Saquon Barkley

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 unlikely to dodge Saquon Barkley in Week 12

Bears unlikely to dodge Saquon Barkley in Week 12

The New York Giants pulled off a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday that was led by rookie QB Daniel Jones, who was making the first start of his NFL career after replacing Eli Manning earlier in the week.

New York's 32-31 victory came at a price, however. Superstar running back Saquon Barkley suffered a high-ankle sprain that will keep him out of the lineup for potentially as long as eight weeks.

If it takes Barkley the full eight weeks to recover, his first game back will be at Soldier Field against the Bears in Week 12. And while that would seem like a stroke of bad luck for Chicago, it really isn't.

It usually takes a player who's returning from a high-ankle sprain a few games to get back to 100% confidence. And while Barkley is hardly the common player, he, too, is likely to have some hesitation early in his return to the field.

The best-case scenario for the Bears is to face a Barkley-less Giants. But that doesn't appear likely barring a setback in his recovery. And if Jones plays the rest of this season the way he did against the Buccaneers, Week 12's game will be a much tougher matchup for Chicago's defense than anyone would've imagined when the schedule was released during the offseason.

Imperfect 10: How will Senior Bowl, Kirk Cousins' availability affect the Bears' draft plans?

USA Today

Imperfect 10: How will Senior Bowl, Kirk Cousins' availability affect the Bears' draft plans?

With both the Senior Bowl and Super Bowl completed, it’s time for another mock draft as teams begin preparing for the draft and free agency in earnest. Check out John "Moon" Mullin and my first mock here, which came before the Senior Bowl. 

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
1/22 mock: Darnold

No change here, as Darnold — despite a relatively disappointing 2017 at USC — will head to the NFL Combine later this month as the best quarterback on the board. 

2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
1/22 mock: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Allen struggled at times during practices leading up to the Senior Bowl, but then completed nine of 13 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the actual game. He probably has the best arm in this class, and the rest of his physical tools are off the charts, but accuracy was issue No. 1 for him in Mobile. So for now, I’m sending Rosen to New York, which should be an excellent landing place for a quarterback to develop under Pat Shurmur and Eli Manning. 

3. Indianapolis Colts: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
1/22 mock: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

The Colts have holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but since there’s not a tackle worth going this high, the next best thing Chris Ballard could do to help Andrew Luck is draft the best running back in this class. 

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
1/22 mock: Barkley

If the Colts move to take Barkley, the Browns could look at the measly seven interceptions their secondary had in 2017 and try to address that with Fitzpatrick, who picked off nine passes in three years at Alabama. 

5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
1/22 mock: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

I though Mayfield did a lot to boost his stock during Senior Bowl practices, which is worth noting because he was working with the Broncos’ coaching staff. Getting that direct Mayfield-to-Allen comparison in January could help sway them toward the 2017 Heisman winner come April. 

6. New York Jets: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
1/22 mock: Rosen

Kirk Cousins will be playing somewhere besides Washington in 2018, and the Jets have loads of cap space to blow. So in this scenario, Cousins winds up in New York, solving the Jets’ quarterback quandary, and they’re able to add the best pass-rusher in the draft to a defense that only generated 28 sacks in 2017. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
1/22 mock: Nelson

Davenport got off to a slow start at the Senior Bowl, but he’s a freak athlete with loads of raw skill that may push him into being a top 10 pick come April. Tampa Bay had the fewest sacks (22) in the NFL last year. 

8. Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
1/22 mock: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Is No. 8 too high to take a guard? That’s the bigger question with Nelson than how good he is. The Bears would need to cut a veteran offensive lineman to make this pick work (Josh Sitton or, if they were to shuffle Kyle Long back to tackle, Bobby Massie), but upgrading the offensive line is an important piece of Ryan Pace’s offseason puzzle. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand developed Nelson at Notre Dame and it’s not unreasonable to think pairing the two back together could produce a Pro Bowl offensive lineman from Day 1 in Chicago. The other thought here: If Allen is still on the board, could the Bears trade down to a team in the market for a young quarterback, like the Arizona Cardinals?

9. San Francisco 49ers: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
1/22 mock: Sutton

If Ridley is still on the board, he could be the guy here, but Sutton was hugely productive in college and would be a huge get for Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan’s offense. 

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
1/22 mock: Smith

No change here, either, as the Raiders spring for an elite inside ‘backer to plug into their defense.