Bears offense vs. Giants defense
The Bears’ offense is ranked No. 11 in the league with 349 yards per game and ranks 13th in points scored with a 22-point average. When they score, they score quickly because their time of possession is ninth lowest in the league. It’s because of this quick-strike attack and the creative game planning and play calling of Mike Martz that I like the Bears in this particular matchup. The Bears have the opportunity to put up points in this game because the Giants are giving up 28.3 points per game on defense. That’s the third-highest total in the NFL. Jay Cutler and the passing attack will be tested because the Giants have the fourth-ranked passing defense, allowing just 169.3 yards per game through the air. This should be one of those games where Matt Forte and Chester Taylor can find some running room because the Giants have permitted a whopping 136.7 rushing yards per game. The Giants received some bad news on Friday that defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who is second in the league with 4 sacks, will not play this week because of a bulging disc. Osi Umenyiora, another defensive end, missed practice on Friday with a knee injury and he is questionable for the game. The Bears will still have to contend with end Justin Tuck and tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield, two large players that clog the middle. The Giants have a good pair of safeties in Antrel Rolle — from Arizona, whom the Bears were considering signing this offseason before adding Julius Peppers — and Kenny Phillips, a hard-hitting safety from the University of Miami who missed time last year but was second on the team in tackles in his rookie season in 2008. Cornerback Terrell Thomas had five interceptions last year and has one so far this season. He also has forced one fumble this year. This game features an interesting dynamic. Immediately upon the conclusion of last season, after Ron Turner was fired and Lovie Smith stepped down as the de facto defensive coordinator, the rumored front runner for the offensive coordinator job was Martz, under whom Smith worked as defensive coordinator in St. Louis, and the front runner for the defensive coordinator position was Perry Fewell, who was Bears defensive backs coach in 2005. Martz was the last man interviewed for the OC job and Fewell ultimately chose the Giants over the Bears. Now, these two men will face each other on Sunday night and I like Martz’s chances.
Bears defense vs. Giants offense
Opponents have rushed an average of just 18.7 times per game against the Bears’ defense, second-fewest in the league. The Bears also have the No. 1 run defense in the league, allowing just 39.7 yards per game. So, which one is the cause and which one is the effect? Are teams rushing less against the Bears because their run defense is so stout? Or is the Bears’ run defense so good because they’re not facing many carries? It depends on your outlook, but I personally think it’s more the former than the latter. With the high level at which linebackers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Pisa Tinoisamoa are playing, teams aren’t finding much running room and are abandoning the run. However, I’m going to throw a third factor into the discussion. I feel the No. 1 reason why teams haven’t attempted to run the ball as much against the Bears is because their pass defense is so easy to dissect. The Bears have allowed 279.3 yards per game through the air, fifth-most in the league. The Bears are running more Cover 2 this year because of the addition of Peppers and want to generate pressure from their front four. Unfortunately, they’re not doing much of that as they’re tied for last in the league with just two sacks. Ultimately, the most important defensive statistic is scoring, and the Bears rank No. 10 while allowing 17 points per game. Eli Manning will pose some problems for the Bears unless they can rattle his cage. He’s ninth in the league in passing with 270 yards per game and has thrown five touchdowns through three games. When he is pressured, though, he is prone to making mistakes. He is currently tied with Brett Favre for the league lead in interceptions with six. He’s been sacked seven times — sixth most in the league — and he has a modest 81.7 quarterback rating, which ranks him No. 18 in that department. Manning has some good targets in the passing game in wide receivers Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks. Each receiver leads the team in a particular receiving category: Smith in receptions (18), Manningham in yards (238), and Nicks in touchdowns (4). Smith and Manningham can stretch the field and Nicks is a huge target that could give the Bears problems in the red zone. Perhaps the No. 1 threat the Bears will have to contend with is running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw is sixth in the league with 253 rushing yards and averages 4.9 yards per carry. He’s built compactly at 5-9 and 198 pounds and is tough to bring down. He’ll surely test the Bears tackling ability. Bradshaw has also fumbled twice, so there’s the opportunity for turnovers. Considering the Bears’ No. 1 run defense and their defense that thrives on turnovers — I’m looking at you, Eli — I like the Bears in this matchup. The Giants do not have a good kick/punt returner as Darius Reynaud ranks 36th in punt return average and 50th in kick return average. Big advantage for the Bears.
Welcome back, Windy City Flyer. Don’t worry, Hester, when everybody else doubted you, I knew you were still the best man for the job and still one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL. This week, Giants coach Tom Coughlin announced that they would not be kicking to Hester and he had informed his punter to kick it out of bounds if necessary. Whether he’s telling the truth or just putting up a smokescreen doesn’t really matter. What it means is the “Hester Effect” is alive and well and the Bears’ offense ought to be starting with good field position all game, barring a turnover in their territory. Now, with a quarterback as good as Cutler and an offense that is capable of putting points on the board, teams will have to pick their poison and it starts with the Giants. Robbie Gould missed his first field goal of the season last week, a 49-yarder, but still ranks sixth with six field goals made. His counterpart, Lawrence Tynes, has converted just 2 of 4 field goals this year, ranking him second-to-last in the league. Brad Maynard has a 9.1-yard difference between his average and net average, a clear indictment of his coverage team. His specialty, though, is pinning opponents deep with directional punting and he’s sixth in the league with six punts downed inside the 20. His counterpart, rookie Matt Dodge, has just one punt downed inside the 20. He has a 33-yard net average, which ranks him No. 26. A rookie punter playing under the lights in prime time while staring down one of the greatest kick returners of all time could lead to a poor performance and a maybe a big night for Hester — that is, unless he follows his coach’s advice and kicks it directly out of bounds.
I’ve heard a lot of fear this week from Bears fans about facing the “big bad Giants” but as cautious as I try to be, I don’t see where the Giants can exploit the Bears for a victory. The numbers just don’t add up. We know the Giants will be able to move the ball through the air because almost all teams can do that against the Bears. Zone defense, specifically the Cover 2, prevents the big play but gives underneath patterns a nice cushion. So, opponents can move the ball down the field almost at will — if the defense isn’t applying pressure, that is — but the closer the opposing offense gets toward the end zone, the smaller the field gets for them and the less options they have. The wildcard in this game is Bradshaw. He’s a talented running back and the Giants want to get him involved but just how long will they stay with the running game? If the Bears’ defense is indeed the real deal against the run, the Giants may have to resort to passing the ball more. I don’t know if No. 91 will be playing this week or not but if his one-game absence this past week was used as a motivational ploy, hopefully it works out. Somebody has to step up and help Peppers out because he can’t do it by himself just like Cutler couldn’t do it by himself last year. Israel Idonije, Mark Anderson, Matt Toeaina, and Anthony Adams will need to play important roles in this game. On the other side of the ball, the Giants will be without their leading sacker but they’ll still be putting the heat on Cutler. One has to think that even a bad offensive line can improve throughout the season. When it comes to the coaching chess match between Martz and Fewell, I think Martz can take advantage. When you pair up a strong run defense, a defense that thrives on turnovers, one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the league, a dangerous punt returner that scares the opposing head coach, and a coaching staff that is doing a much better job this year than last, the Bears just have too much going for them.
Final Score: Chicago 24, New York 17