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Giants vs. Bears: What to expect when the Giants have the ball

Handling Chicago’s four-man pressure, running the ball effectively, are keys for Giants

Houston Texans v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2-1 Giants face the 2-1 Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium on Sunday before traveling to England for a Week 5 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. One of these two teams will have three wins (unless there’s a tie!).

New York failed to advance to 3-0 after losing to Cooper Rush and the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore got the best of Giants’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale in a winnable game, but the Giants are presented with another opportunity to get their third win in a winnable matchup at home against Chicago.

The Giants and Bears franchises have run parallel to each other for quite some time; they are linked by the 2021 draft trade that bestowed the Bears Justin Fields, and they’ve also hardly won football games and have both struggled on the offensive side of the ball.

Chicago hired a defensive-minded head coach - and former Colts’ defensive coordinator - Matt Eberflus to usher in a new philosophy in the Windy City. Eberflus called a more passive - yet effective - defense with the Colts.

Indianapolis ranked 27th in blitz percentage. Indianapolis failed to pressure the quarterback with four rushers and only had an 18.1 percent pressure rate, which ranked 31st in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts predominantly ran Cover-3, middle-of-the-field closed, type of looks while ranking 18th in man coverage, Cover-1. They also ran Cover-6 (quarter, quarter, half) ninth-most in 2021.

The 2022 Bears defense

The Bears have mainly maintained middle-of-the-field closed looks through three games with defensive coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears align in Cover-3 almost half the time on first down, with an overall Cover-33 percentage of 34.7 percent. They also align in Cover-1 44.7 percent of the time on third down, with an overall average of 31.6 percent.

From a personnel deployment standpoint, they’re relatively straightforward. Chicago has played about 65.8 percent of its snaps in nickel and 30 percent in 4-3 base. The Bears have used dime on 2.6 percent of their snaps, all on third down.

The defense has yet to call a Cover-0 blitz. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, the Bears have called one total blitz on defense; they rank 32nd in the NFL, yet they are seventh in pressure rate. Williams gets pressure sending four with twists up front. The quartet of edge defenders, including Robert Quinn, Al Quadin-Mohammad, Trevis Gipson, and Dominique Robinson, have been excellent this season.

Chicago’s defense currently ranks 12th in points allowed through three games, and they’re 20th in yards per game with an average of 358. The Bears defeated Trey Lance and the 49ers 19-10 in a Chicago monsoon in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers continued their dominance over the Bears in primetime with a 27-10 victory.

Houston traveled to Chicago for Week 3, and the Bears earned a defensive 23-20 victory. Defensive lineman Angelo Blackson knocked a Davis Mills pass out of the air for a Roquan Smith interception in the final two minutes to set Bears’ kicker Cairo Santos up for the game-winning field goal.

Chicago’s personnel

The Bears’ ability to rush the passer with four, and drop the remaining seven into coverage, is a vital part of their defensive philosophy. The edge defenders, along with starting defensive linemen Blackson and Justin Jones, work the twist game well to free rushers up and keep the opposing offensive lines guessing.

The group’s most talented and experienced player is Quinn, a respected veteran with six pressures and a sack in 2022. Gipson has become the pass-rushing specialist. He averages 25 snaps a game but has 10 pressures and two sacks in 43 pass rushing reps; that’s very efficient. Evan Neal may have his hands full again.

Linebacker Roquan Smith decided to return and play out the rest of his contract after a holdout. Smith, and LB Nicholas Marrow, have played all 196 snaps for the Bears. Chicago’s nickel package includes Marrow and Smith, both slightly undersized yet explosive.

The secondary was infused with youth in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Bears selected Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker and Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon; both have been solid through three games, albeit Brisker is still a bit undisciplined as a tackler (seven missed tackles). Gordon is the slot defender who plays in nickel.

Eddie Jackson plays opposite of Brisker and is a ball-hawk on the back end, roaming center field. Jaylon Johnson missed Week 3 but might be able to play against the Giants; he’s one of the more underrated young cornerbacks in the NFL. Kendal Vildor starts opposite Johnson (when they’re both active), and he’s an average player.

Giants’ offense

Daniel Jones played well in the Giants’ 23-16 loss on Monday Night Football against Dallas. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka did a great job coaching Jones to use his legs when he wasn’t spied. Jones rushed for 79 yards in important situations to give the Giants a chance to win, despite an offensive line that severely struggled.

The Bears align in a four-down over front with the three-technique to the strong side. The Titans used a similar front against the Giants, and New York ran for 200-plus yards. Running the football and using the option games (zone-read, RPO) to work down the field will likely be the Giants’ game plan.

Kafka has shown the ability to adjust his offense through three games. He uses a lot of familiar formations with different plays baked into them to keep defenses honest and guessing. I expect a lot of play-action rollouts off a - hopefully - successful rushing attack.

Chicago allows 5.44 yards per rush on first down. The Bears give up 4.76 yards per carry collectively, have three interceptions, six sacks, and four forced fumbles. Establishing the run with this Giants offense and protecting the football are imperative to success. Building passing plays off a successful rushing attack with the Giants’ best player could be the best course of action for victory.

If the Bears continue to run a high percentage of man on third down, expect Kafka to scheme free releases, as he did on this third-and-6 conversion to tight end Tanner Hudson:

Mesh-wheel is another very common play for Kafka, and it works well against man coverage. The Panthers ran Cover-3 against the Giants 28.6 percent of the time. Jones’ important third-and-10 conversion to David Sills was against Cover-3, as was the third-and-9 conversion to Richie James.

Jones did not always maximize Kafka’s play calling against that specific coverage that Carolina ran over 35 percent of the time on first down. Jones missed a seam-hitch on second-and-9 on the near Frankie Luvu interception that was wisely called. Kafka also called several reduced flat routes that were initially open but weren’t thrown. I expect the first-year offensive coordinator to continue in his attempt to exploit specific coverages used by opposing defenses.

Final thoughts

To the surprise of many, the Bears and Giants are over .500. Neither team commands much respect from national media, nor are the offenses consistent. However, both defensive units find ways to win football games, and the game on Sunday may come down to critical defensive plays, like Chicago’s Week 3 victory over Houston.

It’s a winnable game for both teams, but Chicago is more one-dimensional on offense, and they’re on the road. Suppose the Giants’ defense can shut down the rushing attack, presumably without running back David Montgomery. In that case, it will force second-year quarterback Justin Fields and a bad supporting cast to defeat Wink Martindale and his ability to generate pressure.