Cowboys-Bears Preview & Prediction

Sustaining drives against the Bears defense is difficult, but Cowboys QB Tony Romo has completed 12-of-18 passes and has a 141.7 passer rating on third downs this season.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET

GAMEDATE: 9/23/07

SURFACE: Grass

TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer

SERIES: 21st meeting. Dallas leads the series, 12-8. Dallas won the last meeting, 21-7, in 2004. Dallas has won four of the last six meetings.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Sustaining drives against the Bears defense is difficult, but Cowboys QB Tony Romo has completed 12-of-18 passes and has a 141.7 passer rating on third downs this season. The Bears have an extremely quick defensive line, and could cause significant problems if DT Tommie Harris is able to win the battle against C Andre Gurode and RG Leonard Davis on the interior. ... The Bears are looking to get WR Muhsin Muhammad more involved in the passing game. He has just two receptions, but the entire unit should get a boost with rookie TE Greg Olsen expected to play. The more weapons QB Rex Grossman can utilize, the more running room RB Cedric Benson should find.

KEY INJURIES: Cowboys: CB Terence Newman (plantar fasciitis tear) is getting closer and will be a game-time decision; LB Greg Ellis (Achilles) will miss at least one more game. Bears: Olsen (knee), Harris (hamstring) and P Brad Maynard (groin) are expected to play.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys WR Terrell Owens has 11,899 career receiving yards, 15th most in league history. ... The Bears are 15-3 in their past 18 home games.

PERSONNEL NEWS: Cowboys: CB Terence Newman practiced for a second straight day without incident after missing two games with a tear in his right plantar fascia. He is expected to play on Sunday, but it will be game-time decision.

--LB Greg Ellis has been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Bears.

--FB Deon Anderson has gotten extra reps in practice because the Cowboys are being cautious with starter Oliver Hoyte, who was banged up against the Dolphins. Hoyte is expected to play against the Bears but look for Anderson to get more time.

--LB Bradie James has a team-high 18 tackles on the season and one sack -- his first since 2005.

Bears: QB Rex Grossman, after two weeks last season, led the NFL with a passer rating of 128.7 based on five touchdown passes and just one interception. This season he's ranked No. 32 with a 55.1 passer rating, three interceptions and one touchdown. He has also been sacked six times this season, compared to just one last season.

--DL Israel Idonije recorded 28 special-teams points last week for a blocked field goal, a tackle, 11 blocks and four knock-down blocks. It's the highest total in Lovie Smith's four years as head coach.

--OG Ruben Brown (shoulder) returned to practice for the entire session on Thursday.

--DT Tommie Harris (hamstring) was back on the practice field but in a limited capacity.

--C Olin Kreutz was back on the practice field but in a limited capacity, and he is expected to start on Sunday night.

--DE Alex Brown (ankle) returned to practice Thursday but was limited.

--P Brad Maynard (groin) was limited at Thursday's practice, but he is expected to play on Sunday.

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: There has been much discussion about whether newly signed and still suspended Tank Johnson is a good fit for the Cowboys as a football player, let alone a person.

Johnson played defensive tackle in the Bears' 4-3 defense. The Cowboys need help at nose tackle following the season-ending injury to Jason Ferguson.

But Johnson and the Cowboys aren't worried. He will clearly be a better fit than Jay Ratliff, a converted defensive end who makes for an undersized nose tackle.

"I don't think it will be much of a transition at all," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Knowing the assignments will be different. The calls will be different. But he plays the same technique that Jason Ferguson plays. He actually played nose tackle for them. They play a shade nose in an offset 4-3 which is the same kind of technique that we play. So he's played similar technique to where our nose guard plays."

Johnson doesn't think it will be a problem either. Either way, he said he will be ready when he returns from the suspended list.

"The 3-4 scheme is obviously one that is different than the one (a 4-3) I ran in Chicago, but I think it's conducive of a player with my ability to get up the field and rush the passer," Johnson said. "I've played nose (tackle) before, and I've actually had success at it. I'm pretty excited about the opportunity, mainly because the guys around me are so skilled."

INSIDE THE BEARS CAMP: The Bears' defense has contended with some of the NFL's most talented individuals in the first two weeks of the season, but Sunday night's prime showdown with the Cowboys at Soldier Field is a huge step up in class.

Dallas comes to town with a talented offensive team -- No. 1 in the NFL in points and average gain per pass play and No. 5 in rushing yards. And, while the Cowboys may be over publicized, as they usually are, they're not overrated according to Bears strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.

"It's kind of like Notre Dame in (college) football," Hillenmeyer said. "If they do anything good, everybody's going to be on their side because they've been one of America's favorite teams over the years. But we're watching the film, and I don't think they're overrated.

"They've put up 41 points a game, and they've deserved every one of them. They're making great plays at a lot of different positions. They've got two great running backs. It's not where the scores overestimate how good they are. These guys are out there making plays."

Wide receiver Terrell Owens has already scored three times on eight receptions for 184 yards, a 23.0-yard average. Tight end Jason Witten has 143 yards on eight catches (17.9-yard average). Julius Jones, the younger brother of former Bears running back Thomas Jones, rushed for 1,084 yards last season. But he has been overshadowed by the guy he shares time with, Marion Barber, who's averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Aside from dating Carrie Underwood, quarterback Tony Romo made the Pro Bowl last season, and his passer rating of 119.3 is second this season only to Tom Brady.

So, even though the Cowboys will be without speedy wideout Terry Glenn (knee), who even at age 33 is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, they have plenty of weapons besides Owens.

"It's not just about T.O.," cornerback Charles Tillman said, "because you've got Witten, you have (Patrick) Crayton and then you have (Sam) Hurd (from NIU). Those guys are good. They complement him well. You can't just focus on T.O. because it's those other guys who will beat you."

Even though Romo is extremely mobile in the pocket and capable of buying time for his receivers by evading pass rushers, he isn't much of a threat to run (he has averaged just 2.8 yards on 36 attempts in the NFL), especially against the Bears, according to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

"We can run also," Urlacher said. "We've got 11 guys on defense who can pretty much run with anyone in this league, especially a quarterback. We've got a lot of guys who are pretty athletic, take good angles and get to the football. We swarm. We get the second and third guys in with those big hits."

Urlacher and weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs each had one sack last week, but their responsibilities in run defense and pass coverage might preclude them from getting after Romo Sunday night.

"I think we -- the front four -- have to get to the quarterback because the linebackers will be busy, and the cornerbacks will be busy with the receivers and the running backs and the tight ends," defensive end Wale Ogunleye said. "We've got to find a way to get to Romo and rattle him without much help."

Statistically, the Bears' defense should be capable of trading blows with any offense in the league. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich's group is No. 1 in average gain allowed per running play, tied for fourth in points and fifth in total yards allowed.

"It's a bigger challenge (than the first two weeks), I know that," Urlacher said. "They're supposed to be the best team in the league offensively right now, so it's a challenge for us to see where we're at on defense."

The Bears' defense believes it's the best in the NFL, and Sunday night they'll have a chance to prove it on national TV.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 23-16

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