Bears' strength = Giants' greatest weakness
October, 9, 2013
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
Elsa/Getty ImagesGiants quarterback Eli Manning leads the NFL with 12 interceptions this season.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For one very specific reason, there is no worse team in the NFL for the New York Giants to have to face this week than the one they are facing. That team is the Chicago Bears, who welcome the Giants for a short-week game at Soldier Field on Thursday night, and the reason is turnovers.
Turnovers are a significant part of the sad, 0-5 story of the Giants' season so far. They have committed 20 of them, which is eight more than any other team in the league and puts them on pace to break the single-season record of 63. The Bears, meanwhile, have spent the past half-decade building a reputation as a defense that lives off of the creation of turnovers. So far this year, the Bears have 14 takeaways, which is the third-highest total in the league. They led the league with 44 last year and have averaged 37 per year over the past three.
"They do a great job," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who leads the NFL with 12 interceptions this season. "I don't know if it's something that's taught or the players talk about it, but they do a great job of stripping the ball of receivers, of quarterbacks, of anybody. They do a good job of causing fumbles. They get good pressure on the quarterback, which leads to some interceptions. They have good, aggressive cornerbacks and players, so I think you've got to be aware of that and know when to cover up with two hands and be smart."
The Giants have been careless, and not smart, with the football this season. And in spite of the departure last offseason of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who's now the Cowboys' defensive line coach, the Bears remain well equipped to take advantage of that weakness. Giants coach Tom Coughlin has made it a point the past few days in practice and in meetings to remind his players of how good and how determined the Bears are to take the ball away. It wouldn't be hard to blame him if he's having nightmares about it.
"Even though they have a different coordinator, it's still the same Bears," Giants guard Kevin Boothe said. "And what you see out there is defensive touchdowns and a lot of turnovers. I think their philosophy has always been to get the ball out, and they're still effective as far as I can see. We've obviously turned the ball over more than we should have, probably, for a whole season. So that's always a point of emphasis, and I think even more so this week."
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Bears are always among the league leaders in forcing turnovers. They've forced 14 through five games this season.
The question is what they can do about it. Manning, who's responsible for most of the turnovers, is watching as much film as ever and trying to spot consistencies in his mistakes so as to avoid them moving forward. He says it's about better decisions in critical moments, and he believes a lot of the issue can be addressed with better awareness and concentration, which won't be hard to muster given what he knows about the Bears.
"They are correctable," Coughlin said of the turnovers. "Sometimes, when you see an opportunity but percentages are against you, you can't take a chance."
On the flip side, where the Giants' defense ranks tied for 24th in the league with only seven takeaways, they're looking to draw inspiration from this week's opponent and take advantage of the chances Bears quarterback Jay Cutler likes to take.
"For sure, I think that's going to be huge for us," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "There are times when he tries to squeeze the ball into tiny pockets, and it's our job to make them pay for those. But we've also seen on film where there are times it's gone his way and he's made big plays by doing that."
Much the same as it is for the offense, it's about knowing when to take a chance and when not to. But for a desperate Giants team still looking for its first win of the season, a hyped-up, Bears-style defense might be a tonic this week if they can pull it off.
"We preach it every day," cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "And they're notorious for getting the ball out, so we want to be that type of defense this week to help out our offense."
The Giants' offense needs the help, especially against a team whose greatest defensive strength attacks their greatest offensive weakness. But fundamentally, which is where Tom Coughlin prefers to operate, it's about valuing the ball regardless of which side of the ball you're on. He's drawing inspiration from the Bears' most recent game -- a loss just three days ago to the New Orleans Saints.
"They're a very good football team," Coughlin said of the Bears. "Actually had a ton of yards the other day. But New Orleans had the ball for 36 minutes. New Orleans did not turn the ball over. New Orleans had two penalties in the game. That sounds like a reasonable formula, to me."
The issue is whether or not it's one the Giants are capable of duplicating. Based on the way they've played in their first five games, it looks like a nearly impossible task.