Oct 012010
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Chicago Bears at New York Giants, October 3, 2010: As I feared, the Giants have been inconsistent to say the least in the first three games of the season. The reasons for this have primarily been the following:

  • On offense, the line has been way out of sync due to all of the time missed by the component parts in training camp and the preseason. This has been exacerbated by injuries to OC Shaun O’Hara and TE Kevin Boss.
  • On defense, just like in 2007 when it took time for the Giants to become used to Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense, the Giants are still adjusting to Perry Fewell’s new schemes.  In addition, the Giants are breaking in a new middle linebacker (Goff), a new weakside linebacker (Bulluck), and moved their previous weakside linebacker (Boley) to the strongside.
  • Finally, my big worry heading into 2010 was special teams and unfortunately I have not be proven wrong. The retirement of punter Jeff Feagles and the loss of returner Domenik Hixon were huge.  And the Giants still have not found a stud coverage special teams player along the lines of Reyna Thompson or David Tyree.

The good news?  I really think the offense and defense are starting to round into form.  As long as injuries don’t hit either unit hard, the team should improve as it gets farther into the season.  I still don’t buy the argument that many make that the offensive line is “over the hill.”  The biggest issue it has to deal with now is the growing pains for Adam Koets at center.  Getting Boss back was huge.  Defensively, the Giants have really flashed in two of the first three games.  I get the sense they are also rounding into form there as well.

But special teams?  This is the big question mark.  The Giants need Matt Dodge to improve and fast.  The blocking on kick and punt returns has been dreadful.  And coverage of kickoffs and punts hasn’t been much better.  Can they improve?

The 3-0 Chicago Bears head into the Meadowlands on Sunday night.  The Bears have outstanding special teams and a good defense.  And they have just enough offense to be dangerous at times.  But this is a game the Giants can and should win.  No disrespect intended to the Bears, but they are a very lucky 3-0 and have won ugly.  They have issues on the offensive line, in the secondary, and their quarterback can be a turnover machine.  The Giants are the more desperate team, night games at the Meadowlands tend to be far noisier, and the Giants will be honoring their past greats at halftime.

That all said, the Bears are perfectly capable of causing the Giants to drop to 1-3 on the season.  New York has to play physical, play smart, and stop shooting itself in the foot.  Given the state of the NFC and the NFC East, unbelievably this is not a “must win” game, but it is as damn close as you can get for a game played at the beginning of October.  Just get it done Giants!

Giants on Special Teams: The Bears have one of the best special teams units in football.  Their punting and kicking games are very sound.  And most ominous is the return ability of All-World Devin Hester on punts and Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox on kickoffs.  The mismatch here for the Giants is so great that there is a very real risk that special teams could be the deciding factor in this football game.

Let’s be brutally honest.  The Giants are not going to out-play the Bears on special teams.  The best they can hope for is to minimize the damage as much as possible.  In the punting game, this is where the Giants will really miss Feagles.  Tom Coughlin says he does not want Matt Dodge to punt to Hester, but Dodge has demonstrated very little ability to directional kick at this stage of his career (very few young punters and many veteran punters can’t do it).  What we have seen too much from Dodge is this – the low line drive straight down the middle of the field.  Hester has to be licking his chops.  Mr. Dodge needs to keep it together and just do the best he can.  The 30-yard punt out of bounds might not be such a bad thing on Sunday night.

On kickoff coverage, the Giants should benefit from the return of Chase Blackburn and possibly the activation of Brian Jackson, a corner who had been on the Practice Squad, but who stood out on special teams with the Jets in the preseason.  Coughlin has also hinted that some veterans may be added to specials.

One of the things that bugs me the most about the Giants’ special teams is the extremely poor blocking Darius Reynaud receives on punt and kick returns. The Giants need to give this guy a chance.  I don’t know if it is the players, or the coaching, or both, but the Giants need to get dramatically better here.

Every special teams snap could be the ball game.  That’s the way they Giants need to play it on Sunday night.  Hold your breath Giants fans and pray.

Giants on Defense: The Bears don’t run the ball very well (29th in the NFL) but they can throw it (5th in the NFL).  And Bears’ Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz is pass-centric. However, the Bears are not the Colts.  You can’t overplay the pass.  You must make sure that backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor don’t get started.  The Giants should be able to largely shut down the Bears’ ground game if they play physical and smart up front, especially given the Bears’ issues on the offensive line.  Stop the run and make the Bears one-dimensional.

