CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 06: of the Chicago Bears of the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field on October 6, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Saints defeated the Bears 26-18. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Once a week throughout the 2013 season, we will focus upon on a player or matchup that could prove troublesome for the Giants in their upcoming game. This week’s spotlight is on the Bears’ passing game.
When the Giants and Bears last met back in 2010, the Giants’ pass rush dominated in a 17-3 victory at MetLife Stadium.
Amazingly, the Giants sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler nine times, all the first half. The Bears did not convert a single third down and lost Cutler to a concussion. Overall, the Bears gained just 110 yards in defeat.
Three years later, Cutler remains the Bears’ starting quarterback, and pass rush pressure remains the Giants’ best shot at stopping Chicago’s offense.
That said, the Bears have improved in pass protection this season. Cutler is on pace to be sacked about 29 times in 2013; by contrast, he was sacked 38 times in 15 starts in 2012. However, the Saints sacked Cutler three times in a 26-18 win at Chicago on Sunday.
Perhaps more than ever, Cutler (119-of-181 passing, 1,368 yards, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions, 65.7 percent completions) can hurt opposing defenses if he’s allowed to get comfortable. He is surrounded with the best pass catching corps he’s had in his five seasons in Chicago.
Cutler has four primary targets in the passing game. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (31 catches, 378 yards, three touchdowns) is the go-to guy, just as he was a season ago. Cutler can also call upon emerging wideout Alshon Jeffery (28 catches, 429 yards, two touchdowns) and ex-Giants tight end Martellus Bennett (25 receptions, 281 yards, three touchdowns). And running back Matt Forte (27 catches, 200 yards) remains a strong check-down and screen option, too.
Jeffery, a second-year pro from South Carolina, comes off a monster 10-catch, 218-yard performance against New Orleans. If teams focus upon Marshall, Jeffery is good enough to capitalize. The same can be said for Bennett, too.
This isn’t the first time the Giants have faced a capable receiving corps in 2013. To their credit, they have held up well against some very good wide receivers. In Week One, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant had just four catches for 22 yards against the Giants. The following week, Broncos receivers Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas had a combined nine receptions for 91 yards and TD on 14 targets.
However, the Giants’ secondary depth is an area to watch. Cornerbacks Corey Webster (groin) and Jayron Hosley (hamstring) are dealing with injuries, and the club lost corner Aaron Ross to a season-ending back injury last week.
This brings us back to the Giants’ pass rush. The Giants must pressure Cutler. If that doesn’t happen, it’s going to fall on the Giants to win in coverage. That’s a tall order for the Giants over four quarters. The Bears have too many skilled pass catchers.
The Giants need to disrupt the Bears’ timing. That starts with Cutler.