NFC North: Dallas Cowboys

When: 8:25 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: NFL Network

The Chicago Bears relegated themselves to the spoiler role by virtue of their 5-7 mark, while the Dallas Cowboys enter Thursday's game trying to exorcise their December demons in an attempt to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Bears reporter Michael C. Wright breaks down the matchup with Cowboys reporter Todd Archer:

Wright: You always hear about Dallas' struggles in December, and I remember how the Cowboys struggled in the cold last season around this time at Soldier Field. Is there really anything to that, and, if so, what's gone into those struggles?

Archer: The Cowboys swear there is nothing to it. I'm kind of with them, but I do think the recent past does affect this team to the point at which they expect something bad to happen. Ultimately, however, I think it has come down to them just not having been good enough. That's the real issue. They have been bad in late-season games because they're just good enough to be good enough and have not been able to raise their level of play when the games matter most. I don't think it has anything to do with choking or the other team wanting it more. It comes down to they haven't had enough good players and coaches to get the job done. Will that change this season? I can't call it. Even when they were 6-1, I had doubts about this team, especially defensively. They don't have enough playmakers and they can't scheme their way to enough stops. The offense will have to carry the day if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. I do believe the offense is good enough, but is it good enough to carry the defense?

Jason Garrett entered the season coaching for his future, and I think it's still up in the air even with an 8-4 record. I didn't think Marc Trestman would be coaching for his future in his second season, but do you think he will return in 2015?

Wright: I believe he'll be back. Bears general manager Phil Emery wanted to provide security for Jay Cutler with the hiring of Trestman because the quarterback, prior to 2013, had played in three different systems for three offensive coordinators over a four-year period. Once Emery put Cutler with a coach and a system he believed in, the general manager opted to lock up the quarterback for the long haul with a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million. I just don't see Emery blowing up everything after all he's done to build around Cutler with the staff, free-agent additions, draft picks and the quarterback's long-term contract. Now, obviously, there's no guarantee the decision on Trestman won't be taken out of Emery's hands. But that would be the only way I could see Trestman not making it to his third season, and I do believe that decision could be taken out of Emery's hands depending on how Chicago finishes out the season. Three of this team's last four games are at Soldier Field, and if the Bears lose every one of those outings, I could see ownership forcing Emery to part ways with Trestman.

Dallas' offensive line from this vantage point has been one of the strengths of the team. What happened against the Philadelphia Eagles, because it appeared the Cowboys really struggled to protect Tony Romo?

Archer: It was their worst game of the season, with the overtime loss to the Washington Redskins a close second. They all had issues. Travis Frederick snapped the ball too early on a third down, leading to a sack. Ronald Leary gave up two sacks. The run game was slowed for the first time. This is the first time they have really been punched in the nose. It's been all ice cream and candy for these guys for the bulk of the season. Three of them lead Pro Bowl voting at their positions -- Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Frederick. It will be interesting to see what happens this week. The Bears have 29 sacks, and 23 of them come from four players, so it's not about tricking anybody. The Cowboys were beaten physically by the Eagles' front. Each one of them had a breakdown that led to multiple poor plays. For the Cowboys to win, they have to follow a specific formula: run the ball, control the tempo of the game and convert on third down. That puts a lot of pressure on the line to perform, but there's a reason three of its members were first-round picks. I think they will be a lot better this week, and not just because they can't be worse.

A few short years ago when you thought of the Bears, you thought of defense. Now, they are near the bottom in yards allowed and giving up 28.1 points per game. What in the name of Brian Urlacher has happened?

Wright: Todd, a combination of factors have led to what you're seeing, and I could probably go way over our word limits trying to explain. So let me give you the condensed version. First off, it starts with the draft, through which Emery has selected 11 defensive players since 2012. Of those players, three -- Shea McClellin, Jonathan Bostic (due to injury) and Kyle Fuller -- are starters. Four of the defensive picks came in 2014, while three more are no longer with the team. You've also got to factor in those players were drafted to eventually replace aging stars such as Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Urlacher. Sure, the Bears freshened up the front last offseason by bringing aboard Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen, in addition to drafting players such as Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, but the team didn't do much to address issues on the back end, where poor safety play has long been a problem, dating all the way back to Lovie Smith's tenure (the Bears don't value safeties and refuse to spend on the position). Basically, I say all of that to say this: The Bears are seriously lacking in the talent department on defense, which is partially a result of all the resources allocated to the offensive side of the ball.

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, but it seems this team is a little different than the squads from years past in the way it seems to handle the roller-coaster ride of the season. Why is this team different, and do you believe the Cowboys absolutely have to make the playoffs for Garrett to receive a new contract?

