Bears at Giants: What to Watch for on Sunday

Although NBC didn't quite get what they were looking for since the Bears aren't undefeated anymore, the NFL's new flexible television schedule makes Week 10's game a must-see. The Monsters of the Midway head into the Meadowlands to take on the NFC East-leading Giants. Here are 10 things to watch for on Sunday night in prime time.

1. Will Rex Grossman fix his footwork in the pocket?
Grossman has been hearing comparisons to Packers living legend Brett Favre ever since he was a rookie. But instead of the similar rocket arm and gunslinger mentality comments that Grossman is used to hearing, he seems to have picked up one of Favre's bad habits, as well. Grossman has been throwing off his back foot an awful lot lately, and although he has the kind of cannon that can make up for it, the ball has been sailing on him in two of the last three games. Until he starts getting his lower body in better position, his accuracy will continue to be inconsistent. No. 8 worked extra hard with quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson this week in practice, but it will be interesting to see if he puts the fundamentals on display against the Giants.

2. Is Brian Urlacher's sprained toe going to slow him down?
The Bears caught a break this week when an MRI showed that Urlacher survived that mangled mess of a dog pile against Miami with just a sprained toe. It looked like the defensive captain might miss some action, but although he's listed as questionable on the injury report, he should be ready to go for Sunday Night Football. Needless to say, Urlacher's game is predicated on speed and making plays from sideline to sideline. Chasing an elusive running back like Tiki Barber all over the field certainly won't make that toe very comfortable. Fellow linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer are going to have to seal the edges and step it up a notch in the running game to help their limping All-Pro.

3. When will we start seeing more of Cedric Benson again?
Benson really looked like the better tailback in the first half against Miami last week, yet Thomas Jones got almost all the action after halftime. Jones has played fairly well this season, but there have been times when he has all but disappeared. Benson features more of a bruising, straight-ahead running style, and with a beat-up Giants defense missing so many crucial pieces, he could be more effective in this game. The Bears have a grand total of one rush this season of more than 20 yards, so they need to do something in order to start picking up chunks of yardage on the ground. Jones will get the start once again, but if head coach Lovie Smith stands by the fact that this is a running football team, something has to be done to improve upon a rushing attack that ranks just 19th in the NFL.

4. Does this team have trouble stopping the run?
Not too long ago, the Bears ranked No. 1 in the NFL defending the run. But after getting gashed by the Dolphins a week ago and surrendering some big runs against the 49ers the week before that, they are down to seventh. And it wasn't just the fact that Ronnie Brown ran for 157 yards last Sunday, but he did so by blasting through gaping holes and breaking arm tackles in the secondary. Now they have to face Barber, who currently leads the entire league in rushing. If Barber has the kind of success that Brown did at Soldier Field last Sunday, it could be a long day for the Bears on defense. Especially since the elements could be a factor with heavy rain in the forecast.

5. Who is going to replace Bernard Berrian as the deep threat?
Berrian caught a pass on the first play of the game against the Dolphins, but he was forced to leave with bruised ribs. Little did Bears fans know that his absence would completely hamstring the passing game the rest of the afternoon. Every player in the NFL is fast, but Berrian has the kind of speed that stretches defenses and creates openings underneath for his teammates. Mark Bradley will finally be active again after missing a ton of time with a laundry list of injuries, and unlike Justin Gage, he possesses game-breaking speed and should get the opportunity to put it on display. If Muhsin Muhammad and Desmond Clark want single coverage to work their magic for the short and intermediate routes, Bradley needs to keep the safeties honest and put some pressure on the secondary down the field.

6. What has happened to the pass rush?
The Dolphins featured a patchwork offensive line last Sunday, so the Bears and their supremely talented defensive front should have had a field day. That wasn't the case. Joey Harrington was not sacked once and had enough time to throw three touchdown passes on the day. Just imagine who much damage Eli Manning could do to that secondary if given time to throw. Tommie Harris has to start making plays again instead of just occupying blockers, and youngster Mark Anderson needs to come back strong after being held sackless last week for the first time in five games.

7. How much will the Giants miss Amani Toomer?
Plaxico Burress got most of the headlines this week by disrespecting the Bears' cornerbacks in the New York papers, but he'll have a much tougher time with his receiving cohort on the sideline in street clothes. Toomer will miss the rest of the season after it was discovered he had a partially torn ACL in his knee. While he may not be the threat he was a few seasons ago, he is still a solid football player and has been making big plays in the Big Apple for quite some time. Burress himself is nursing a sore back, and tight end Jeremy Shockey has been hurting since training camp. David Tyree and Tim Carter will get more snaps than usual replacing Toomer, but Burress will really have to step up and be the primary target for Manning.

8. Are the Giants capable of suiting up 11 healthy defensive players?
The Bears are dealing with a few injuries right now, but the Giants have a veritable MASH unit on defense. They lost LaVar Arrington for the rest of the season in Week 7 at Dallas, and now they'll most likely be without both of their starting defensive ends. Michael Strahan is definitely out and Osi Umenyiora is presently listed as doubtful, so rookie Mathias Kiwanuka will get plenty of action in their absence. The linebackers are also banged up with Carlos Emmons and Brandon Short both questionable to play. Grossman has not played very well on the road this season, but since he'll be facing a fair share of second-stringers, this could be just what he needs to get back on track.

9. How will the Bears bounce back after the season's first loss?
While it's never good to lose a football game, especially the way the Bears lost last Sunday, at least they don't have to answer any more questions about finishing the season undefeated. This team's focus is winning the Super Bowl, not making history. Grossman in particular needs to have a good showing, otherwise, Bears fans will start clamoring for backup Brian Griese to get a chance under center. The running defense also needs to get back on track after being gashed the last two weeks, both times at home. Most of all, a sudden two-game losing streak will bring even more doubters of this team out of the woodwork.

10. Will Sunday's winner have the inside track for home-field advantage?
While a Giants victory will give them the tiebreaker over the Bears should both teams finish atop the NFC with identical records, Chicago has a much more generous schedule down the stretch. This three-game roadtrip will be huge, not question about it, but the final three games are Tampa Bay at home, at Detroit, and Green Bay at home. The Giants on the other hand, still have to travel to Jacksonville, Carolina, and Washington, plus they'll face Dallas, Philadelphia, and New Orleans at the Meadowlands. The Bears could lose this game and conceivably still get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but a win could just about guarantee a busy January at Soldier Field. More than anything, this matchup will go a long way in determining how Grossman handles the bright lights of prime time and deals with a playoff-like atmosphere in a hostile environment.

JC


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