The Bears can be dangerous at times on offense because they have a very good group of tight ends, led by Greg Olsen, who can cause all kinds of mismatches.  The Bears will actually use Desmond Clark at fullback quite a bit and he can also do damage catching the football.  So can the running backs.  There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Giants’ linebackers and safeties to cover well on Sunday night.  This is a game where the Giants need Michael Boley to make an impact in coverage.  Keith Bulluck is “doubtful” with turf toe and Clint Sintim is likely to be tested big time in coverage.  And Jonathan Goff’s coverage skills will be on the spot.  With Perry Fewell playing some of the ends (especially Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul) at linebacker, the Giants also have to be careful not to get either of these two in bad mismatches against a back or tight end.  The Giants may want to seriously consider playing much of the game in their nickel (yes, I know this is what I said for the Colts game).

The Giants’ corners, who are coming off somewhat of a disappointing performance against the Titans, will be challenged by the deep speed of the Bears at wide receiver. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox can get deep and put a quick six on the board.  In Perry Fewell’s schemes, the Giants tend to give up the underneath throw in order to protect more against the big play as well as allowing the defensive backs to read the quarterback more.  If the Bears (and their quarterback Jay Cutler) are patient and mistake-free, this could be a problem for New York.  You might see the Bears use the short pass all the way down the field.  But what the Giants have going for them is that Cutler is an interception machine at times.  If there was ever a game and a quarterback where you want your defensive backs reading the quarterback and playing the football, this is it.  The Giants have invested a lot of money in their defensive backs and spent much of the summer on conditioning these players to get the football.  Now is the time for it to pay dividends.  I get the feeling that Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are going to have a few chances here.

In order to help out the DB’s, the high-priced defensive line needs to get after the quarterback.  Osi Umenyiora, who is “questionable” with a swollen knee, needs to pick up his game. The Giants need strong pass rush efforts from Tuck, Kiwanuka, Canty, Cofield, Pierre-Paul, and the rest.  Make life uncomfortable for Cutler.  This is why the Giants have so much invested in the defensive line. (Late Note: Kiwanuka has been ruled out of the game with a neck injury).

Giants on Offense: It always seems the Bears are respectable on defense and this year is no different.  The Bears are giving up less than 40 yards rushing per game – giving them the #1 rated run defense in the NFL.  However, the Bears are allowing almost 280 passing yards per game (28th in the NFL).

The defensive strength of the team is DE Julius Peppers, DT Tommie Harris, MLB Brian Urlacher, and WLB Lance Briggs.  Peppers has been on fire to start the season and the Bears move him all over the place to create mismatches and confusion.  Unfortunately, Peppers also has a history of killing the Giants when he was with the Panthers.  Both tackles, who have struggled at times with elite speed rushers, will be very much on the spot.  So will the inside guys when and if Peppers is moved inside.  Harris is a three-time Pro Bowler who can also cause problems.  Urlacher gets a lot of attention, as he should.  But keep an eye on Briggs – an all-around player who can cover, blitz, and play the run.

Although the Bears are #1 in run defense, I would not eschew the running game.  Part of the low rushing totals against the Bears have been due to who the Bears have played.  That’s not to say that the Bears are not good against the run, but the Giants should not be afraid of running the ball.  Both Bradshaw and Jacobs had productive days against a previously stingy Titans’ defense.

It’s pretty obvious what the Bears are going to do… The same thing the Titans did.  Keep everything in front of the secondary.  Don’t allow the big play in the passing game and make the Giants drive the length of the field in 10-12 plays.  Count on New York to shoot themselves in the foot again with penalties, turnovers, dropped passes, etc.  The Bears are like the Titans too in that they are very chippie.  They will try to draw the personal foul on the retaliation.  Guys like Brandon Jacobs need to keep their emotions in check (except when it comes to dealing out punishment DURING the play).

Defensively, Lovie Smith and Perry Fewell have very similar styles: bend but don’t break.  The Chicago secondary is average at best so the Bears won’t isolate their corners on the Giants’ dangerous receivers.  What Coughlin, Gilbride, and Manning need to do is take what the defense gives them.  This offense is very capable of moving the ball 80 yards in 10 plays and putting 7 on the board.  Just do it!  Quick passes to Smith, Nicks, Manningham, and Boss.  Runs to Bradshaw.  Pick up first downs.  Get in the end zone.  For once this year, get on top early and dictate to your opponent!

Prediction: If the Giants are going to be contenders this year, this is a game they need to win.  Call me crazy but I think the offense and defense are getting into sync.  As long as the special teams can keep from imploding too much, the Giants win this game.  It should be the start of a nice little winning streak that gets the Giants back into first place.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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