Injury Report & Implications
The Bears (4-6) will face off with the struggling Dallas Cowboys (3-7) on Thanksgiving. The Bears have won 3 of their last 4 games, but are coming off a blowout loss at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys have lost 6 of their last 7, and will be turning the reins over to Drew Henson. Let's take a closer look at the injuries and their impact on the game.
Rookie Craig Krenzel gets the nod again at quarterback. Krenzel's propensity to turn the ball over via fumbles and interceptions has many Bear fans pining for Chad Hutchinson. Coincidentally, Hutchinson's last days as a starter were in Dallas. The Bears have struggled to move the ball and put points on the board ever since Rex Grossman was injured early in the year. Thomas Jones will start his second game in a row at running back after missing the majority of the previous three games with a toe injury. Left guard Ruben Brown suffered a stinger in last week's game and if necessary will be replaced by Steve Edwards. He was downgraded to doubtful on Wednesday. Brown and center Olin Kreutz have not been the same since returning from surgeries during the bye week. Additionally, Rex Tucker has been in the lineup for the past month after missing most of the early parts of the season with a dislocated elbow. Tucker has been inserted at right guard, and has been overmatched. Since that time, the quality of offensive line play has declined sharply not only in pass protection, but also in run blocking. The Cowboys' defense has struggled all year. They haven't had many significant losses on this side of the ball. Safety Darren Woodson has not made enough progress to come off the PUP list, and his season has ended.
The Cowboys have struggled generating pressure on the quarterback as well as stopping the run. Defensive end Greg Ellis (6.5 sacks) has been their most consistent pass rusher. Ellis will likely line up at right end, over Qasim Mitchell. That should be a key matchup to follow, as well as where defensive tackle La'Roi Glover lines up, since the interior of the Bears' offensive line has been injured. Craig Krenzel will continue to face stacked fronts and run blitzes. Expect the Bears to find ways to get the ball out of Krenzel's hands faster, whether it's short passes or an increased emphasis on the running attack. To be successful, the penalties will have to stop, and the emphasis on running the football must return, in spite of the loaded fronts. The onus will be on Thomas Jones to make people miss, and on the offensive line, to play better in all aspects. All of this will take pressure off of Krenzel, who has yet to settle into any kind of rhythm or timing in the pocket
Cornerback Charles Tillman has returned to practice. The Bears are hopeful their number one cornerback will be able to make a contribution in this game, as he has been upgraded from questionable to probable. Strong safety Bobby Gray (groin) has finally progressed to the point where he could see action again as well. Todd Johnson does not appear to be in any danger of losing his starting position at free safety, which he took over when Mike Brown was lost for the season. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde is recovering from a shoulder injury. As a result, Drew Henson is expected to make his first professional start. Henson was one of the top rated quarterbacks coming out of college football in recent history, but chose to pursue a baseball career first. The Cowboys have sorely missed wide receiver Terry Glenn. Their offense now runs through Keyshawn Johnson and tight end Jason Witten (57 catches for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns). Since running back Richie Anderson is banged up, rookie Julius Jones is expected to see action. Jones missed most of the early part of the season with an injured scapula. He is the brother is the Bears' Thomas Jones. There's nothing like getting the family together for Thanksgiving.
Expect the Cowboys to protect Henson by running the ball and using play action. The Cowboys will want to test the Bears' run defense, which surrendered 275 yards to the Colts last week. As a result, this really could turn into a battle that showcases the Jones brothers. Expect the Bears to put pressure on the inexperienced signal caller, and to use a steady diet of blitzes. The best bet, good or bad, is that there will be more discussion of "gap control" on Thursday night and into the following week's game.