By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears are at a critical point in the schedule and while they have suffered a couple of missed steps against the Lions and the Saints, they are still in a strong position to get their season back on track.
A Thursday night game against the Giants appeared to be the NFL equivalent of an Original Six matchup at the start of the season. Two old-school titans going at it on national television as an appetizer on the pro football smorgasbord.
The Bears have done their part to make this matchup look good, but the Giants have fallen apart. Less than two seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title, the Giants are 0-5 and minus-13 on the takeaway/turnover table.
If the Bears take the Giants lightly, they could lose this game. Eli Manning has been awful with 12 interceptions, but he could break loose if he is allowed to feel comfortable in the pocket. He’s got two solid receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and an emerging pass catcher in Rueben Randle who caught two TD passes in last week’s home loss to Philadelphia.
The other part of the equation that the Bears have to be concerned with is a New York pass rush that has been dormant this season, but was perhaps the best in the league two years ago when they won the Lombardi Trophy.
Osi Umenyiora is gone, but the Giants still have Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins, and this group should be formidable. They are anything but. Pierre-Paul had back surgery during the offseason and he has not shown the same explosiveness he had in the past, while Tuck seems to be taking up space. He has 0.5 sack this year, and the relentlessness that marked his game is missing.
Still, if Pierre-Paul and Tuck can get it going, Jay Cutler will be under significant pressure and a game that looks easy may turn out to be a problem.
The Bears don’t want to lose any game, but if the Giants suddenly broke out of their slump here, it would be disastrous. They would head into their long weekend with a 3-3 record and a three-game losing streak.
Then, when they return to work next week, they would get the Redskins in Week 7 and then a bye week. Green Bay, Detroit and Baltimore follow, and those games will all be significant challenges.
Confidence will suffer a drastic blow if they lose to the Giants tonight.
While Manning has been a turnover machine to this point, he represents the best chance of New York winning. The Giants are averaging 280.2 yards per game (10th in the league) through the air and all he needs to assert himself is some protection from his offensive line.
The Bears have been miserable when it comes to rushing the passer, as they have 7.0 sacks this season. Nobody on the defensive line has more than 1.0 sack this season, as middle linebacker D.J. Williams leads the team with 2.0 sacks.
If the Bears can put early pressure on Manning with this heretofore unimpressive group, they will put this game away early. If they can’t and Manning can sit in the pocket, he’s got the receivers who will get open and cause problems.
Here’s something else to keep in mind. The Giants have been among the worst fourth-quarter teams, having been outscored 61-21 in that period. The Bears have outscored opponents 51-14 in that period. But if the Giants have kept this game close through three quarters, that stat goes out the window. If it’s close, the Giants will smell a chance to win the game.
The Bears need to take the Giants out early and keep pushing hard. If not, this could turn out to be a critical turning point in the season.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.