Chicago Bears: New York Giants
Desperate teams make for intriguing matchups, which might be exactly what we see Thursday night at Soldier Field, when the winless New York Giants face a Chicago Bears team coming off two consecutive losses.
The Giants are off to their first 0-5 start in more than 20 years, while the Bears hope to get back to the positive vibe created by a 3-0 start. After Thursday, the Bears will play only one game in 24 days as they travel to Washington on Oct. 20, before taking their bye the next week.
ESPN.com’s Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Giants reporter Dan Graziano break down the matchup.
Michael C. Wright: No team has ever started the season 0-5 and made the playoffs. My guess is everybody in that locker room believes the Giants can be an exception to that. What’s the feeling in the locker room and is there genuine belief the Giants can right the ship?
Dan Graziano: I think the Giants are shell-shocked, Michael. I don't think, in their wildest imaginations, they could ever have expected to be 0-5 with 20 turnovers and a minus-100 point differential. I truly don't believe they know where to put themselves or how to handle this situation. Last week, with a division game in front of them and an 0-4 record, there was talk of being able to fight their way back into things. Now, when you ask them about that, they say they don't even want to think about whether they can make the playoffs. It's all just, "We just need to win a game -- find a way to win one game." Things are truly awful with the Giants on every level right now, and the worst thing about what they've done is the 20 turnovers -- most of any team in the league. With that in mind, I'm inclined to think that Chicago is absolutely the worst possible place in the world for them to have to go on this particular short week. Am I right? Is the Bears defense the same kind of turnover-generating monster it was in the Rod Marinelli days?
Wright: You might be, Dan. But at the same time, the turnovers seem to have dried up somewhat. The Bears forced 11 takeaways during their 3-0 start, but over the past two games, they’ve taken the ball away three times, and had no takeaways Sunday in the loss to New Orleans. Given New York’s penchant for turnovers, and the fact that takeaways have been ingrained in the culture of this team’s defense dating back to the start of the Lovie Smith regime, I’d guess the Bears find a way to force at least one turnover in this game. The Bears lead the league in points off takeaways (55), rank No. 1 in takeaways (14) and since 2004, have returned more interceptions for touchdowns (28) than any team in the NFL. So despite the recent drought, the Bears still field a turnover-producing defense.
Speaking of turnovers, Dan, Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions. Why? Is it the result of bad luck, bad decisions? Is he just forcing things and trying to make a play because of the team’s dire situation?
Graziano: After Sunday's game, Tom Coughlin said he really believes Manning is trying to do too much -- to take too much of the responsibility on himself. And honestly, I think that excuse held up a lot through the first four games, as several of the interceptions came when the team was well behind late and he had no choice but to try crazy throws to get them back into it. But Sunday was flat-out weird. The score was 22-21 Eagles early in the fourth quarter when Manning threw his first interception, and it was the first of three he would throw in the span of nine throws. The whole game fell apart as a direct result of those plays, and Coughlin also pointed out that Manning was flagged for three costly intentional grounding penalties in the game. Coughlin called Manning's mistakes "demoralizing" to the team, and it was clear he was uncomfortable criticizing the quarterback with whom he has won two Super Bowls. I think Manning is a quarterback who's just not comfortable right now, and his performance may be a symbol of the team at large as one that finds itself in uncharted territory and unsure of what to do and how to act. This all started because of a horrible offensive line that's still not doing its job, but Manning's errors Sunday were largely unforced, and I think they're evidence that the problems are snowballing.
How about the Bears? They looked so good those first three games and now have lost two. They also looked more vulnerable to the pass rush Sunday against the Saints. The Giants have only five sacks this year and aren't the fearsome pass-rush unit they were in the days when they were able to sack Jay Cutler nine times in a single half. But will they get opportunities to turn it around Thursday night? Or do the Bears protect Cutler better than they used to?
Wright: The protection is definitely better under Marc Trestman, who prioritized keeping Jay Cutler clean from the first day he became head coach. The Saints definitely got to Cutler early on, sacking him three times in Chicago’s first 12 plays from scrimmage. But after that, the protection held well and didn’t surrender another sack. Give New Orleans coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan credit for devising a few blitzes the Bears admitted they weren’t prepared for. Chicago’s offense is almost exactly the same as the system run by the Saints, so Payton likely gave Ryan some pointers about the scheme’s vulnerabilities in protection. The offensive line has given up nine sacks through the first five games. Last year, they’d given up that many in the first two games. So I wouldn’t count on the type of performance we saw a few years ago when Cutler absorbed nine sacks in that brutal first half against the Giants. This is a much-improved offensive line, bolstered by an offensive scheme designed to get the ball out of Cutler’s hands quickly.
