Thursday Night Football Picks — Can the Cowboys Put Forth That HUGE Effort in Chicago?

By Charles Jay

It’s no surprise that the Dallas Cowboys are under-achieving. And it’s also no surprise that there is controversy surrounding it. But now it has reached the point where the owner is talking freely to the media about his future, in a subliminal tone that doesn’t disguise a whole lot.

It is amidst this atmosphere that the Cowboys go into bad weather at Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears in an 8:20 PM ET Thursday night kickoff. You can see this on Fox Network, and guess what else? If you watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” or “The Man in the High Castle” on Amazon Prime Video, you should know that you can watch this game there as well.

Both of these teams are 6-6, and both have failed to meet expectations for themselves this year. Yet while Chicago has a 3-9 pointspread record, Dallas is a commendable 7-5. In the Thursday Night Football odds that we’re using for WagerWAR, it looks something like this:

Dallas Cowboys -3
Chicago Bears +3

Over 43 points -110
Under 43 points -110

The Bears are longshots to get to the playoffs, but the Cowboys would be the NFC East winners if the season ended today. That’s not going to be good enough for Jason Garrett to keep his job, apparently. On the one hand, Jerry Jones expresses that he really believes in Garrett, and feels he can take the team to a championship, and that he isn’t going to fire him this year, and on the other, he is saying that Garrett has a lot of ability and “will be coaching in the NFL next year.”

I don’t think Jones says a lot of things off the cuff, so that has to be considered a calculated remark, as in “Jason may not be coaching HERE, but he’ll land on his feet.”

His decision-making and clock management have taken a pounding, but is Garrett the guy to blame? And how much credit – or discredit, as it were – does a guy like Kellen Moore, in his first year as the offensive coordinator – deserve?

Former Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman believes that the blame should be placed “at the top,” and implies that there may be too much interference or influence coming from management (i.s., Jones) over Garrett.

“Dallas knows how it was done. I know how it was done,” Aikman told a Dallas radio station this week. “It was done with a really strong head coach who the players knew that that’s who they had to answer to. And for some reason that model changed, and it hasn’t been very effective for a while.”

In other words, Jones has been obsessed with finding coaches over whom he can exert more control than might actually be healthiest for the organization (with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells, I guess, being the notable exceptions).

So there are no guarantees about Garrett at all. I’m not sure if Jones sees Moore as a young genius, waiting in the wings; a possible second-coming of Sean McVay, but it’s only two years since he was an active player, and he has a coveted coordinator position with, yes, the most valuable franchise in American team sports, not to mention the one that draws the most spotlight.

Then there is the case of Lincoln Riley to consider, as there is no ignoring the fact that his offense at Oklahoma has been the most consistent ground-gainer in college football over the last few years and he might be on his way to a third consecutive Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. No less an authority than Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ former vice-president of player personnel and one of the people who refined the scouting process in the NFL, has referred to Riley as a “young Tom Landry.”

Riley appears dead set on bringing a national title to Oklahoma, but no one in his position is going to pass up the opportunity to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. And the Cowboys might want to reach out to him while he is still available. The word is that they think an awful lot of him in terms of an NFL future.

So there’s tension and drama, but that’s nothing particularly new for this team. In Chicago, there seemed to be some early signs of a problem with Mitchell Trubisky, going back to training camp. Such as the fact that the guy was throwing interceptions in scrimmages whenever he was trying to get it down the field. Coach Matt Nagy, who introduced Trubisky to the whole concept of run-pass options (RPO’s) last season, and had enough success with it that Trubisky went to the Pro Bowl, mentioned that it was okay if his QB did that in drills, as long as he didn’t do it during a game, and I thought that was a little strange.

So now Trubisky is 31st in “QBR,” the quarterback rating system that was first instituted by ESPN, while Dak Prescott is third, perhaps a state of affairs that can be attributed to the innovations Moore brought to the passing attack. Who knows.

As I’m handicapping this game, it comes down to some simple factors:

  • Dallas actually gains two more yards per play than Chicago, and 2.5 more yards per pass play.
  • They gain 1.9 more yards than their opponents, on average, on passing plays.
  • Chicago is at minus-5 in their sack ratio, while the Cowboys are at +16.
  • The Bears have averaged 3.4 yards per rush attempt, which doesn’t bode well for them putting together a running game to complement whatever they can get out of Trubisky.
  • Dallas converts 49% of its third down opportunities, although some of this might be dependent on how well Ezekiel Elliott can do on first down. Which leads us to this……
  • The Cowboys have been “stuffed” (held to no gain or negative yardage) on running plays less frequently than any other NFL team.
  • The Bears, while doing rather decently on defense and still having Khalil Mack as the anchor, are not the same ferocious unit that benefited from since-departed Vic Fangio’s scheme and play-calling last year.
  • Even though Dallas can look like stumble-bums at times on special teams, because Chicago punts on 51.5% of possessions and goes three-and-out 32.3% of the time (both worst in the NFL), the Cowboys have a pretty good chance to win the field position battle.

Because Dallas is a “public” team, no one really expects to get much in the way of value with them. Yet even in this disappointment of a season, they are 7-5 against the points. Sometimes that “public” recognition works both ways – with both a positive and negative effect. I was looking in one of the Dallas newspapers, and in a poll of some of their people, most of them picked the Bears to win. And yes, we recognize and acknowledge that Elliott may get slowed down considerably, but the Cowboys at least have various ways to move the ball. Chicago has wideout Allan Robinson and a lot of question marks, including Tarik Cohen, who has not done well with his Christian McCaffrey imitation (3.2 yards per rush, 5.7 per catch).

So I ask myself, “between these teams, who has a better chance to run and hide?” The answer is Dallas. And even if that doesn’t happen, the Bears are so lackluster offensively that a cover should always be within the Cowboys’ reach.

Under the circumstances, we are laying the points, as we continue with WagerWAR.

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