Three keys to victory for the New York Giants on Sunday against the Chicago Bears:
1. Protect the football. Fritz Shurmur wrote the book "Coaching Team Defense" and in it, the accomplished NFL defensive coordinator opined that you can't coach turnovers. Rather, it's about fundamentals, like running to the football. In that case, the Chicago Bears have the most fundamentally sound defense, which leads the NFL with 29 takeaways, including a league-high 20 interceptions. Fritz's nephew, Pat Shurmur, will see it firsthand on Sunday. The head coach of the Giants is preparing to face a surging Bears team that overcame the loss of their starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on Thanksgiving Day with the help of two interceptions, one of which was returned 41 yards for a touchdown and proved to be the deciding score in the fourth quarter. It was the Bears' sixth defensive touchdown of the season and a reason why Chicago is the only team ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively in scoring.
"It's not necessarily about always the turnover, it's what do you do after the turnover," Pat Shurmur said. "The team we're playing is very good at getting points after turnovers, so it's the response to the turnover as well, so it's all connected. It's a little bit connected to controlling the football, too. A completed pass keeps the clock running, so a short completed pass or an eight-yard gain or whatever is as effective as a run at times, and so we're hitting on topics that are critical to winning in my opinion if you're playing the game the right away. The turnover piece has always, always, always been an underlying statistic that points toward winning."
2. Protect the quarterback. The Bears defense creates chaos with its front seven, most notably Khalil Mack, the first player ever to be named All-Pro at two positions in the same season. Acquired in a trade with Oakland just before the start of the season, Mack is on his way to another double-digit sack campaign and leads the NFL with five forced fumbles. The Bears are not a one-man wrecking crew, meaning the Giants' entire offensive line will have its hands full. The five linemen up front are the obvious keys on Sunday, but the receivers also have a part to play in combating the pass rush.
"To be honest, when you're playing receiver, the race isn't between you and the DB," Odell Beckham Jr. said. "It's always between you and the D-linemen, and once I can learn and understand that, it helped me conceptualize more what was really going on. If he's getting up the field, you don't have to cut the route shorter, but you do need to be sharper, and you do need to be there on time. If not, getting open just a hair second earlier, but making sure you're at where you're supposed to be at. We got a tough task on our hand. We got to deal with 52 and the rest of those guys."
On the other side, the Giants are looking to generate their own pressure, whether it's on Trubisky, who is still limited with a shoulder injury, or veteran backup Chase Daniel.
"It is exactly the same thing that's in the run game," said defensive coordinator James Bettcher, whose unit ranks 31st in sacks and 26th against the run. "There's four guys in a four-man rush, five guys in a five-man rush, and there's one-on-ones that are going to be had. It's just execution in those one-on-ones, and there's calling some calls better. Let's get a free run at the quarterback. When we've got a one-on-one, let's beat the back. When we've got a one-on-one, let's beat the tackle."
3. Go the extra yard. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula and the coaching staff used Rhett Ellison as an example this week. Against the Eagles in Week 12, the tight end barreled through a group of defenders to get 10 yards on third-and-nine at the beginning of the game. Instead of going three-and-out, the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening drive en route to their best half of football. "Those are the things we continue to build on, work on, and impress upon our players," Shula said.
The Giants need more of those plays to accomplish short-term and long-term goals. In the short-term (i.e. this week's game against the Bears), the Giants can't leave plays on the field as they try to hit the magic number of 23. The 8-3 Bears have not won a game in which they allowed more than 22 points. In the long-term, the Giants are trying to change the culture. "It's huge," Shurmur said, "because I think we need to learn how to win again here."
View the projected starters for this Sunday's game against the Bears.