When the New York Giants host the Chicago Bears on Sunday, there is going to be a lot of focus on what the Chicago defense can do against the Giants offense. But limiting the damage on the other side of the ball will be just as important for the Giants and under head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears have figured out multiple ways to inflict damage to opposing defenses.
Numbers that matter
The Bears, surprisingly, are not a frequent user of play-action — just 22 percent of passes, which ranks 19th. More surprisingly, they’re not that good at it. Chicago has averaged just 6.0 yards per play on play-action passes (30th) and that’s 1.3 yards below the average on non-play-action passes, which is the biggest negative difference in the league.
But their 7.4 yards per play on non-play-action passes ranks eighth and just because there’s not play-action doesn’t mean they don’t try to manipulate the defense with misdirection. The Bears offense excels with pre-snap motion and diverse formations to keep the defense on its heels.
Against the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Bears had a first and goal from the 10. Running back Taquon Mizzell started in the slot to the right, motioned through the backfield, and finished in the inside slot to the left of the formation. With a linebacker following, the Bears know it’s man coverage and now know the quick hitch route from Allen Robinson will work as a pick and free Mizzell in the end zone.
On a third-and-13, the Bears came out in a 3x1 look with a trips bunch to the left and Allen Robinson isolated to the right. Detroit had two deep safeties, but at the snap, Chase Daniel started his progression to the left and the outside receiver ran a crossing route that held the safety to the right just long enough to allow Robinson to get open one-on-one down the right sideline for a gain of 29.
Chicago is still mostly an 11 personnel team (three wide receivers, 61 percent of the time) but they’ll make sure to move those players around the formation and pre-snap to create the matchups they want to exploit.
Pick your poison
The Giants have a huge DVOA split against opposing wide receivers this season. They’re the worst in the league defending against opposing No. 1s but they’re first against opposing No. 2’s. That’s not really a Janoris Jenkins/B.W. Webb split, either. Jenkins, though considered the Giants’ No. 1 corner, hasn’t really followed opposing top receivers this season. He also hasn’t been particularly productive in pass coverage. His 39 percent success rate in coverage is 66th among 69 qualified cornerbacks per Football Outsiders. Webb’s 51 percent success rate is better, but still below average for starting corners.
Chicago doesn’t really have a No. 1 wide receiver, though, at least by workload. Allen Robinson could be considered the most talented receiver on the roster, but he’s just third on the team in targets (62) though he did miss some time with injury this season. Taylor Gabriel is the team leader in targets (69) and receptions (51) and he’s been the deep threat this season after being used as more of a gadget piece earlier in the season.
Both of these players have the ability to play all over the offense, including in the slot where they won’t see Jenkins or Webb in coverage. That will be Grant Haley’s responsibility. In a limited sample of 12 targets this season, Haley has a 67 percent success rate in coverage.
Producing with pressure
The Giants haven’t been a team able to create pressure outside of Olivier Vernon and the Bears haven’t really been a team that has allowed much pressure this season. Per Football Outsiders, the Giants are 18th in defensive pressure rate and the Bears are sixth in offensive pressure rate allowed. Mitchell Trubisky was able to take that to an above average sack rate, thanks a lot to his ability to use his legs to escape pressure and scramble. But Chase Daniel was sacked four times last week against the Lions for a 9.8 percent sack rate. Daniel is not as mobile as Trubisky, so getting to the quarterback will have a bigger impact than it would with Chicago’s normal starter under center.