We take an in-depth look at the key issues facing both sides ahead of Thursday's crucial NFC clash at Chicago's Soldier Field
By Jesse Beller. Last Updated: 09/10/13 12:53pm
Just two years removed from a Super Bowl title, things are looking very dark for the New York Giants. At 0-5 the Giants are mired in last in the NFC East and if it was not for the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, they would be in prime position to win 2013's title of Worst in Football.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong has for this edition of the Giants, with starters Andre Brown and Stevie Brown out for the year, but injuries have not been the primary cause for this team's demise - rather years of drafting in the latter half of each round and age have simply caught up to the team.
You would be hard pressed to find a more respected general manager than the Giants' Jerry Reese, when you win two Super Bowls in five years you deserve that respect, but he has clearly failed to keep his team stocked.
The core of the Giants' problem lies with their defence, which ranks dead last in the NFL in allowing 36.4 points per game. It is hard to pin point which part of the defence is to blame - truthfully it has all been rather bad - so the fault should likely fall on what has been the Giants' perceived strength for years: its defensive line.
For years now the Giants have spurned taking a linebacker high in the draft, despite having a glaring need which has been continually exposed in an NFL where tight ends are becoming more and more involved in offence, in favour of supplementing their defensive line.
The plan is clear - get to the quarterback and stop the run and it really does not matter who else is playing - and it has worked, team captain Justin Tuck has two rings to show for it, but this year it is simply not working.
Tuck has had a poor couple of years, and it seems age has finally caught up with him, the Giants lost Osi Umenyiora in free-agency (though he was old and has been largely ineffective for Atlanta), but most worryingly, former All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul has been almost invisible.
Perhaps not enough was made of his injury - back injuries are serious things, especially for a player like Pierre-Paul whose strength is his remarkable athleticism.
Through five games the Giants have five sacks, second worst in the league, and largely as a result they are giving up 269.2 yards per game through the air and 126 on the ground, good for 22nd and 29th in the league respectively.
When the Giants do not get to the quarterback, their secondary becomes exposed to deep downfield passes.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has countered this by dropping his safeties into coverage more often, and by having them simply play further from the line of scrimmage. Offences have taken advantage of this by abusing the Giants' weak linebackers in coverage on tight ends. It is all about pressure for the Giants defence, and in 2013 it has almost been non-existent.
Against a team like the Bears, this will be an issue. The Bears do not have a superstar tight end, but former Giant Martellus Bennet is more than capable of using the space that will inevitably be created by Chicago wide outs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears have struggled mightily in the past with their offensive line, in past years they would have been the perfect cure to the Giants' struggles, with quarterback Jay Cutler essentially running for his life every time he hiked the ball (something which Eli Manning can empathise with, but we will get to that later) thanks to a makeshift offensive line, and most notably, human turnstile J'Marcus Webb.
This offseason the Bears brought in Marc Trestman, noted quarterback guru, as head coach and did an almost complete overhaul of their offensive line. The team brought in Pro-Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod from the Saints in free-agency, veteran Matt Slauson signed a one-year contract to play left guard, and the Bears spent their first-round pick on Kyle Long.
Roberto Garza held onto his spot at centre, leaving right tackle to rookie Jordan Mills who beat out Webb in training camp. The result is a much improved line which has kept Cutler alive, and for the most part, healthy.
The Bears should have great success against the Giants defence, and barring a classic Jay Cutler meltdown game or some bizarre offensive line implosion, they should put up a lot of points (likely enough to continue the Giants' historic streak of allowing at least 31 points in every game).
This leaves things up to Eli Manning and the Giants offence. In 2013, that is a worrying reliance. Just like the defence, the Giants' offensive struggles emanate from the trenches.
Manning has been hit 32 times in 2013 and sacked 15 times. Manning is partly to blame for his league leading 14 turnovers, but most of those have been the result of tipped passes, strip sacks, and being hit while throwing. By no means has Manning been good, but he is clearly not the reason for the Giants' poor play. That blame lies almost wholly on his offensive line and the group of men claiming to be running backs.
In 2007 the Giants had one of the NFL's best offensive lines. They won the Super Bowl that year and won 14 games in 2008 on the strength of a dominant running game and plenty of time for Manning.
It is 2013 now and most of that line is either old or on a different team. Even the Giants' big money left tackle, Will Beatty, has been extremely poor.
The Giants did draft Justin Pugh from Syracuse in the first round this year, but he is too young to contribute at a high level right now. The other half of Tom Coughlin's nightmare is the Giants' stable of running backs.
Andre Brown was injured pre-season, and David Wilson - the team's most talented runner - fumbled twice again the Cowboys in week one and has lived almost exclusively in Coughlin's doghouse since then.
The Giants were forced last week to trot out an ageing Brandon Jacobs (who fumbled without being touched) as primary back. Not surprisingly, the Giants rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 56.8.
Since the Giants essentially do not have a running game, teams are able to drop more players into coverage, and if they choose, dial up blitzes to get to Manning. In general, a completely unbalanced offence is not a good offence.
Against the Bears, this could be an issue. For years the Bears have relied on their defence to win games, and while the offence is better in 2013, it is largely the same story. The secondary remains strong, and the matchup between Charles Tillman and Hackeen Nicks (or Victor Cruz) will be fun to watch, but the main concern for the Giants will be the Bears' defensive line - and in particular All-Pro Julius Peppers who should have his way with Beatty.
That is a lot of doom and gloom for the Giants - but plenty of good things for a Bears team desperately needing to end their two-game losing streak to continue their fight for a playoff spot in the crowded NFC North.
For the Giants, however, there is hope. Despite being 0-5, they sit only two games behind the Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC East. A win against the Bears could vault the Giants into playoff contention (as stunning as it seems), and if the Giants ever got into form, their schedule is not overly difficult. For the Bears this is almost a must-win in order to keep up with Detroit and Green Bay (who are competing for two playoff spots between them).
This should be a fun game, with points almost guaranteed to be scored. The Bears are favoured by 7.5 points, but if the Giants ever wake up, they have the talent to win this game.