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Do the Giants even have a prayer against the Bears’ defense?

What to expect when the Giants have the ball against Chicago

NFL: Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants were supposed to get in to the “easy” part of their 2018 schedule after their bye week. The first half of their schedule was undeniably fierce, facing some of the best teams in the league in succession.

But then the second half would be easier. Supposedly.

And in fact, it has been. The Giants squeaked out a pair of victories against the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then the easy part of their schedule ended and the team went to Philly and lost yet another heartbreaker. Now they are gearing up to face the Chicago Bears, who are leading the NFC North. And while Chicago’s offense isn’t particularly fearsome, its defense certainly is.

Stats that matter

Giants’ offense

Bears’ defense

Keys to the game

Protect Eli

It is no secret that the Giants have not protected Eli Manning well all season. They had one of their best performances last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and it still resulted in two sacks and five QB hits on 37 passing attempts. But while that 19 percent pressure rate is better than the four sacks and six hits (on 18 attempts, or 55 percent pressure rate) the Giants gave up the week before, that is still a lot of pressure leaking through the Giants’ line.

Coming up against, arguably, the best defense in football, the Giants’ line needs to have a stand-out day.

Most of the attention will be paid to Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. Mack, as we all know, was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in a blockbuster trade just before the start of the season, and he has had a tremendous impact. Primarily rushing from the offensive left, he will routinely see Nate Solder in pass protection. Unfortunately for the Giants, Solder does not deal well with speed, of which Mack has in abundance, as well as ferocious power. That isn’t a matchup which favors Solder, and the Giants will need to roll protection his way more often than not. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Giants use more two-tight end or two back (12 or 21) personnel groupings, with a player either chipping Mack or outright double-teaming him on nearly every play.

The Giants will also look to double-team DT Akiem Hicks on the inside. While edge pressure gets all the attention, nothing wrecks a pocket passer’s game quite as quickly as interior pressure, and Hicks has quietly been one of the top interior disruptors in the league.

If it were just Mack and Hicks, a combination of double-teams, misdirection, roll-outs, and screens could let the Giants’ offense function somewhat as intended. But the Bears have 15 players with at least one sack, including EDGE player Aaron Lynch (with whom the Giants have struggled in the past) and rookie LB Roquan Smith, who has produced in every phase of defense.

There is also Leondard Floyd to worry about. Floyd was expected to take the next step and play at a Pro Bowl level in his third year with Mack on the team, but that just hasn’t happened. Fortunately, few things help an ailing pass rush get healthy quite like facing the Giants’ offensive line. Floyd will primarily face Chad Wheeler on the (offensive) right side, and his combination of length and athleticism will pose a problem for the second-year right tackle.

Protect the ball

No team steals possessions like the Chicago Bears.

The Bears lead the NFL with 20 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles, a combined 36 takeaways. They also lead the league with six defensive touchdowns in 11 games. Their defense is so good at taking the ball away and then depositing it in the end zone that it moves their team scoring from 11th in the league all the way up to fifth.

Free safety Eddie Jackson has five defensive touchdowns (two fumble recoveries, three interception returns), which is the most in the league since 2015 — and he has only been in the league since 2017. He already has two forced fumbles and four interceptions on the year.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller has five interceptions, while linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquon Smith have combined for an interception and two forced fumbles.

Khalil Mack has five forced fumbles while Akiem Hicks has three of them.

The Bears don’t just have one ballhawk or hyper disruptive player. Their defense is absolutely littered with them. The Giants can’t afford to let play the same kind of passive offense they have this year if they want to score enough point to win, but they also can’t afford to be reckless with the ball. Even safe plays have a chance to dangerous against this defense.

Don’t be fooled by disguises

For every blitz there is a counter. For every coverage scheme there are vulnerabilities. Despite what the Giants have shown on offense over the last three years, offensive football has a distinct advantage over the defense in the modern NFL.

The Bears have two distinctly different corners in Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. As Giants’ fans well know, Prince is a physical corner who excels in tight man coverage, when he is able to use his strength to throw receivers off their routes and disrupt the timing of the play. Fuller, on the other hand, is at his best in zone coverage. He doesn’t have Prince’s quickness and fluidity of movement, but he is very good at keeping his eyes in the backfield and playing is assignments in zone coverage.

The Bears also typically play sides with their corners, frequently lining Amukamara up on the offensive left while Fuller plays the offensive right.

With the two being best in opposing styles of defense, this would seem like an obvious weakness. However, they compensate by using their athletic linebacking duo to help in effectively playing mixed coverages — that is, playing both man and zone coverages on the same play — to cater to the strengths of both Prince and Fuller. But, to keep offenses from simply using man and zone beating concepts on the appropriate side, the Bears use disguises to force offenses to slow down. By muddying the pre-snap reads and hopefully slowing the post-snap reads, the defense forces the offenses to honor the fact that they don’t know what coverage they are facing.

The Giants have the advantage of having one of the smartest and most experienced quarterbacks in the NFL starting for them — despite Manning’s occasional confusing or over-aggressive decisions. The Bears won’t be throwing anything at Manning that he hasn’t seen before. And as stated previously, the offense has a counter for whatever defense thrown against it, and the Giants have the players to beat any defense in the league. But in this game, perhaps more than any of the previous games, the onus is on Manning to be sound in his decisions.

Don’t play scared

The Bears’ defense is formidable. Strike that, their defense is downright scary.

Khalil Mack is a perennial DPOY candidate. Akeim Hicks is a beast of a defensive tackle. Trevathan and Smith form one of the most athletic and productive linebacker duos in the NFL. Amukamara and Fuller compliment each other well, Eddie Jackson is the best in the league at captializing on offensive mistakes while Adrian Amos is a well-rounded and productive strong safety.

None of that should matter.

Pressure can be schemed around, and it doesn’t take much longer to throw a 15 yard pass than a 5 yard one — The offensive line certainly doesn’t have to hold for 5 seconds, or barely even 3. Few defenders in the NFL can match up with Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley. Sterling Shepard is an excellent route runner with great play strength and the ability to move like small receiver but play like a much bigger one. Time and again the Giants have gone into their shell and taken only what the defense has allowed them to have. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this season is that despite the obvious talent on the offense, they allow other teams to dictate the game to them.

They don’t need to, and if they want to have any hope of pulling the upset, they have to use their talent to dictate the terms of the game.