Since we’re being a little nostalgic here, what about Tom Coughlin? Under Coughlin, the Giants have been in these types of situations before where they’ve struggled, but later rebounded wonderfully. Aside from the losses, what’s different about the current situation?
Graziano: I think you see symptoms of decay on the lines, and to me that means the problems run deeper and will take a long time to correct. Yes, they're 0-5, but they're also 3-10 in their past 13 games dating back to the midpoint of last season. The offensive line is a wreck, and they haven't developed replacements for their aging and injured guys. The defensive line doesn't get sacks anymore (Jason Pierre-Paul has one in his past 11 games), and they haven't developed anyone in the pipeline on that side either. These are foundational problems that are showing up and killing this team, and the only way to fix them is with a few good drafts. The Giants, I believe, are embarking upon a painful rebuild, and I'm fascinated to see if they can accomplish it while Manning is still in his prime, and take advantage of whatever window he has left.
Coughlin's going to get to coach them as long as he wants to, however, as a result of the two Super Bowl titles. But how about the Bears' first-year coach? What's different there with Marc Trestman at the helm this year?
Wright: The biggest difference is the level of trust Trestman has established among the players -- Cutler, especially -- in such a short period of time. It has totally changed the culture in the locker room, and you see evidence of it every day at Halas Hall. In the past, coaches rarely stepped foot into the locker room, but now, you see coaches in there every day chatting with the players. Most important, Cutler totally believes in what the team is doing offensively, and that certainly wasn’t the case in the past. You can see that in the way Cutler reacts to adversity. In past years, the Bears had a tendency to go into a tailspin when they fell behind or when Cutler was taking sacks or turning the ball over. Not anymore. The Bears put together come-from-behind victories in their first two games, and in the past two losses, the club rallied from horrid starts to get back in serious contention. Trestman is definitely a very cerebral coach, and almost every player in that locker room raves about him being a good listener.
"In the preseason those catches don't get you any extra checks," Bennett said with a smile. "In the regular season those catches do. We'll take it up a notch. We're not even showing our full hand right now. It's a poker game right now. We have the advantage not showing our hand so nobody knows what our offense is. We are just running basic plays."
Bennett proved during his one season with the New York Giants that he can be a reliable target; he had 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns. That 2012 success convinced the Bears to sign Bennett in free agency to a four-year, $20.4 million contract, a move that was necessary after the club struggled to get adequate production and consistency from its No. 1 tight end last season.
The Bears' first-team offense has run approximately 30 plays in the preseason, hardly a large enough sample size to panic over Bennett not getting the football thrown his way. But when the regular season rolls around, Bennett promises that quarterback Jay Cutler will know when he's open down the field.
"He sees me; I'm 6-foot-7, a big black guy running down the middle of the field. He sees me," Bennett said. "I wear white gloves so he can see the white gloves when I wave them like Mickey Mouse. I clap when I'm open. So I do enough to let him know that I'm open when I have to tell him.
"Even when I'm not open I tell him I was open."
2. J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer appear to be the left side of the offensive line: Unless the tape shows something we didn't see, the Bears look as if they are going to go with Webb at left tackle and Spencer at left guard, the same combination that started every preseason game up to this point. Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal did get some time with the rest of the starting offensive linemen, but Webb and Spencer saw the bulk of the action. Since the regulars barely play in the preseason finale, is switching up the line even an option at this point? Only Mike Tice knows if Webb and Spencer showed him enough the last few weeks, but time is of the essence. If the preseason were a week longer, maybe the Bears could drag out the “competition." Thankfully, the preseason ends next week and a decision on the line is due, if it wasn't already made leading up to the Giants game.
3. For some reason the Bears can't run the ball: It is only the preseason, but even with the powerful backfield combination of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Bears haven't been able to run the ball this summer. Why? Forte had eight carries for four yards in the first half when he faced the Giants' No. 1 defense. Only when New York put in its reserves to start the second half were the Bears able to move the ball on the ground. All the upgrades at wide receiver are nice but the Bears still want to be a team that runs the football. The club pumped a lot of money into Forte and Bush with the idea of being a balanced offense that can beat you through the air and on the ground.
4. Julius Peppers can still turn it on: Peppers has been quiet so far this year. The Bears have done a good job preserving the defensive end by allowing him to occasionally sit out certain contact portions of practice. A lightened practice load, coupled with the fact Peppers never showed up to lunch for media availability during the Bourbonnais portion of camp, kind of made the veteran an anonymous figure. But Peppers jumped off the screen Saturday night when he blew up an end around play and tossed a Giants wide receiver down for a 13-yard loss on a play that nearly resulted in a safety. Those are the kinds of plays Bears' fans expect to see Peppers make on a weekly basis.
