When the Chicago Bears take the field Thursday night against the New York Giants, they will be doing more than just trying to right the ship after a two game losing streak. They will also be trying to answer critics who are assailing them for everything from having an offense that can’t seem to play a full four quarters to having a defense that is having difficulty in keeping the ball out of the end zone.
So how can the Bears answer those questions and stretch their record to 4-2 on the season? Here are their five keys to victory:
A Strong Start on Offense a Must
In Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints, the Bears weren’t able to get anything going offensively in the early going, only picking up one first down in their first five drives. They also coughed up the ball on a fumble by QB Jay Cutler deep in Saints territory, and as a result the Bears dug themselves a hole that they could not get out of.
They also got behind early against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, with their late fevered comeback attempt coming up just short.
Contrast those two games with their play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you can see the blueprint that the Bears must use if they’re going to knock off the Giants. In that game, Cutler was firing the ball all over the field, and the Bears’ line was giving him some great protection in order to survey the offense. As a result, the Bears racked up 17 points in the first quarter, and even though they backed off the gas a bit too much (always a concern when a team jumps out to a big early lead), the fact still remains that the early cushion was enough to let the Bears withstand some mistakes by their defense, and they won the game.
If they can do the same thing against the 0-5 Giants, it should be enough to finish the game off, and that’s what Marc Trestman and company have to be aiming for.
Forcing Turnovers Must Return to the Bears’ Arsenal
In Week 5, the Bears didn’t force any turnovers against the Saints, and as a result, New Orleans dominated possession, holding onto the ball for 36 minutes in the winning effort.
So much has been made of the Bears’ strategy on defense revolving around forcing turnovers that it would be silly to dig into it further here, but needless to say, they weren’t able to get any interceptions or fumbles against a very disciplined Saints squad, and the results spoke for themselves as New Orleans asserted their will all day on offense.
Meanwhile, the Giants are a team that simply cannot take care of the football. Eli Manning has already thrown 12 interceptions this year, and even though frequent fumbler David Wilson will miss the game for New York, they still have had plenty to worry about in the turnover category this season. If the Bears are going to right the ship against anybody, then it’s going to be this team, who is forcing the issue in the passing game because of deficiencies in the running game.
Clean Execution a Must in a Short Week
While the Giants have been turning the ball over constantly this season, the Bears have been battling the turnover bug at times as well. Week 4 against the Lions was a good example of that, with Cutler constantly overthrowing and underthrowing his targets as the Detroit secondary feasted on his largesse.
In a short week, execution becomes even more important, because there is a certain degree of sloppiness that generally occurs during these Thursday night games. Whether it’s failing to take care of the ball, not executing blocks properly, or any other tactical shortcoming, you can bet that teams will do some silly things when they don’t have a full week to prepare for their game.
As for the Bears, they are going to need to overcome all of that if they are going to dispatch the Giants tonight. That means that they are going to have to take care of the football (Cutler limiting turnovers), get a good pass rush going (Manning has been sacked 15 times in four games this season), and stay disciplined in their defensive assignments (Major Wright and Chris Conte need to be ready to help out the corners against the speedy receivers the Giants have).
If they can do all of those things, not only will they buck the trend of teams suffering the effects of a short week, but they should come out victorious too.
Keep Shea McClellin Upright
The Bears have been having all sorts of difficulty in stopping the rush when Shea McClellin is on the field, but his pass rushing from the defensive end spot hasn’t actually been all that great either.
That combination of factors has got to be particularly vexing to an organization that used a first round pick on the Boise State product in the 2011 Draft, and it’s become increasingly frustrating to Bears fans too.
A tactic that Mel Tucker Jr. used last week could be the secret to success for a struggling McClellin though. Instead of having him get set at the line with his hand on the ground, Tucker had him start out standing up, and the results, while not spectacular, were noticeable. McCellin got better push off the line, and even got into the backfield on a couple of occasions.
Odds are that McClellin isn’t going to be an All-Pro or anything crazy like that in his NFL career, but if the Bears are going to get the most out of him that they can, then they are going to have to be willing to keep experimenting with him as they attempt to work through a very lean period for their defensive line.
Can Podlesh Keep Building on Week 5?
Speaking of players who have been struggling at times this season, Bears punter Adam Podlesh had been kicking so poorly that the team actually brought in several punters to their facility at Halas Hall last week in a competition for his job.
No one impressed the Bears enough to pull the trigger on dumping Podlesh, but he clearly got the message, having arguably his best game of the season against the Saints in Week 5. His directional punting was much better than it has been, and he even pinned the Saints within the 20 yard line, which he has also had trouble doing all year.
Granted, one week isn’t enough to erase all of the struggles that he’s been having, but if he can continue to build on that and help the Bears’ special teams pin the Giants deep in their territory all night long, then he should put questions about his future with the team further to bed.