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Tape Study: What to expect from the Bears on Sunday

The Giants hope to rebound from their loss to the Eagles last week when they host the Bears on Sunday. Mitch Trubisky is still recovering from a right shoulder injury, so who lines up behind center is still a question mark. Because of that, I will instead focus on how they run their offense and some of their skill position players.

When the Bears Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Running Back Tarik Cohen

Cohen might be listed as a running back but he should probably be considered more of a receiver. Cohen has 66 carries for 285 yards and 47 catches for 503 yards. He is a versatile weapon the Bears use in different ways to create misdirection and mismatch issues for defenses. 

Cohen will line up all over the formation: in the backfield, in the slot, and outside. He will line up outside and motion him through the backfield on an end-around or as a decoy. When he does get the ball as a traditional back, it is often a toss or sweep play where he is trying to get the edge. 

As a receiver, Cohen is much more than a check-down option. He averages 10.7 yards per catch because he is so adept at winning on wheel routes, arrow routes and other traditional wide receiver routes. He is a real weapon in the passing game and a matchup nightmare for any defense.

Inside the Numbers: Cohen has not topped 60 scrimmage yards for four straight weeks after averaging 88.9 in his first eight games.

He’s a guy that they use all over the field. Sometimes he’s split out as a wide receiver, sometimes he’s at the running back position, so he’s a versatile guy and he has a lot of speed, like you said. He’s pretty small so it’s hard to see him behind the line and he does a good job of finding space and using that to his advantage so for us, it’s just making sure we get all 11 guys around him to condense the space around him to make tackles. Giants Middle Linebacker Alec Ogletree

View the projected starters for this Sunday's game against the Bears.

The Matchup: Tight End Trey Burton

After playing second fiddle to Zach Ertz in Philadelphia, Burton has solidified himself as an excellent all-around tight end for the Bears. He is capable of blocking in the run game, but the Bears want to use him as a mismatch in the passing game. 

Burton has lined up on the line of scrimmage less than half the time he has been on the field this season. More frequently, he lines up either in the slot or out wide. They will use him down the field but favor him in short and intermediate ranges as a target on key third downs. Twenty-five of his 38 catches this season have gone for first downs. 

After a fast start to the season, Burton has been quiet in recent weeks. In his last five games, he has just 14 catches for 114 yards. He has only one drop this season and can make contested catches at 6-3 and 235 pounds.

Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Burton has caught only four passes that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air. He has caught 11 of 12 targets for 180 yards on passes that travel between 10 and 20 yards in the air. He does not line up to the left of the formation much, with only three catches, all within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, outside the numbers on that side of the field. Ertz has wide receiver-like numbers with 77 receptions (3rd most in the NFL), 804 yards and five touchdowns.

Bears Scheme and Tendencies

When you pull up the Bears offense, the first thing you have to do is make sure you are watching pro and not college football. Matt Nagy has adopted many college concepts he was introduced to by Andy Reid in Kansas City. It starts with misdirection. On so many plays, there are multiple players running through the backfield to show end-arounds or other fakes to get defenses moving where Nagy wants them to go. The Bears feature RPO's and read-option plays to try to accomplish the same goals. The Giants defenders are going to have to be extremely disciplined in not being drawn into some of those fakes.

The Bears run their offense primarily out of shotgun. When they do play from under center, it is usually to run the football between the tackles with Jordan Howard, get it to someone else on an end-around, or run a play-action pass. You will rarely see a straight drop back from the Bears from under center. 

The Bears will use quick throws to get the ball to Cohen and their wide receivers on screens and other quick hitters. They will challenge the Giants cornerbacks to tackle at the line of scrimmage. 

Nagy wants to stretch the field horizontally, first and foremost. Even though many of their pass plays come from bunch formations, he uses every inch of the field sideline to sideline to put stress on the defense. It starts with their outside runs and wide receiver screens, but continues with their deep crossing routes.

Inside the Numbers: Last week, Chase Daniel threw eight passes behind the line of scrimmage and another 16 within 10 yards. He completed all but three of those passes.