5. Ryan Quigley stepped up in a tough spot: Lovie Smith went out of his way to mention Quigley's performance in his postgame press conference which should give you an idea how impressed the head coach was with the undrafted rookie punter's performance. Quigley punted the ball seven times for an average of 43.6 with a long of 50 yards. Not bad for a rookie thrust into the starting role when Adam Podlesh injured his hip flexor last week. A strong argument can be made that Quigley deserves to again handle all the punting next week in Cleveland, and then, who knows. Podlesh's injury isn't believed to be ultra-serious, but there is always a chance he could miss a little time in the regular season. Did Quigley show enough for the Bears to consider letting him open the season as the No. 1 guy, if necessary? One thing is for sure, Quigley didn't hurt his chances with that effort against New York.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's difficult to truly gauge whether the Chicago Bears failed their most significant test of the preseason Friday in a 20-17 victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
It's also important to note the Bears leave MetLife Stadium fairly healthy with no major injuries reported by the team.
“We're doing some things, but not good enough,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said at halftime.
The question now is whether the team can turn things around before the start of the regular season.
Chicago's defense allowed the Giants to convert 43 percent of third downs in the first half, which led to the Bears falling behind 17-7 at the half. Giants' rookie David Wilson averaged 9.8 yards per attempt against the Bears, while Matt Forte -- playing behind an ineffective line -- rushed for four yards on eight attempts in the first half. That's right, 18 inches per carry.
“We're in a good place. We're heading in the right direction,” Cutler said. “We just need to clean up a few things. Really, it's communication things, which (are) the easiest part to clean up.
Physically, we're in the right place. We're doing the right things. We just have to execute a little better.”
What it means: The Bears need to make several corrections and adjustments over the next 16 days with the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts looming. Realistically, the club exhausted its last real opportunity in the preseason to make live-game evaluations on potential starters because the Bears won't play any of the front-line contributors in the exhibition finale Aug. 30 at Cleveland.
Typically, the bottom of the roster is decided by performances in the final game of the preseason.
What's next: Roster cuts come Monday, with the team needing to trim its current 90-man roster down to the 75-player limit. Over the next few days, the club will engage in preparations for the final preseason game at Cleveland, with roster cutdown to the final 53-man limit coming on Aug. 31.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Chicago Bears trotted out the starters and drove 59 yards on their opening drive of the second half for one of two Robbie Gould field goals in a third quarter that made the score 17-13.
Re-inserting offensive line starters J’Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer, who had given way in the first half to Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal, the Bears used seven plays to move into position for Gould’s 30-yard field goal with 11:02 left in the third quarter to make the score 17-10.
Gould booted a 48-yarder for the club’s second score of the quarter.
Quarterback Jay Cutler completed 2 of 4 for 24 yards during the club’s first scoring drive against a Giants defense comprised of backups. But back-to-back incomplete passes to Michael Bush and Earl Bennett stalled the drive, leading to the Gould field goal.
The Bears took out the starters on offense after the early scoring drive, and plugged in Jason Campbell at quarterback, Armando Allen at running back and receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and Rashied Davis. The Giants, meanwhile, entered the third quarter working their reserves on both offense and defense.
Cutler ended his night with 96 yards through the air on 9-of-21 passing to finish with a 72.7 rating. Although the offensive line allowed pressure and struggled to open holes for the ground game, the unit managed to prevent Cutler -- who didn’t suffer any sacks -- from absorbing unnecessary punishment. Matt Forte rushed for 39 yards on 10 attempts, but 24 of those yards came on one run in the third quarter against the Giants’ backups.
Campbell, meanwhile, completed 2 of 5 for 17 yards to lead Chicago’s second scoring drive of the quarter.
Quigley, replacing injured Bears punter Adam Podlesh, had his kick blocked at the 23-yard line.
Eli Manning marched the Giants 58 yards on 10 plays in the previous possession culminating in an 11-yard scoring pass to Ramses Barden for New York’s first touchdown of the game and a 10-7 lead.
The drive consumed 6:14 and included a 7-for-7 passing display by Manning.
The Bears offense, meanwhile, with Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal replacing J’Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer on the left side of the line, went stagnant with Jay Cutler going 2-of-9 in the quarter for 14 yards.
Matt Forte, meanwhile, had 8 carries for 4 yards rushing for the Bears, who had 101 yards of total offense in the half – 72 yards passing and 29 yards on the ground.
