5 things to watch in the Chicago Bears-New York Giants game, including 2 powerful running games — plus our Week 4 predictions

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			5 things to watch in the Chicago Bears-New York Giants game, including 2 powerful running games — plus our Week 4 predictions
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The Chicago Bears and New York Giants, playing under new head coaches Matt Eberflus and Brian Daboll, are two of eight NFL teams that missed the playoffs in 2021 but have started this season 2-1 or better.

The Bears and Giants will meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium with a chance to build on those starts. As kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.

1. Players in the spotlight

Saquon Barkley and Khalil Herbert

Barkley is looking more like his old self than the one who was limited to 181 carries for 627 yards in 15 games the last two seasons because of injuries.

The Giants running back has 53 carries for 317 yards and two touchdowns over three games, including 164 rushing yards against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Stopping Barkley will be a big task for a Bears run defense that has allowed 157 rushing yards per game.

“He has big thighs, he has great contact balance, he can hit home runs — so he can take it the distance,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “The one thing that I do see that maybe I am not sure that I saw years ago, they feed him the ball in the passing game also. So he’s well improved there and they try to bring pressure and he blocks. He’s a complete back.”

On the flip side, the Bears running game is second-best in the NFL with 186.7 rushing yards per game. Herbert didn’t miss a beat when top running back David Montgomery went down against the Houston Texans last week, totaling 157 yards and two touchdowns.

With Montgomery missing practice Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury, the Bears likely again will count on Herbert to drive the offense.

“He has a cool patience about him,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “Coach (David Walker) does a great job with those guys and training their eyes where they’re supposed to be. But Khalil’s got a really cool patience about him that he’s able to let things happen and make it feel like he’s not necessarily going full speed but he is, which then allows him to make cuts and read off the blocks of guys really well.

“But to me what stood out (against the Texans) compared to the other ones was his ability to make the first defender miss, whether that was a stiff arm, whether that was running through a tackle, whether that was a make-you-miss move, that was the biggest improvement this week.”

2. Keep an eye on …

The Bears pass rush versus Daniel Jones

Eberflus said this week that the six sacks the Bears have through three games isn’t enough, noting that beyond getting their four-man rush going, the pressure has “got to come from everybody.”

This week could be a good opportunity for a spark.

In the Week 3 “Monday Night Football” game, the Dallas Cowboys pressured Jones on 24 drop-backs, according to ESPN. The Giants quarterback was hit 12 times and was sacked five times. He has been sacked 13 times this season and completed 59 of 92 passes for 560 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Defensive line coach Travis Smith said the Bears won’t mimic the Cowboys but will try to seize the opportunity to affect the quarterback while being true to themselves.

“If we do the things that we’re coached to do, the things we’ve been doing all week, then it should be a really good game for us,” Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones said.

“We’ve got to stop the run though. That’s the only way to get sacks. That’s at the forefront of our minds right now is stopping the run, making sure we keep Saquon in the box, populating to the ball. Stop explosive plays. If we get them back between second-and-long, third-and-long, those are where we want to be.”

Even though the Bears are gearing up to challenge the Giants, who will be on short rest, Williams is cautioning his players not to think it will be too easy to get to Jones.

“Good coaches solve problems,” Williams said. “And so I try to tell our guys not to go into the ballgame thinking that what you saw the week before in terms of deficiencies that you’ll see (it) the next week.”

3. Pressing question

Will this be the week Justin Fields and the Bears passing game start clicking?

It will be the biggest question every week until Fields has a breakout game, even if the running game has looked very good so far.

Fields declared he played like “trash” against the Texans, completing 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions and was sacked five times.

Through three games, Fields has attempted just 45 passes, and over the last two games he has thrown three interceptions and no touchdowns. But Getsy said again Thursday that Fields has his trust and that the playcalling has been about exploiting matchups — not about being afraid to have Fields throw.

The Giants have given up 203 passing yards per game.

