The New York Football Giants suffered through a disaster last week against Tennessee, dropping to 1-2 on the 2010 campaign. Week four is a new week, though, and with a new week comes the challenge of stopping the 3-0 Chicago Bears in the first Giants primetime game in the New Holy Land.

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What To Watch For:
— Bears Pass Rush Vs. Giants O-Line

Or, more specifically, Julius Peppers versus the Giants’ tackles. Peppers can bring pressure from either side of the line. He’s a freak of nature. Everything about his game, everything that he brings to each play, makes him the complete package as a defensive end: his rare combination of size and speed; his arsenal full of both finesse and power moves; a non-stop motor; his mere presence on the defensive line. Peppers’ combination of size and speed off the edge will cause Kevin Gilbride and offensive line coach Pat Flaherty to have major headaches this week coming up with effective blocking schemes. That lethal combo, mostly the speed area, is exactly what Dave Diehl can’t block. The Giants offensive line and backs will need to know where Peppers is on every play. No one in the Giants backfield, except maybe Hedgecock, is good at picking up blocks on pass plays. Pass protection – especially against Peppers, but also against the entire Bears pass rush – will be the most important facet of Sunday night’s game for the G-Men.

If the Giants can fully limit the pressure on Eli, he and his receiving corps can pick apart the Bears’ secondary. Chicago ranks 28th in the NFL in passing yards against – allowing 279.3 yards per game through the air – and thus far opposing quarterbacks have completed 67.7% of their passes. If the Giants give Eli enough time in the pocket, it will give his receivers’ routes time to develop. That spells a Big Blue victory.

— Giants Rushing Offense Vs. Bears Run Defense

Coming into this week’s game, Chicago boasts the NFL’s #1 run defense, allowing just 39.7 ypg. Opponents have ran the ball 56 times against the Bears, and they’ve given up just 119 yards on those carries – that’s an average of only 2.1 yards per carry. Chicago’s secondary, as I noted above, has been dreadful so far. If the Giants can be successful in establishing the pass early, the Bears will be back on their heels and susceptible to the ground game. The punishing (not really “punishing” as of late. but maybe this week…) rushing attack of Brandon Jacobs could be exactly what the Giants need to wear down this stingy defense. And when that happens, the Giants will hit them with Ahmad Bradshaw on draws and checkdowns for big gains. Remember, Gilbride: pass early, pass often, smash them in the mouth after.

Key Players: Jay Cutler (CHI); Ahmad Bradshaw, Eli Manning

CHI: If this were 2007, Cutler would be fearing for his life on Sunday with all the pressure he’ll be bound to face from the Giants’ front four. It’s so unfortunately not 2007, but just like that year the strength of this defense lies in the trenches. The talent is certainly there, and the week one performance against Carolina was reminiscent of ’07; yet the last two games has seen a severe underperformance from this unit. When the Giants are only rushing four, they haven’t gotten any pressure whatsoever so far this season. None at all. There will be a handful of plays where Cutler slings a pass over the middle on a three-step drop, but this is a Mike Martz orchestrated offense built on the seven-step drop and pushing receivers down the field. Chicago wants to spread the field and the ball deep – and they don’t mind their quarterback holding onto the ball long enough for the passing lanes to open.

The Bears don’t run the ball very often, and – when they do run the ball – they don’t do it very well. Running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor will not win the game for the Bears; as always, the Giants will stop the run. Martz doesn’t pay much attention to pass protection, and the Bears offensive line is unspectacular anyway.

Perry Fewell’s Cover Two scheme lives off of pressuring the quarterback. Cutler, however, has so much faith in his arm that he’ll throw in the pocket off of his back foot. Justin Tuck noted that Cutler and co. have been successful in the passing game so far, “even though he is throwing a lot of balls that could’ve been and should’ve been picked off.”

After last week’s debacle, in which there was no pressure on Vince Young at all, Big Blue’s front four will come out firing this week. Key on Tuck throughout, who added, “We’re going to have some one-on-ones, we’re going to have some opportunities, it’s all about what we do with those. I’ve seen him hit a lot of times, I’ve seen he should have been sacked a lot more times than he has been…” As a defensive lineman, that’s gotta get you fired up.

The Giants pass rush should get plenty of opportunities to pressure Cutler, and force him to make mistakes. With the Giants d-line aggressively attacking Cutler, the secondary will be playing aggressively as well. Kenny Phillips once again looks like the kid from Miami; he’s all over the field. And after Antrel Rolle’s meltdown last week, I’m sure Coughlin had a nice chat with him about humility, and what it means to be a Giant. Look for him to do his talking with his play (between the whistle, Antrel) this week. With Martz’s wide-open passing system, combined with the Bears’ small, speedy wideouts, Chicago has found success early and often this season. However, you can stop speed right where it starts. “You want to stop their speed, that’s how you negate speed,” Terrell Thomas said this week. “You stop ’em at the line of scrimmage, it messes up the timing, and then you let our boys up front eat. You want to hit the receivers at the line of scrimmage.” I hope Perry Fewell was listening, and he lets Thomas and Corey Webster do what they were drafted to do – play press coverage.

