday night in New England. Fields responded by rushing for a game-high 82 yards and one TD on 14 carries in an impressive 33-14 victory.

Moving forward, the Bears know that the Cowboys and other future opponents will prepare for Fields to run with the ball.

"Once you put it on tape, the guys have to defend it," said coach Matt Eberflus. "Then you want to be creative in the ways that you do things and you want to do it in a safe way because it is your quarterback. He has to know when to do things the right way in terms of when to slide, when to get out of bounds and all those things.

"Then he has the unscripted plays where on third down he drops back and will take off for a first down, or even on first down. It's very hard to defend. I've tried to defend those guys over the years and it's very difficult."

The Bears hit the Halas Hall practice fields Thursday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Cowboys in Dallas.

(2) Will the Bears be able to contain Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons?

The 12th overall pick in the 2021 draft, Parsons was named NFL defensive rookie of the year and first-team All-Pro last season after registering 84 tackles, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. He's picked up this year where he left off, recording 32 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles in the first seven games this season.

"He's a freak, man," said tight end Cole Kmet. "His explosiveness off the line, his ability to play both on the line and off the ball, he's a dynamic player. He's a guy we're going to have to key on in the pass game and in third-down situations.

"He'll be looking to tee off. It's going to be on us; establish the run game early to wear those guys down and stay out of those third-and-long situations where it's then an obvious passing down. He's a special player, for sure."

Parsons possesses exceptional speed, athleticism and versatility. Last season he switched from linebacker to defensive end after teammate DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot in practice. This year, Parsons has continued to line up all over the field, making it difficult to account for him on every play.

"There's not many interior linebackers that can rush the passer in the history of the game the way this guy can," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "He's amazing, and the challenge of knowing where he's at is definitely one of the biggest tasks to be able to have success against these guys."

(3) Will the Bears defense continue to excel?

The unit heads to Dallas playing its best football of the season.

In a 12-7 loss to the Commanders Oct. 13, the Bears allowed only 214 yards and 14 first downs, permitted 2-of-11 third-down conversions and gave up just one touchdown—on a drive that started on the Chicago 6 following a turnover. In Monday night's win over the Patriots, the defense held New England scoreless over the game's final 36:04, generating four takeaways, including three interceptions.

"I think the guys are executing more, especially the D-line," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "The D-line is the engine that runs this ship, so when they play well, we play well and they did play well last week. They don't get maybe all the accolades that everyone else gets or sees, but they have played extremely well and the result of all those interceptions or tackles-for-loss or sacks that some of the other guys got, the D-line, they're the reason."

The Bears pass defense ranks third in the NFL in passing yards (180.3 per game), tied for second in TD passes (5), fifth in opponent passer rating (75.5) and tied for third in interceptions (8). The unit will be challenged Sunday by quarterback Dak Prescott, who plays his second straight game after missing five contests with a fractured thumb he sustained in the season opener.

Prescott's top target is receiver CeeDee Lamb, who has caught 37 passes for 479 yards and two TDs and has led the Cowboys in receiving yards in each of their last five games.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott is not expected to play due to a knee injury, but Tony Pollard is a talented fourth-year pro who has rushed for 375 yards and two TDs and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

(4) Will the Bears continue to perform well on special teams?

The Bears have thrived in the third phase all season, led by Cairo Santos, who was named NFC special teams player of the week after making all four field goals he attempted from 42, 23, 38 and 50 yards against the Patriots. Santos has connected on 17 straight field goals, including all 11 of his attempts this year.

The kickoff coverage unit helped the Bears win the field-position battle in New England; the Patriots started drives following kickoffs at their own 17, 21, 23, 27, 25, 25 and 18 and didn't score on any of those possessions.

On Sunday, the Bears coverage team will be challenged by KaVonte Turpin, who ranks second in the NFL on punt returns, averaging 16.0 yards on 11 returns. Turpin joined Dallas this year after being named the USFL MVP while playing for the New Jersey Generals this spring. In a preseason game against the Chargers, Turpin scored TDs on a 98-yard kickoff return and an 86-yard punt return.

"Turpin is electric," said special teams coordinator Richard Hightower. "He has some explosive returns this year already. They do a good job on kickoff coverage too. They're top 10 there too.

"They do a really nice job with Turpin. Turpin does a great job of catching it, attacking it, he's fearless. He can make the first guy miss. And then he also has some stop-and-start ability that's phenomenal. He's a really good player and they are doing a nice job with him. They're coaching their tail off and guys are playing their tail off. This will be one of the best units we face this year, if not the best. They're outstanding and we're looking forward to the matchup."

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