Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Giants

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Giants

1. Finally get explosive plays on offense. 

Only four teams have allowed more plays of 20 more yards than the Giants (50) in 2019, though the Bears have played two teams that’ve given up more: The Raiders (56) and Lions (52). And the Bears managed only two plays of 20 more yards in each of those games. 

The 24 plays of 20-plus yards totaled by the Bears’ offense is the second-lowest in the NFL (only ahead of the Dolphins). It’s perhaps the best measure of just how deep the rot in this offense goes — explosive plays require good blocking and proper execution from all 11 players on the field, as well as the right play call to counter-act the opposing defense.

So there hasn’t been much evidence through 10 games that those explosive plays will come on Sunday, even against a leaky Giants defense. But if the Bears can find a way to generate more than two or three chunk plays, they’ll be well on their way to their best offensive game of 2019. 

2. Shut down Saquon Barkley. 

Barkley has been victimized by an ankle injury and suboptimal offensive line, but it’s still jarring to see his numbers over his last five games: 72 carries, 175 yards (2.4 yards per carry). The 2018 No. 2 overall pick had the benefit of resting up on the Giants’ off week, so it’s possible his ankle will be closer to 100 percent with a 14-day layoff leading up to Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

The Bears’ run defense hasn’t been the same without Akiem Hicks, ranking 12th in rush defense DVOA, and this group has had its issues against guys like Josh Jacobs, Latavius Murray and Todd Gurley. Getting out to an early lead would help limit Barkley’s impact, but in the absence of that — the Bears’ offensive has been horrendous early in games — this front seven will need to make it isn’t gouged on the ground. 

Otherwise, it'll allow the Giants' offense to find a rhythm, and will make it hard to ...

3. Score on defense. 

Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has fumbled 10 times — 10! — over his last four games, with three of those fumbles being returned by the defense for touchdowns. Jones has only thrown two interceptions in that span, but ball security is a serious issue for the 2019 sixth overall pick. 

The Giants will likely do whatever they can to keep Khalil Mack — who says he aims to sack the football, not the quarterback — away from Jones. But Jones’ penchant for fumbles should be known by the other 10 Bears players on the field, so if Nick Williams or Roy Robertson-Harris or Leonard Floyd or Roquan Smith get a shot at the Giants’ quarterback, they should do so knowing they’ll have an opportunity to get the ball out. 

For the Bears’ sake, hopefully they practiced scoop-and-score drills this week.

Prediction: Bears 20, Giants 16. 

The Bears have taken care of business against the worst teams they’ve faced this year — Washington and Detroit — and the 2-8 Giants should be no different on Sunday. But the 4-6 Bears are beyond merely needing to take care of business. This is a team that needs not just a win, but a convincing win, to lessen the bleakness of the final six games of 2019. 

A four-point win over an atrocious Giants team in which the Bears’ offense doesn’t score more than three touchdowns — which they haven’t all year — wouldn’t feel like that. But that’s been the story of the 2019 Bears so far. 

Why would it change on Sunday? 

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Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Well, that probably felt good. 

The Bears were apparently none too pleased about being scheduled as the Packers' opponents on the night that Brett Favre was getting his number retired at Lambeau Field. In front of a packed crowd, on the (so rainy) holiday nightcap, the Bears outlasted Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in what'll surely be the most rewarding win of the upcoming 6-10 season. Here's whose arrows are up and down in the 17-13 win: 

ARROW UP – The Bears, just in general 

Good for the (4-6) Bears! They were still technically In The Hunt, but this wasn't a particularly strong team and boy is it disrespectful to be scheduled on Favre's big night. Things never break the Bears' way in this rivalry, and especially not in Green Bay. On a nationally-televised, holiday game no less? The Bears never, ever win this game. It wasn't "a good example of football" or "fun to watch," but the luxury of winning is you don't have to remember the details. 

ARROW DOWN – The passing game 

Cutler threw for 200 yards, and would have had a good bit more if there weren't so many drops. The constant, unrelenting rain that came down throughout this game obviously made the football hard to catch,  but the Bears dropped more than a couple balls. Alshon Jeffery was guilty of a couple, and Jeremey Langford's drop on 3rd and 2 in the 2nd quarter stood out as especially egregious. 

ARROW UP – Pat O'Donnell 

Eight punts for my man Pat. Eight! He racked up 323 yards while averaging 40.4 yards per punt on a night when special teams can get messy. The Packers faced tough field position all night – starting eight of their 12 drives within 20 yards of their own end zone – and O'Donnell was a big reason why. 

ARROW DOWN – Run defense 

To be fair, Eddy Lacy is huge. Lacy ran for 105 yards on 17 rushes, his longest rush of the night going for 29 yards. He was also useful out of the backfield for Green Bay, catching four balls for 34 yards – 25 of them coming on a touchdown in the first quarter. According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, this was the run defense's worst performance (36.5) of an otherwise okay season (74.1). Shea McClellin (27.7) and Christian Jones (33.8) were graded particularly poorly, though McClellin finished second on the team in tackles. 

ARROW UP – The secondary

Kyle Fuller was targeted twice in 78 snaps, and didn't allow a reception. Tracy Porter got a rare interception off Aaron Rodgers, and would have had two if not for a penalty negating the play. Bryce Callahan had an up-and-down game, but the corner had his moments and played well in coverage on the final play of the game. 

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

The best way for the Chicago Bears to take full advantage of the Khalil Mack era is to give him a competent pass-rushing running-mate who can consistently win the one-on-one opportunities he's certain to face.

Former first-round pick Leonard Floyd couldn't do it, and that's why he's no longer a Bear. It's also why Robert Quinn, who totaled 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 2019, was signed to a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency.

But was it money well-spent? According to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, the answer is no.

“This isn’t a knock on the player, [but] I didn’t love the signing of Robert Quinn,” Urlacher said on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy show . “I liked him, he had a great season last year, really good football player. I just – you paid Khalil [Mack] all this money, he gets all this money. Akiem Hicks is a badass in the middle, making all this money. I understand you get rid of Floyd. But do you need to spend that much money on another guy up front?

“I would think you could find someone to put pressure from that side. Khalil is getting two guys no matter who is over there anyway, and with Akiem back, it’s going to be different. Once he’s healthy, we all saw how much he meant to their defense when he wasn’t in there.”

Urlacher's points are certainly valid, and a healthy Hicks should give Chicago's defense the extra juice it was lacking for most of the second half of last season. But there's also a flaw in Urlacher's reasoning. If having two 'badass' pass-rushers is great, then adding a third can result in something truly special.

Quinn has the potential to be the final piece that the Bears' defense needs to go from great to truly elite. He's registered five seasons with at least 8.5 sacks.

Did the Bears pay Quinn too much? Did they go all-in on a player who's battled injuries before last year's resurgence? Maybe. But it's a risk worth taking, especially considering how dominant this team can be if Mack and Quinn stay healthy in 2020.