Archer: I'm not sure it is different just yet. They got on a really good run after losing the season opener, winning six games in a row. Since then, they have gone 2-3. As a whole, this is not a hugely talented team, but I say that mostly because of the defense. Maybe some of those defensive players were playing over their heads earlier in the season and now don't have gas in the tank. Rolando McClain has been their best defender, but I do wonder how much he has in the tank. They haven't been able to affect the quarterback enough, and that matters even more in big games late in the season. This is the pivotal game of the season. Win this one and they know they can contend. Lose this one and they'll need help to make the playoffs, most likely. And that brings us to Garrett. I do think he needs credit for what this team has done considering the low expectations entering the season, but if they don't make the playoffs it will be a failed season. And it would be the third time in his four seasons they entered December with a winning mark and didn't make the playoffs. I know Jerry Jones wants Garrett to be his version of Tom Landry, but I don't know for sure he will get a new contract if he misses the playoffs for the fourth straight season. There's a lot on the line for everybody: the players, the coaches and the front office.

I look at the Bears on offense and I see nothing but talent. Cutler can throw it as well as anybody. He has Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He has Matt Forte. He has Martellus Bennett. What's missing with these guys?

Wright: Obviously quite a bit considering this team went six consecutive games without scoring a first-quarter touchdown until last week's loss to the Detroit Lions. But for me, it all starts with the quarterback, and Cutler received "elite" money in his new deal but certainly isn't performing at that level. Cutler leads the NFL in turnovers (20), and opponents have scored a total of 85 points off the club's 23 giveaways. So Cutler is the biggest issue.

But Trestman certainly hasn't helped out the quarterback with his play calling. Forte is averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, yet the club handed off to the running back just five times in last week's loss to the Lions. I think last season the Bears caught teams by surprise because nobody knew what to expect from Trestman's offense. Then, after the team put an entire 2013 season on tape, opponents figured out how to shut down the Bears.

Chemistry plays into it, too. When there are players in the locker room who believe Cutler looks only to Marshall and Bennett in the passing game, what's the incentive for the club's other pass-catchers to go all-out running routes? There are several issues plaguing the Bears on offense, but Cutler is the most significant. Nobody wants to admit it, but the Bears made a huge mistake in signing him to the new deal.

IRVING, Texas – Defensive end George Selvie was limited in Wednesday’s practice as the Dallas Cowboys continue to try to nurse his surgically repaired right shoulder back to full strength.

Selvie missed two weeks of practice after re-injuring the shoulder in the Cowboys’ third preseason game. He was limited in practice all last week and played 27 snaps in the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, six fewer than Tyrone Crawford at left defensive end.

Linebacker Justin Durant (groin), safety C.J. Spillman (groin), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and offensive tackle Darrion Weems (shoulder) did not practice.

The other players listed on the practice report – right guard Zack Martin (foot), defensive tackle Terrell McClain (ankle), quarterback Tony Romo (back) and receiver Terrance Williams (back) – all participated fully.

DeMarcus Ware misses practice

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
12:20
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware missed Friday's practice. Ware was listed on the injury report with a sore back but he was a full participant during Thursday's session.

Also, wide receiver Dez Bryant (back) did practice on Friday after missing Thursday's session with a sore back.

Linebackers Sean Lee (neck) and Ernie Sims (groin) and quarterback Tony Romo (back surgery) missed practice as expected.

With the Cowboys placing Romo on injured reserve on Friday it opened a roster spot.

Coach Jason Garrett said the team hadn't made a decision as yet on how to fill it.

Live blog: Packers at Cowboys

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
2:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Green Bay Packers' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Packers-Cowboys

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
10:00
AM ET

IRVING, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, but with three games to play in the 2013 season both are on the outside of the playoff chase and in need of a win.

The Packers have fallen on hard times without Aaron Rodgers but won last week against the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys are coming off a humiliating loss to the Chicago Bears and have a short week to get ready.

ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the matchup in this week's Double Coverage.

Archer: I'll skip the "What's Aaron Rodgers status?" and ask about Ted Thompson's approach to the backup quarterback. The Cowboys pay Kyle Orton a lot of money to hopefully never throw a pass. Is there any regret form the Packers that they did not have a better backup quarterback situation behind Rodgers, considering their struggles without him?

[Editor's note: Rodgers was officially ruled out for Sunday's game on Friday.]

Demovsky: Thompson admitted at the end of training camp that he probably should have signed Vince Young much earlier than he did, although after watching Young for about a month, I'm not sure he would have been any better had the Packers signed back in the spring. Where they probably erred was in not drafting a quarterback. They overestimated what they had in Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, and neither one developed enough. When Ron Wolf was the GM, he made it a regular practice to draft a quarterback in the middle-to -late rounds. Not all of them worked out, but guys like Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through the Packers' system.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Tony Romo is "playing probably as good as he has in his career." Do you agree with that assessment?