The Bears love to bunch their receivers to either side of the offensive line, and run some players on simple stop routes while sending other players deep. It will be essential for the Giants defensive backs to know who is responsible for covering whom on the Chicago offense. The way the Bears stretch the field vertically will also put a ton of pressure on the single-high safety who has to read route combinations properly and cover the right player. The Bears often run multiple players on deep routes on the same play. 

The Bears have good weapons outside. Allen Robinson lacks explosive speed, but he is 6-3, 209 pounds and can make contested catches down the field and in the middle of the defense. Taylor Gabriel at just 5-8 and 165 pounds has the speed and quickness to make a big play whenever he touches the ball and leads the Bears in receptions and receiving yards (51 catches for 527 yards). Anthony Miller, their rookie second round pick, can do a little bit of everything and has come on strong in recent weeks. He is a good route runner and is a YAC threat. 

Jordan Howard is still the Bears between-the-tackles workhorse. They will play him with Tarik Cohen and run fakes to one back before giving it to the other. Howard gets upfield quickly and knows how to square his shoulder pads and grind out yards. He fits a lot better in the Bears' old offense than this one and touches it less than 15 times a game. 

The Bears quarterbacks, whether Chase Daniel or Mitch Trubisky, will run it on designed runs and off scrambles on traditional pass plays. Trubisky, who reportedly will miss his second game with a shoulder injury, is the better runner, but Daniel is effective in finding yards and making defenses respect him as a runner.  

The Bears offense wasn't much different last week with Daniel behind center instead of Trubisky. Daniel was more willing to check the ball down, and the team operated out of shotgun more. Trubisky is also a more effective runner and has a better arm. The Bears offense is much more about the scheme and players at the skill positions right now than it is the player under center. 

The Bears offensive line has played well this year, and it starts with their two tackles. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie have allowed only 4 sacks and 4 quarterback hits between them. Cody Whitehair is a reliable center who hasn't allowed a sack or quarterback hit all season. Starting left guard Kyle Long is on injured reserve, but the Bears have a reliable backup in second round pick James Daniels. Neither Daniels nor right guard Eric Kush have allowed a sack all year.

Key for The Giants Defense

  1. Be disciplined vs. the Bears misdirection
  2. Stay out of mismatches down the field
  3. Stop the run on early downs

When the Giants Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Edge Rusher Khalil Mack

Mack has only eight sacks this year, thanks in part to an ankle injury that contributed to a three-game drought in the middle of the season. But he is still a top edge rusher in the league and someone Bears opponents have to account for on every single snap. He loves going after the football when he hits the quarterback.  

Mack rushes from both the left and right sides with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He does not move inside to play at defensive tackle. He can win with speed around the edge, power on the bull rush, or using his violent hands. He has a good motor and can single-handedly disrupt a team's passing attack, which is why teams often dedicate multiple resources to stopping him. 

Both Nate Solder and Chad Wheeler will have their hands full, and do not be surprised to see a tight end lined up on Mack's side for much of the game.

Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Mack has three quarterback hits, 26 hurries and five forced fumbles to go along with his eight sacks. He is only player in the NFL with five forced fumbles and an interception.

He’s obviously a very good player, he’s got a good first step, he can bull rush you and go, then work your edge or just work your edge. I think what he does a good job of is just keeping his feet moving and then as the play develops, being in a position to either sack the quarterback or find the running backs. He’s a really good player. Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur

The Matchup: Bears Safety Eddie Jackson vs. Eli Manning

Eddie Jackson is the Bears free safety and plays deep whenever the Bears are in a single high defense. He is a true ball hawk with sideline to sideline range and good hands and timing to come down with the interception. 

What impresses most about Jackson is his ability to anticipate a wide receiver's route and the quarterbacks plan before they tip their hand. This can be chalked up to excellent film study, instincts and good fundamentals. He understands route combinations and gets where he needs to on time because his feet and eyes are always in the right place.  

Eli Manning has to understand where Jackson is at all times. Any telegraphed throw or hesitation can turn into an interception with Jackson on the other side of the field. Similarly, Giants wide receivers need to be clean and deceptive in their route running to keep Jackson honest.

Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, in addition to his four interceptions, Jackson has four pass break-ups, one sack, two forced fumbles and two touchdowns on returns. Quarterbacks have completed 19 of 32 passes in his direction for only 180 yards and a 56.3 quarterback rating.

Their defensive backs are good, and they’re in the right spots, and they’re taking advantage of it. They have good ball skills, and they’re making the catches. Giants quarterback Eli Manning

Bears Schemes and Tendencies

The Bears defense is the best I've seen on film this year. They are extremely well coached by Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and use their film preparation and superior instincts to make calculated aggressive plays on the football. They lead the league in interceptions with 20, and it isn't because opposing quarterbacks are making poor decisions and throws. Bears defensive backs anticipate where the opposing quarterback is going to go with the football and they attack quickly and without reservation. 

Inside the Numbers: The Bears have been helped immeasurably by their turnover differential this season. They are +14 with a whopping 29 takeaways, leading to defensive scores and good field position for the offense. It is the reason they rank 5th in the NFL in scoring but only 21st in total yards. It is also a huge reason they have a +106 point differential, fourth best in the NFL. The Giants have not won a game this year where they haven't finished with at least a +2 turnover differential mark.

The Bears have only allowed 28 plays of 20 yards or more through the air, the second lowest total in the league. It is hard for opposing teams to try double moves against them because the Bears pass rush often gets home before the routes can develop. They mix up their coverages in the secondary and play zone better than any team I have watched this year. Players are active in their zone and actually cover their man in their area instead of playing in space and just watching the quarterback. 

The Bears are good on all three levels of the defense. Akiem Hicks is one of the most underrated and least talked about defensive linemen in football. He plays defensive end in the Bears base 3-4 defense and moves to the three technique when they go to a more traditional four-man front in pass situations. He is a tank to move and also uses a mean swim move to get to the quarterback as a pass rusher. 

Inside the Numbers: Pro Football Focus credits Hicks with 4 sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 20 hurries this season. He also has nine tackles for loss. 

How many teams can roll out three linebackers in their starting lineup who were first round picks? Aside from Mack, fellow edge rusher Leonard Floyd was a top 10 pick. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith was the eighth overall pick in this year's draft. He is undersized at 236 pounds but can run with any linebacker in the sport. Their fourth guy? Danny Trevathan, a three-down linebacker who was a big free agent addition in 2017. All are good players. 

Inside the Numbers: By nearly every measure, the Bears have one of the best rush defenses in football. They are second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (80.8) and yards per carry (3.6). They have allowed the fewest runs of 10 yards or more in the league with 16 compared to the league average of 35. They have allowed only 3 runs of 20 yards or more, third fewest in the league. It will be a huge challenge for Saquon Barkley and the Giants offensive line.

The Bears will mix up their coverages in the secondary. None of their three corners, Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller and slot corner Bryce Callahan are liabilities in coverage. They can play man and zone and are great at getting their heads around once the ball is in the air so they can make a play on the football. They play off coverage far more than bump and run, which allows them to anticipate routes based on the quarterback and receivers to attack passes in the air so effectively. The Bears force teams to mount lengthy drives against them, counting on their defense to eventually make a big play and get a takeaway. 

Inside the Numbers: The Bears have the sixth-most sacks in the league with 34. They rank 4th in the NFL in third down defense, allowing the opponent to convert just 35.1% of the time. They've only allowed 28 passes of 20 yards or more, second fewest in the NFL. Teams have only a 66.4 passer rating on throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air. Their pass defense on first down is best in the league, allowing only a 74.1 quarterback rating.

They got one of the best defenses in the NFL, in the world. He’s a problem. You got (Bears S Eddie Jackson) EJ back there on the back-end. You got (Bears CB Kyle) Fuller, you got Prince, their linebackers are good. (Bears DE Leonard) Floyd is over there. They’ve got a team, they’ve got a squad. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr

The Bears rank 21st in the NFL in Red Zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 60.7% of the time. They do make up for that by leading the NFL in Red Zone takeaways with five.

Keys For The Giants Offense

  1. Run the ball well and maintain favorable balance
  2. Protect the football
  3. Protect the quarterback