Two teams featuring embattled, high-profile quarterbacks and struggling defenses are on tap tonight when the New York Giants square off against the Chicago Bears at 8:25 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Giants are in desperate need of a win following a disastrous 0-5 start while the Bears are looking to put an end to their two-game losing streak.
Although there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Giants’ horrendous start to the season, Eli Manning is bearing the brunt of it, unfairly or not. Following a near-flawless opening stretch in his first season under new Bears head coach Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler has been anything but perfect and the offense has gotten off to slow starts in each of the past two games, both losses.
4 Things to Watch
Controlling the Clock
The Giants are last in the NFL in time of possession, keeping the ball for less than 26 minutes per game. The Bears aren’t too much better, coming in at 29:10, which places them 21st in the league. What this means is that each team’s defense has spent more than 30 minutes, or half, of every game on the field. Considering both units have had to deal with numerous injuries that have taken their toll on their respective depth charts, it’s really no surprise that both are in the bottom third of the total defense rankings. The Giants’ and Bears’ offenses are equally capable of moving the chains and putting some points on the board. Chances are whichever team has the ball longest tonight will do just that, and probably win.
Collapsing the Pocket
Eli Manning and Jay Cutler have been sacked a collective 24 times and have turned the ball over 23 times (18 INTs, 5 fumbles) through five games. Needless to say, they have made their share of mistakes in the early going. Getting pressure on the quarterback is the easiest, and often most effective, way to rattle a quarterback, but this has not been a strong suit for either defense thus far. The Giants have the second-fewest sacks in the NFL with five and the Bears are just one spot ahead of them with eight. The Giants’ defensive line has been surprisingly ineffective, as the trio of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have combined for three sacks. The Bears’ D-line has been beset by injuries, first losing All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and most recently Nate Collins to torn ACLs, and their main pass rusher, Julius Peppers, has just one sack. Someone from either the Big Blue Wrecking Crew or one of the Monsters of the Midway will need to bring the heat tonight, otherwise the quarterbacks will dictate the outcome of this game.
Can’t Be a One-Man(ning) Show
Eli will be the first to admit that he’s simply not getting the job done. No NFL quarterback can expect to win if he throws more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (8) week in and week out. That said, no quarterback can do it alone either, including big brother Peyton. While the older Manning is re-writing the record books with every game, he’s getting 117 yards rushing per contest and also has the support of the top defense against the run. Cutler has Matt Forté, one of the most versatile and productive running backs, at his disposal. Eli meanwhile is getting 57 yards rushing per game and the backing of a defense that’s allowing nearly 400 yards and more than 36 points per game. Granted, his turnovers (14 total) have certainly not helped, but the bottom line is the Giants have to figure out something on the ground so that Manning doesn’t have to throw the ball 40 times every game. That’s easier said than done, however, as the Giants will be without leading rusher David Wilson, who will miss tonight’s game because of a neck injury. That leaves Brandon Jacobs (2.2 ypc) and Da’Rel Scott (3.5 ypc), re-signed this week, to get the job done. Manning may want to make sure his arm stays loose.
Hurry Up, Offense
Chicago got off to a 3-0 start thanks to two fourth-quarterback comebacks in the first two games and then putting 40 points on the board against Pittsburgh in Week 3. Two of the keys to these victories were a fast start by the offense and keeping the score close early. The Bears scored at least a touchdown in the first quarter of each game and trailed by no more than seven at the half. In the past two games, both losses, the Bears scored a total of three points in the first quarter of both games and were outscored 50-20 by the Lions and Saints in the first half. Last week the Bears had just two first downs more than halfway through the second quarter and dug themselves into a 20-7 halftime hole they couldn’t get out of. The time of possession disparity has already been documented (see above), so a quick, and productive, start by Cutler and company would not only get the Bears off on the right foot, but also would prevent the Giants from building any much-needed momentum.
New York Key Player: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
To be fair, the Giants’ defensive line as whole isn’t getting the job done, as evidenced by their collective four sacks. The star of the show, however, is Pierre-Paul, and he hasn’t been anywhere near the disruptive force he was two seasons ago. In 2011, JPP staked his claim as one of the NFL’s rising stars following an All-Pro season highlighted by 16.5 sacks. He managed just 6.5 sacks last season, as the Giants’ defense dropped all the way to 31st in the league. He underwent back surgery in June to repair a herniated disc, but was back on the field for the season opener. He’s also been dealing with a knee issue and it’s apparent he hasn’t been the same player that he was just two seasons ago. Pierre-Paul has one sack, which came in Week 1, and a total of 13 tackles in five games. Without a consistent pass rush or the threat of Pierre-Paul coming in and making the big play, offenses have gashed the Giants on both the ground (126 ypg) and through the air (269.2 ypg). Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is not known for his ball security (3 lost fumbles) in the pocket and the Bears have struggled some with pass protection over the last two games. With the Giants desperately needing a win, this is the perfect time for the 2011 JPP to make an appearance.
Chicago Key Player: Julius Peppers, DE
Just as Jason Pierre-Paul is for the Giants, Peppers is the key component to the Bears’ defensive line. The highest-paid player on Chicago’s roster, Peppers has amassed 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, he is on pace for about three this season, as he has just one through five games. Peppers didn’t even register a single tackle last week against New Orleans, his second such no-show this season. The Bears’ defensive line has been hit hard by injuries with All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and his replacement, Nate Collins, both lost for the season because of torn ACLs. Chicago’s defense has fared pretty well against the rush (98.2 ypg), but is giving up about 280 yards per game. A more consistent pass rush would make the linebackers’ and defensive backs’ jobs easier in coverage, and Peppers needs to lead the way in that department. Halloween is still three weeks away, but Bears fans would love to see a monstrous effort from Peppers tonight.
The Giants aren’t the only winless team left in the NFL, but other than the Steelers, no one needs a victory more than Tom Coughlin’s battered and frustrated bunch. Although the Bears have dropped two in a row and the defense has allowed at least 340 yards in each game, Chicago hast two new things New York doesn’t – a more productive running game and three wins under its belt.
With Matt Forté leading the charge, Jay Cutler doesn’t have to carry the load, while Eli Manning once again is forced to try and keep the Giants in the game by throwing on nearly every play. It won’t look pretty, but the Bears take care of business at home and Coughlin’s squad becomes the first Giant team since 1976 to start 0-6.
Chicago 27, New York 17