A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Apply extra pressure to rattle Eli Manning
Eli Manning’s six interceptions this season currently ranks him tied for first with Brett Favre for the league lead. He’s also been sacked 7 times — one less than Jay Cutler — sixth-most in the league. This game should present an opportunity for the Bears to do two things: shore up their pass rush which could mean a big game for Julius Peppers, and create some turnovers. Manning has some good weapons to throw to in wide receivers Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks. Smith caught nine balls for 103 yards on Sunday and Nicks is a big target who is tied for the league lead with four touchdown receptions. Manningham and Nicks have caught a combined 10 passes for more than 20 yards and both rank in the Top 12 (Manningham in the Top 3) in that stat category. In short, Manning can burn the Bears secondary unless they can put extra pressure on him.
2. Extra protection against Mathias Kiwanuka
From the the league’s No. 1 pass rusher to the No. 2, according to sacks, anyway, the Bears must face another tough pass rusher on Sunday night. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say Kiwanuka’s hot start will fade whereas the Packers’ Clay Matthews will stay among the league’s best throughout the season. Kiwanuka has recorded a sack in each game this season, which means he’s been applying pretty consistent pressure. Kiwanuka’s four sacks have accounted for all but two of the Giants’ total sacks this year. The Bears will face another tough defensive end opposite Kiwanuka in Justin Tuck, so the Bears’ offensive tackles will have their work cut out for them this week.
3. Contain Ahmad Bradshaw
The Bears have been criticized by many for what would be described as an inflated ranking for their league-leading run defense. I personally feel their run defense is certifiably good while others have claimed they haven’t faced any good backs yet. This week is their chance to prove they are the real deal. New York’s Ahmad Bradshaw is the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher with 253 yards. He has a 4.9-yard average and a long run of 39 yards. He’s broken three for over 20 yards and has rushed for 13 first downs, seventh in the league in that category. Even though the Giants can throw the ball with Manning, Bradshaw is averaging 17.3 carries per game — 11th most in the league — so the Giants clearly like to get him involved in the game plan.
4. Guard against complacency and the short week syndrome
The Bears are 3-0 and are riding an emotional high after winning a physical battle with a division rival on Monday night. Those are a lot of variables which often are the precursor to a letdown. But this isn’t a trap game because there’s no reason to look ahead to the next week. I’m confident the Bears are treating this game as a big deal. They’re still the underdogs despite their record being two wins better than the Giants and they publicly acknowledge that they’re still not getting any respect. I’m less concerned about mental mistakes in this one and more concerned about the health and endurance of the team following a short week of preparation.