Archer: I'd agree with that, sure. It's hard to argue against his numbers. He has 3,244 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's taking care of the ball. He had one really careless throw and it cost the Cowboys big-time in their loss to the Denver Broncos. Romo gets most of the blame for the December/January woes this team has had, but in his last 16 games he has 34 touchdowns and seven picks. It's hard to play better than that. But you know what? He has to. This defense is so bad that Romo has to be nearly perfect. There can be no poor drives. If they don't get points they at least need to chew up time because there's not an offense the Cowboys can slow down right now.

When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium they were able to overcome so many injuries, especially on defense as we talked about. The difference this year is Rodgers missing time, but is there anything more to it than that?

Demovsky: They did end up with 15 players in injured reserve in their Super Bowl season, and then during that game itself they lost Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone. But you know what? This defense played fine early this season and even during the stretch Clay Matthews missed because of his broken thumb. Capers said last week that losing Rodgers had nothing to do with the Packers' defensive slide, but I'm not buying it. The Packers' defense got four turnovers in the Thanksgiving game at Detroit and still got walloped 40-10 because the offense couldn't do a darn thing with them. To be sure, there are issues on defense. Their failure to address needs at safety has hurt them up the middle, where their inside linebackers also haven't played well enough.

It sounds like Monte Kiffin is already taking heat, but how much of it is personnel? When I saw Packers castoff Jarius Wynn playing Monday night against the Bears, to me that was a red flag that there are talent issues, perhaps some of them caused by injuries.

Archer: There are talent issues and there are depth issues. Blame the owner and GM who constructed this team. Blame the coaches -- Kiffin and Rod Marinelli -- for saying the line was a position of strength. The Cowboys thought they had pieces to fit Kiffin's scheme at the start of the year. DeMarcus Ware has not been DeMarcus Ware in part because of injuries, but he acknowledged he has to play better. Bruce Carter was supposed to be the ideal weak-side linebacker and he just has not made any plays. The corners are more man corners and Kiffin has tried to play more man but all of them -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick -- have had issues. Sean Lee has been hurt and could miss Sunday's game with a neck injury. He's been good but the defense has been lit up with him on the field, too. It's just a mess. Until Jerry Jones realizes he needs better players, not necessarily better schemes, it will be a mess.

Let's stick with the defensive coordinators. From the outside looking in, it appears Capers is catching a lot of grief too. Are the Packers committed to the 3-4 regardless or could they pull a Dallas and move to a 4-3 in the future?

Demovsky: When the cornerstone of the defense is Matthews, an outside linebacker, I would think they'd have to stick with the 3-4 even if they part ways with Capers, which I'm not sure will happen anyway. Mike McCarthy has continually praised Capers and the defensive staff. It's probably more about personnel. They need a few more playmakers to help out Matthews. They haven't gotten enough production from their defensive front. I'd look for an overhaul in personnel more than a coaching change.

Knowing the temperature in the Cowboys locker room like you do, how do you think they will react to getting steamrolled Monday night? Is this a group that will fight? Or will they pack it in?

Archer: This is where I have to give Jason Garrett credit. This team has fought. Maybe they didn't fight all that much in the losses to New Orleans and Chicago, but they have not packed it in. You saw the last time the Cowboys packed it in in 2010 at Lambeau Field when Wade Phillips was the coach. The Cowboys lost 45-7 and were completely disinterested. Phillips was fired the next day and Garrett took over. There is some gumption to this team. They do work hard. They do the right things. I'll say it again: Most of it is a talent issue. I'd expect the Cowboys to come out with the effort Sunday because they're still very much in the playoff chase. But do they believe they can really make a run? I don't know about that.

MNF live blog: Cowboys at Bears

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
7:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for "Monday Night Football" between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

IRVING, Texas -- Ernie Sims understands he’s being asked to fill some big shoes at middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys while Sean Lee recovers from a strained hamstring.

Sims acknowledged that there’s pressure that comes along with replacing a player who is in the midst of a Pro Bowl-caliber season. But Sims, a former first-round pick who was unemployed midway through last season and considered a bubble player entering training camp, sees this as an opportunity to prove his value.

Sims
“I can play in this league,” Sims said. “I’m a starter in this league. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I can make plays in this league. That’s what I want to prove.”

Sims, an eight-year veteran, has seen significant playing time at outside linebacker this season. He has 29 tackles and one forced fumble, but ProFootballFocus.com grades him 32nd among 35 4-3 outside linebackers who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps this season.

Now Sims moves to middle linebacker, a spot he said he has played only a little as an injury fill-in one season in Detroit and then again after Lee’s injury in last week’s blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The 6-foot, 233-pound Sims considers his biggest challenge this week to be learning the correct keys and alignments for the middle linebacker, which are different than the outside linebackers’. He has spent extra time studying this week, including sessions with Lee and assistant coaches.

Sims hopes to be comfortable enough by Sunday to just let his instincts take over against the New York Giants.