NYG: Entering this week’s game, Ahmad Bradshaw ranks 6th in the NFL in total rushing yards (2nd in the NFC behind the one and only Purple Jesus). He is the key player to this game on offense for Big Blue. He’ll get a large majority of the touches out of the backfield, and as we’ve seen so far this season he’s dangerous in the open field with the ball in his hands. If the Chicago pass rush ends up getting a lot of pressure on Eli, screens and check downs to Bradshaw will slow that down. And once the passing game is successful, Bradshaw will get the opportunity to make some big plays in the running game.

This week it will also be important for Eli to be much more accurate than he’s been (and for the receivers to catch the ball). Given that our running game – Bradshaw and Jacobs as a whole – has not been up to standards so far, it will be essential that Eli and his receivers are effective early and throughout. Chicago’s linebacking unit has two studs: Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. It will be key for the Giants’ receivers to work the sidelines, as the Bears linebackers will be aggressively patrolling the middle of the field.

If we can establish the passing game first against this defense, then that will maybe open up some lanes in the running game. Look for plenty of draw plays and screens to Bradshaw – especially later in the game – if the passing game has been effective to that point.

Injuries:

LB Keith Bulluck is “doubtful” with turf toe; for those not informed on how the injury grading scale works, here you go:
“Probable” = “He’ll more than likely play”, as in, “If the game was today he’s playing.”
“Questionable” = “It’s uncertain right now if he’ll play.”
“Doubtful” = “We doubt he’ll play”, as in, “If the game was today, he’s not playing.”

Hopefully that clears things up to those of you wondering how “doubtful” and “questionable” don’t mean the same thing.

Bulluck was still holding out hope that he’ll play, though: “I’ve only missed two games in my career. To miss a game or miss a practice, it kind of means something to me.”

I love that guy. Continuing with the 2010 injury trend, Osi is having (more) knee issues (again), and he is listed as questionable. Tuck is playing through a sore shoulder. Kiwanuka is officially out with a bulging neck disc as of today. Of the Giants six sacks in 2010, Kiwi has four. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out for, but Chris Mortensen is reporting Kiwi could miss the remainder of this season. Also on the injury report is DT Rocky Bernard (back), who is listed as “questionable”. And suddenly the Big Blue d-line is running very thin. Shaun O’Hara (ankle/Achilles) is out, and Will Beatty is recovering from foot surgery.

If Osi is out, on top of Kiwi already being out indefinitely, reserve defensive end Dave Tollefson figures to get tons of playing time this week, as well as rookie Jason Pierre-Paul.

Vegas’ Take: Vegas is inviting you into a trap to take the Bears, as this week’s line has the Giants as 3.5-point favorites.

Quick Note:

The Giants will enshrine 30 Big Blue Legends in a Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday night’s game. This is the first time the Giants have had a Ring of Honor. The entire list of 30 will not be revealed until Sunday, but the team released the names of six players/coaches earlier this week on Monday: Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, Pete Gogolak, Tiki Barber, Frank Gifford and Bill Parcells. The Ring will be displayed in the endzones at each Giants home game; I’m guessing on LED screens. There are a few obvious choices, but it will be interesting to see who the remaining 24 are.

Fearless Projections:

Ahmad Bradshaw: 85 rush yards, 1 TD; 35 receiving yards, 1 TD
Justin Tuck: 2 sacks
Jay Cutler: 2 INT

Prediction:

Giants 24
Bears 17

If Any Given Sunday taught us anything, it’s that football is a game of inches. If Calvin Johnson holds onto the ball in week one, the Bears start 0-1. If the Cowboys weren’t underachievers, the Bears are 0-2. And if Mike McCarthy decides not to make a generous donation, Da Bears are suddenly 0-3. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that “you are what your record is”. But this is an exception to that rule. There’s starting 3-0, and then there’s a just barely 3-0. If a just few things went differently, we’re looking at a 0-3 Bears team and the entire city of Chicago on a manhunt for Jay Cutler’s head. I’ll also be the first to tell you that it’s not who you play; it’s when you play them. Chicago is coming off of an emotional win on Monday night against Green Bay, and with three wins in as many games their confidence is sky-high. The G-Men have had two straight performances that can only be described as “disasters”. Logic says the Bears will roll.

However, the Bears will suffer from a Monday Night hangover, and last week’s Giant mistakes will be corrected. Jay Cutler’s middle name will once again be “turnover”. Eli will torch the Bears’ secondary through the air, which opens up running lanes for the rushing attack. And the pass rush, that recently seems more like a “past rush”, will once again return to form. The Bears have one last drive with 2:00 remaining, but Cutler forces a bad pass for his second pick of the night.

I hope I’m right.

Let’s Go Giants