1) The Giants rank 31st in rushing offense this season and are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry as a team. Yet they are coming off their best rushing performance of the season last week against the Bengals. How dedicated will the Giants be to establishing the run game against Chicago’s run defense, which ranks 7th in the league in yards allowed per carry (3.7)?
The Giants finally broke 100 rushing yards in a game for the first time this season against the Bengals, and it was mostly thanks to RB Rashad Jennings who ran for 87 yards on 15 carries. The Giants realize that they are one-dimensional on offense which is why I see head coach Ben McAdoo still sticking to establishing the ground game. The Giants could be a very lethal offense if they can figure out the run, and whether it is Jennings or rookie RB Paul Perkins getting the workload, they will stay loyal to the ground and pound. Will it work this week? I don’t think so. The Bengals are 24th in the league in rush defense and the Giants, I think, took advantage of that. The Bears D-line and linebacker corps should be able to halt the Giants’ attempts at the run, but the G-Men will continue to try like they have all season long.
2) The Giants come into Sunday’s contest riding a four-game winning streak. What has been the key to their recent surge and is there any sense in the locker room that they could overlook a 2-7 Bears team, whose overall numbers are better than their record suggests?
It has certainly been the defense that has been key in this win streak at the moment. They come up with big stops in the red zone leading to three points instead of seven, they create turnovers, and of late, put pressure/sack the QB. All the cogs are turning properly on defense, and in turn, it sets up the offense with great field position allowing them to work at their own pace. There is always room for improvements, but the Giants have definitely found their identity on both sides of the ball. The defense, though, has been absolutely stellar and rightfully so considering the big payout GM Jerry Reese made to revitalize it in the offseason.
3) Second-year safety Landon Collins has four interceptions over the last three games. He also has 3.0 sacks and leads the team in tackles by a large margin, emerging this season as a playmaking game changer. Where has he shown the most improvement and how have the Giants utilized him defensively?
As a rookie last season, Collins led the Giants in tackles with over 100, so it is no surprise to me that he currently leads in that department. But, sacks and interceptions? That is something that has surprised everyone this season. However, looking at the current defensive scheme, it does make sense that Collins is making these big plays at the moment. The Giants use him as a box safety which basically means he is free to roam in the middle of the field depending on where the ball goes. Because of this, he has been able step up and make these big interceptions these past few games. He has learned to read the QB’s eyes and learn offensive schemes better which is where I think he has improved. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo trusts in Collins to roam and make the game-changing play, and this being only his sophomore year in the league, that is pretty amazing.
4) The Giants have only given up 12 sacks this season but they are one of the league leaders in pressures allowed. This week they’ll likely be without LG Brett Jones, while Adam Gettis will be less than 100 percent. The Bears pass rush has 9 sacks the past two contests. Can the New York front five keep Eli Manning upright on Sunday?
That, to me, is the biggest issue heading into this game. Justin Pugh was the best Giants’ offensive lineman before his injury, and now with Jones out, it will be hard to fill that position. The Bears have been able to hurt offensive lines especially ones that are hurting like the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. I expect Manning to get the ball out early to his receivers because of this gap in the O-line, but when they aren’t open, he better warm up those legs because he will likely have to scramble many times this game.
5) Odell Beckham is obviously the focal point of the Giants passing attack but Victor Cruz is still banged up and Sterling Shepard has not had more than 50 receiving yards in any game since Week 3. What can the Giants do offensively to stop the Bears from double covering Beckham all game long?
Victor Cruz was taken off the injury report for this matchup, but only game time will see if his banged up ankle has healed. In the case of Shepard, it has been a surprise that he has not been utilized much considering the buzz around him in preseason. But, Manning knows that Beckham Jr. will be the focal point and he has since the beginning of the season. This is spreads the wealth and simply hits the open receiver whether it be TE Will Tye or his many running back options. The Giants have many weapons in the passing game, and in the past few weeks, Manning has been comfortable throwing to all of them to drive down the field. Finally, where Beckham Jr. doesn’t make many catches in the middle of the field, he has been Manning’s #1 target in the red zone, so that is something to watch for.
6) The Giants only have 14 sacks as a team (30th in the NFL) and a safety leads the team in sacks. Jay Cutler is a turnover machine when pressured but is there any chance the Giants can collapse the pocket on him regularly?
The defensive line for Big Blue has really stepped it up in the past few weeks, and most of the credit can be given to the ends in Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. These two may not have the sack numbers that were expected before the season started, but they are constantly pressuring the QB. Currently, JPP ranks fifth in the league in QB hurries with 19 while Vernon is just two spots down at seventh with 18. Along with Spagnuolo’s blitz packages, I think Cutler will have tons of pressure early to try and create those turnovers. It worked against Bengals’ QB Andy Dalton Monday night, so I’m sure more of the same will occur. Vernon and JPP have improved by the week making them two players on defense to watch for Sunday afternoon.
7) The Giants have the 7th-ranked run defense in the league, while Bears rookie RB Jordan Howard is 2nd in the NFL in yards per attempt (5.3). How have the Giants been so successful stopping the run and can they limit Howard on Sunday?
I spoked about Vernon and Pierre-Paul’s ability to get to the QB of late, but all season long they have set the edge against the run game. It has been hard for opposing backs to get around the defensive line. The only option, then, is to go through the middle. However, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, who is one of the best run stoppers in the game, and Johnathon Hankins are there to stuff the lane. Along with the stellar D-line, the linebacker corps including defensive captain Jonathon Casillas has done a great job recognizing the run and attacking. Howard will be a test for the run defense, though, because not only is he powerful at 223 lbs, but he is crafty and can make a defense miss. I worry that if Howard can get passed the Giants’ D-line that he will have some running room to make players miss and have a chance for a breakout play. It definitely be a fun matchup to watch.