“It’s a real big moment,” Sims said. “A lot of eyes are on me to see how I’m going to approach the situation. I know one thing, I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. I’m stepping up to the plate.”

Live blog: Vikings at Cowboys

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
11:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Minnesota Vikings' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
IRVING, Texas -- One of the discussions this week regarding the Dallas Cowboys-Detroit Lions game is centered on wide receiver Calvin Johnson and how cornerback Brandon Carr will handle him.

Carr
Johnson
Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said forget about any potential problems Carr is gonna have.

"It should be the other way around in my book," Hatcher said after Wednesday's practice. "How difficult Megatron's job gonna be, that's what I think. Brandon is playing lights out. It's going to be a battle. I'm really looking forward to it. I really appreciate what those guys do, but I'm pretty sure Megatron is looking at tape thinking about Brandon Carr. He's playing unbelievable. There's not a corner playing like him right now."

Johnson is considered one of the top receivers in the NFL.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick said Johnson stretches the defense like Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace but attacks the ball like Dez Bryant.

"He looks like a machine," Scandrick said of Johnson, who has six touchdowns this season.

Carr has faced Johnson before, in 2011 when he played with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he wasn't totally on Johnson the entire game. He might get that assignment on Sunday.

"My philosophy is keep the deep ball off your head," Carr said. "A guy with that size and speed, it's easy for him to get past you. You know the ball is going up so you have to work hard this week. It's important for us to prepare well. The little details are going to be important. You may get some calls. You may anticipate what's coming. You may jump the route or get a head start on him trying to run down field, so it's just everything I have learned so far in my career and what I'm learning still is going to come into play in this game."

Monday Night Live: Bears-Cowboys

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
6:19
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they bring you the Monday Night Football match up between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

NFC North links: Coach defends A.J. Hawk

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
1:07
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Chicago Bears

Former Bears quarterback Nathan Enderle, a fifth-round pick in 2011 who was released last week, has signed with Jacksonville. His exit gives Matt Blanchard, an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin-Whitewater, a chance to be the fourth quarterback in training camp.

Desmond Clark, 35, who spent the final eight of his 12 NFL seasons with the Bears (2003-10) has become a real estate professional, writes Larry Mayer of the team's website. Clark ranks second all-time in franchise history among tight ends with 242 receptions, trailing only Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

Detroit Lions

The Lions claimed cornerback Dontrell Johnson off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and released safety Alonzo Lawrence, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

The Lions signed quarterback R.J. Archer, who played for the Georgia Force in the Arena Football League this season. He'll compete with undrafted free agent Kellen Moore for the No. 3 job.

Receiver Nate Burleson says quarterback Matthew Stafford has a rocket arm.

Running backs Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure are walking similar paths early in their careers, writes Mike O'Hara of the team's website.

Green Bay Packers

Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss insists that former first-round pick A.J. Hawk didn't have a down season in 2011, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

After four days of NFL Broadcast Boot Camp training, former Packers tackle Mark Tauscher was one of two players chosen to serve as a television studio analyst for an NFL regular-season Sunday, working on-air for one of the league’s United Kingdom television partners, writes Bob Wolfley of the Journal Sentinel.

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback Christian Ponder and coach Leslie Frazier feel Ponder made a lot of progress during the nine weeks of offseason work, which culminated with Thursday's final minicamp practice.

Countdown Live: Lions-Cowboys

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
11:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com and ESPNDallas.com NFL experts as they break down the match up between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.

BBAO: Awaiting Matthew Stafford news

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
7:45
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

As we await clarity on the 2010 future of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com notes a telling quote from presumptive starter Drew Stanton. Speaking on a local television program, Stanton said Stafford will "determine what's best for him and his career in the long run and move forward with whatever decision's done."

Does that mean Stafford might have season-ending surgery on his right shoulder? Does he just need to decide whether to shut himself down for an extended period of time? Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Monday that surgical options weren't being considered, but Kowalski has reported that the team had initial fears Stafford would be lost for the season regardless.

In the meantime, the Lions claimed quarterback Zac Robinson on waivers from the Seattle Seahawks Robinson, a rookie from Oklahoma State, was a seventh-round draft pick of the New England Patriots and had spent time on both the Seahawks' practice squad and 53-man roster during the regular season. Stanton was the Lions' only healthy quarterback. Shaun Hill is recovering from a fractured left forearm.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Countdown Live: Cowboys-Vikings

October, 17, 2010
10/17/10
3:48
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.

Contribute your thoughts and questions starting at 4 p.m. ET. See you there!

Countdown Live: Bears-Cowboys

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
12:16
PM ET
Chat live with NFL reporters Matt Mosley of ESPN.com, Michael Wright and Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago, Calvin Watkins and Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas and others at 1 p.m. ET. See you there!

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