Bears pass rush: Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of last week’s game against the Washington Redskins was the play of veteran defensive end Israel Idonije, who registered 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble deep in Redskins’ territory that the Bears eventually turned into a touchdown. With Giants left tackle Will Beatty expected to be sidelined with back issues, the Bears defensive line, led by Idonie and Julius Peppers, could be in store for another big night. This is also another chance for defensive tackle Matt Toeaina to impress the coaching staff as Stephen Paea remains out due to a sprained ankle, as well as Nate Collins, who has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp. Even though Collins is set to be suspended for Week 1 of the regular season, the Bears will strongly consider holding a roster spot for the athletic tackle.
Ryan Quigley: This is a wonderful opportunity for the undrafted rookie free agent punter out of Boston College to put some good punts on film. That being said, the odds of the Bears opening the season with a punter without any NFL experience -- in the event Adam Podlesh has to miss a few weeks because of a hip flexor strain -- are not very good. A more likely scenario would be for the Bears to pick up Spencer Lanning if he fails to win the starting punting job in Cleveland, or eventually place a call to Brad Maynard after Week 1. The Bears might already have their punter plan in place, but a good effort by Quigley on Friday would help out his prospects of being an NFL punter.
Or does it?
After all, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams -- candidates for the starting job -- still face Osi Umenyiora, who in 2010 tied for the team lead in sacks (3) during a Week 4 massacre at the site of Friday’s game, in which the Giants racked up an NFL-record nine sacks of Cutler, in addition to knocking him out of the game in only one half of action.
Despite playing nine games in 2011, Umenyiora finished the season with nine sacks.
“Yeah, I don’t think (the absence of Pierre-Paul hurts evaluation of the left tackle position),” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “As you said, they still have good players. When one goes down, another steps up. So (I) don’t think that will really affect too much. As you’re evaluating guys, if they’re both playing against the same guy, you can get a good evaluation, and that’s what we’re getting.”
Pierre-Paul missed practice on Wednesday with his back issue. The defensive end has had back spasms in the past.
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Although a minor injury kept Rachal on the sidelines for several days leading up to the Redskins game, he and Williams were on the field together at various points with the rest of the members of the Bears’ first unit. Tice said Monday he plans to use a similar rotation when the team travels to the New York area for Friday's game.
“I can always get better in some areas, but I feel I played pretty aggressive, strong,” Rachal said. “That’s what I critique my game after is being a mauler. But like I said, there’s always room for improvement.
“I just picked up the system recently, but as far as bonding with the guys, I think we’re getting along pretty good. My thing was just coming from a different system and learning different terminology, stuff like that, so it’s been pretty good. I’m always ready. When my number’s called, I go out and help my team the best way I can. That’s why I prepare hard every day. I work so in the event that they do need me, I can step right in and won’t miss a beat.”
Rachal started 38 games at right guard the past four seasons for a San Francisco 49ers offense that produced three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for tailback Frank Gore. Originally a second-round choice of the 49ers out of USC, the 6-foot-5, 323-pound Rachal is known for his physical play along the interior of the offensive line.
Rachal smiled when asked if Tice appreciates his nasty style of play.
“Most definitely,” Rachal said. “I try to let that speak for itself.”
Impressions of RB Michael Bush: "I think he has a little quicker feet than anyone anticipated, making the guy miss in the hole. That kind of threw us for a loop just watching it. He's a hard worker, he's a professional. He can do it all; he can catch passes. He's a sleeper. You never really know and then he turns it on on game day and makes plays for you."
Offensive plan against Redskins: "The 3-4 (defense) is designed to stop the run. It's hard to run against the 3-4 with spacing and with the blitzes that they bring. We wanted to go into it throwing. That was the game plan: throw and see if we can get them out of it. We got a lot of big plays out of the running games which is unexpected. We thought we were going to get most of it through the passing game. Going into the game with the game plan we had I thought we ran the ball well."
Will rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery take playing time from veterans?: "We've got a lot of weapons. We're going to rotate those guys in. Alshon is a guy that's coming on. He's playing well for us, but he's a different type of receiver than Devin (Hester) and Earl (Bennett) and Eric Weems and some of those other guys and Dane (Sanzenbacher). We're going to use him in spots where we think he's going to be successful and when he's not we're going to put Devin and some of those other guys in there and throw them the ball. There's plenty of routes and plenty of opportunity for everybody."
Feelings on possibility of NFL starting season with replacement referees: "I'd like to see the regular crews out there. I think everyone would. It's a high-paced game, and they've got to make split decisions. It's not an easy job by any means. I know a lot of us give them a hard time, including myself. The replacement officials have come in and they've been critiqued from game to game and they will probably continue to do so. Whether (a deal) gets done I don't know. We all hope it does. If it doesn't we're just going to have to work with the replacement officials and try to have some clean games."
"I don't think anyone else in the league has five, six guys that can rotate in that front four that can play like those guys," Cutler said. "So it's going to be a tough test for them.
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