“We do whatever we have to do to win games,” Getsy said. “So we’ve opened up the passing game. It’s not like we haven’t called pass plays or that we’ve been intimidated to call a play by any means. We’re calling the game we feel is best to attack with our matchups.

“The perspective is that everything is just because it’s through Justin. But we have 10 other guys that we have to account for too. Sometimes we aren’t able to go five wide and spread people out because of matchups we have to deal with.”

4. Short-handed

The Bears again could be without top cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who is recovering from a quad injury and missed practices Wednesday and Thursday.

But they’ll also be facing a depleted Giants receiving corps.

The Giants lost one of their most productive receivers when Sterling Shepard, who had 13 catches for 154 yards, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee against the Cowboys. Two other receivers, Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson, are battling injuries that kept them out of practice Wednesday and Thursday.

Richie James leads the Giants with 14 catches for 146 yards, while Barkley has added 13 catches for 91 yards. No other receiver has more than five catches.

“As you look at what they do have in terms of the depth chart, they have guys that can really run,” Williams said. “They have guys that are good with the ball in their hands and they have some guys that can stretch the defense and then one or two of the guys that may not have been playing that are big and catch 50/50 balls that turn out to be not so 50-50, more like 70-30 in their favor. So it’s still a good group, but the engine that runs that team is the running back.”

5. Injury report

The status of rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. is the biggest question this week after he was limited for a second straight practice with a hamstring injury. The Bears, who placed receiver Byron Pringle on injured reserve with a calf injury, are still waiting for Jones to make his NFL debut and could use his help on offense and in the return game.

Montgomery, Johnson, linebacker Matt Adams (hamstring) and safety Dane Cruikshank (hamstring) all missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. Ryan Griffin (Achilles) sat out Thursday, as did defensive end Robert Quinn (illness) and kicker Cairo Santos (personal).

Linebackers Roquan Smith (quad) and Sterling Weatherford (ankle) were limited Thursday.

Along with Shepard, Robinson and Toney, defensive lineman Leonard Williams (knee) and cornerbacks Cor’Dale Flott (calf) and Nick McCloud (hamstring) didn’t practice. Cornerback Aaron Robinson (appendix) and linebacker Jihad Ward (knee) were limited.

Predictions

Brad Biggs (2-1)

The Giants are proof that even when you throw first-round draft picks at your offensive line issues, it doesn’t necessarily solve problems. Left tackle Andrew Thomas, the fourth pick in 2020, has had a bumpy start. Right tackle Evan Neal, selected at No. 7 this year, was worked over by the Dallas Cowboys on Monday. Quarterback Daniel Jones is being pressured on 40% of his drop-backs, the highest percentage of his career. While the Bears pass rush has been spotty with six sacks, this is a chance for Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson to get going. Opponents have totaled 29 hits on Jones, a crazy total through three games, which will lead to takeaway opportunities. If the Bears can come out with a positive turnover margin, they will win — even if Justin Fields continues to struggle.

Bears 20, Giants 17

Colleen Kane (2-1)

There’s certainly an opportunity for the Bears to pull off their first road victory of the season, especially if the defense can disrupt Daniel Jones the way the Cowboys did Monday. I also think Bears running back Khalil Herbert can have another solid game in place of David Montgomery. But I’m not entirely confident in the Bears defense’s ability to slow down Saquon Barkley, and nobody can be sure what we’re going to see from Justin Fields. That uncertainty, coupled with a hostile road environment, make me think the Giants will win a close one.

Giants 24, Bears 23

Dan Wiederer (2-1)

This all starts with the Bears’ ability to contain Saquon Barkley, who clearly has been the engine of the Giants offense. By limiting Barkley, the Bears will earn opportunities to attack the shaky Giants pass protection and make things uncomfortable on quarterback Daniel Jones, who is operating with a stunningly depleted receiving corps. This is a vote of confidence in the Bears’ defensive tenacity and dedication to the running game. And hey, this is the week in which Justin Fields completes at least a dozen passes and makes a handful of game-changing contributions.

Bears 23, Giants 19

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