November 30, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Need To Silence Talk of Late-Season Slide
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 30, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/67286

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This is the time of year when NFL teams start to get desperate. For underperforming teams like the Bears, Sunday's game represents a last chance to salvage their season. A year after storming into the Super Bowl, they've regressed on both offense and defense. They've endured a quarterback change, lost their leading rusher to injury, and seen a dominating defense get trounced repeatedly For the Giants, this game offers an opportunity to silence the critics who fear yet another late-season slide. Over the last four years, the Giants have gone 824 in the second half of the season derailing a strong start each time. With losses in two of their last three games and a tough schedule coming up, those fears seem reasonable.

The two teams have a number of similarities a strong pass rush, an inconsistent quarterback, and an injury-depleted running game. But the Giants are battling to stay in the wild-card chase while the Bears are playing mostly for pride.

GIANTS (74) at CHICAGO BEARS (56)
Sunday, 4:15 pm, FOX

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Critics of Eli Manning were quick to point out how his four-interception performance Sunday echoed his last start against the Vikings in 2005. But none of them mentioned how quickly he bounced back from that with three touchdowns the following week. There's no reason to think that a bad game is going to throw Manning into a funk.

Last week, the Vikings brought pressure up the middle, both with their interior linemen and blitzing linebackers. That made it difficult for Manning to step forward to avoid the pressure, and ultimately helped force him to make some of the bad throws that led to the interceptions

The Chicago defense is similar, and they'll be doing the same thing. The Bears have one of the best pass rushing tackles in Tommie Harris. He has explosive quickness and the ability to penetrate straight ahead or to come around on slants and stunts.

The best way for the Giants to counter that is to run the ball well, something they struggled to do with Reuben Droughns in the backfield last week. Derrick Ward is expected to play Sunday after missing four games with a groin injury. Brandon Jacobs returned to practice yesterday after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury, but it's likely he'll sit out again.

The Bears have been surprisingly soft against the run this year they rank 27th overall and the Giants would love to take some pressure off Manning's shoulders by keeping it on the ground. Linebacker Brian Urlacher is still a good middle linebacker, but he's not a game-changing player anymore. It's unclear if the loss of lateral quickness is due to his bad back or just the aging process. That has enabled opposing teams to focus more efforts on weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, a star in his own right.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL Quarterback Rex Grossman was benched after playing poorly in September, but he's played well since taking back the starting job three weeks ago. The knock on him has always been that he tries to do too much, forcing passes into tight coverage and letting his mechanics slip when he's under pressure. Grossman's decision-making has been better, and the Bears have won two of three since he began starting again.

The Giants will challenge Grossman with their pass rush, trying to force him into making mistakes. The Bears have struggled with their pass protection, and the Giants continue to feature the league in sacks. Fred Robbins had 1.5 sacks last week and Osi Umenyiora added two more to increase his season total to 10.

The pressure on Grossman and the passing game will only intensify after the loss of Cedric Benson last week. The Bears' leading rusher fractured his left ankle in a win over Denver. Backup Adrian Peterson (no relation to the Vikings back with the same name) will start in his place. He's a good receiver out of the backfield, but he doesn't have the size to pound it between the tackles the way Benson did.

Lost in the angst over the Giants' loss last week was recognition of how well they played against the run. The Vikings came into that game as the league's top ranked rushing offense, but the Giants' aggressive attack held them to just 3.3 yards per carry.

Any discussion of the Bears offense has to include their special teams, which accounted for three touchdowns last week and scored 21 points last week. Return specialist Devin Hester is a threat to score on every punt and kickoff, and the teams that opt to kick away from him sacrifice a lot of yards in field position. Veteran punter Jeff Feagles never had a strong leg, but he's one of the game's best directional punters. He'll have to keep the ball away from Hester without simply kicking the ball out of bounds.

KEY TO THE GAME If the Giants can run the ball consistently, it will keep the Bears from playing a field position game, and it will force Grossman to try for big plays. The Bears will have trouble controlling the ball on offense, so they'll count on their defense and special teams to win the game. If the Giants can grind it out on the ground, they'll win.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 27-17

November 30, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version