The Chicago Bears (5-7) begin a three-game homestand on Thursday evening when they host the Dallas Cowboys (8-4) at Soldier Field. Here is a breakdown of Chicago's Week 13 opponent:
What's new: For years, the Cowboys have been a one-dimensional team that just didn't have enough offensive diversity to scare teams. In 2013, Dallas ranked 14th in the league in passing, but 24th in rushing. The year before, the spectrum was even wider, with the Cowboys finishing third in passing and a distant 31st in rushing. Both seasons, the team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. In 2014, the Cowboys hope to change that end result by adapting their offensive scheme. Led by DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing with nearly 400 more yards than his closest counterpart, Dallas ranks third in the league in rushing, gaining more than 145 yards per game. With Tony Romo still productive as a passer - the Cowboys place 17th in passing - the team's offense is catching opponents off balance and is much more effective overall.
What's old:** At age 34, Romo is one of the oldest starting quarterbacks in football. He's also one of the most efficient, a title the Dallas signal caller has held for quite a while. Set to start his 120th regular season game for the Cowboys, the quarterback has shown off his strong arm to key the team's big-play offense. Romo gains 8.4 yards per attempt, his highest average since he first earned the chance to start back in 2006. He's also finding the end zone more often, as the historically prolific passer has upped his touchdown percentage, throwing for scores on 6.8 percent of his attempts. Even with the emergence of the Dallas running game, Romo is still the leader of the Cowboys' offense.
Last time out: Like the Bears, Dallas played on Thanksgiving, and like the Bears, the Cowboys did not get the result they were hoping for. Facing the Eagles, with first place in the NFC East on the line, the Cowboys were outplayed in every phase of the game, losing 33-10. The Cowboys run defense was repeatedly gashed, as Philadelphia gained 256 yards on the ground. Dallas, meanwhile, had just 93 net rushing yards, one of its lowest outputs on the year. It didn't help that the Cowboys passing attack also failed to do much, as Romo was sacked four times and threw two interceptions.
Series history: The Bears and Cowboys haven't crossed paths too often, a bit of a surprise given the two NFC teams have been playing one another since the series began in 1960. The teams have split 22 regular season games, but the Cowboys have won both postseason tilts, as Dallas holds a 13-11 all-time lead. The Bears have made a dent in that record of late. This will be the third consecutive season the teams have played, with Chicago winning in both 2012 and 2013. A year ago, on December 9, 2013, the Bears beat the Cowboys 45-28 on a frigid night at Soldier Field. The Bears have won three straight overall versus the Cowboys, tied for their longest win-streak in the series' history.
Ex-factor: Both the Bears and Cowboys will see some familiar faces when they look across the sideline at one another on Thursday evening. Dallas has two ex-Bears on its roster - defensive tackle Henry Melton and fullback Tyler Clutts. Melton, who had 15.5 sacks in 48 games played with Chicago, has been equally productive in Dallas, where he leads the team with five sacks. The Cowboys also have Rod Marinelli as their defensive coordinator; Marinelli held the same position in Chicago from 2010-2012.
There are several Bears who have ties to Dallas as well. Tight ends Martellus Bennett and Dante Rosario, safety Danny McCray and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff all were once Cowboys. So too was special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who oversaw the special teams units in Dallas from 2009-2012.
Injury report: Dallas comes into the game fairly healthy, though there are a few key guys banged up. Romo is the most noteworthy of those players, as he has been playing with a sore back. Defensive end George Selvie is dealing with a thumb injury, but he is expected to be in uniform on Thursday night.
Did you know?: The changing of the calendar to December means it's time to wear festive sweaters, listen to Mariah Carey Christmas albums, and consume copious amounts of eggnog. It also means, if history is an indicator, that Romo is in for a rough stretch. The quarterback has historically struggled in the final month of the year, going 12-17 lifetime in December, his lowest win percentage in any month. In those games, he has a quarterback rating of 89.7, well below his career mark of 96.6. Along with that, Romo - an Illinois native - has struggled against Chicago, throwing seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in four career contests.