Bears In-foe: Money well-spent thus far for Giants defense

Bears In-foe: Money well-spent thus far for Giants defense

Last year’s second straight 6-10 finish included eight Giants losses by six or fewer points, and five blown fourth quarter leads.  The 6,725 yards they allowed was the third-most in league history, which included an NFL-record 4,783 passing yards allowed.  The 442 points given up was topped only by the 501 points allowed by the 1966 version of the Giants.

Opening wallets in free agency for a quick fix doesn’t always work.  How does $200 million on that side of the ball alone sound?  So guess what? They’re 11th in points allowed (20.4 per game), 16th in total defense, allowing just 92 yards per game on the ground (7th) and lead the NFL right now in red zone defense, allowing touchdown just 42 percent of the time.  And those fourth quarter problems of 2015?  They’re allowing an average of 5.33 points in that period, compared to 8.75 a year ago.

This team is just 30th in the league with only 14 sacks, but coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was given another chance by Ben McAdoo, with all those new pieces to play with. Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed after being limited to half a season a year ago, better dealing with a hand damaged from a fireworks accident. Olivier Vernon was signed away from Miami for $85 million, and he has just three sacks, which still shares the team lead.  Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Pro Football Focus’ top D-Lineman against the run, got a $46.5 million payday.  Linebackers Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins ($62.5 million) picked up off-season paydays and nametags as well.  But the greatest impact player on that side of the ball is last year’s second-round draft pick. 

Landon Collins was the latest product of Alabama’s safety factory, and (with the help of a better surrounding cast) has been terrific. He has four interceptions (third in the NFL), all in his last three games, including one for a touchdown.  He leads the team with 60 solo and 74 overall tackles.  And who’s tied with Vernon for the team sacks lead?  Collins.

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Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each have eleven passes defensed, but Spagnuolo’s trying to throw first-round pick Eli Apple into the fire through injuries as the starter at corner opposite Jenkins.  Let’s remember the Giants reportedly had their eye on Leonard Floyd with the 10th overall pick last April before the Bears traded up to ninth with Tampa Bay to grab him, leaving the Big Apple left with Apple.

Joining Collins as a not-to-be-overlooked defensive incumbent amidst all the off-season spending are tackle Jonathan Hankins (tying Vernon with five tackles for loss) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who’s second on the D in tackles.

Special Teams

The way things are going for these two teams right now, it might be a reach to think this game might go down to the wire.  But who knows?  Perhaps the Giants take their foot off the gas looking at a three-game stretch facing the Bears, Browns and Steelers (a combined 6-&-22).   How delicious would it be to have it all come down to a field goal attempt by either Connor Barth, or the man he replaced, Robbie Gould.  The Bears’ all-time scoring leader had a couple of other opportunities before the Giants flew him to London four weeks ago in the wake of the Josh Brown domestic violence case.  He’s only attempted one field goal, making it, while being perfect on all nine extra point attempts.

Dwayne Harris is one of the league’s better kickoff return men (two touchdowns last season, and fifth this year with a 25-yard average), but he left Monday’s game with a toe injury, so his status on both return teams will be one to watch as the week progresses.  The Bears and Giants are, statistically, the two worst punt coverage teams in the NFL right now.

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox


Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

If there was any doubt that the Bears are the most popular team in Chicago, allow the events of Wednesday to serve as further evidence.

After hitting the upright an astonishing four times in Sunday's win against the Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey practiced at Soldier Field Wednesday night. That's not the crazy part.

The Bears kicker taking to Soldier Field to practice on a weeknight drew multiple news helicopters. Both WGN and ABC 7 got footage of a kicker practicing.

Earlier in the week, Parkey said practicing at Soldier Field "can't hurt." Now that he went through with it, we can find out if he thought the extra reps ahead of Sunday night's game against the Vikings were worth it.

Who knows how this Bears this season will end, but the Bears are certainly back in the spotlight of the Chicago sports scene.