Joniak: Keys To Bears-Giants

By Jeff Joniak–

(CBS) The Bears (2-7) are on the road to face the Giants (6-3) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.

Offense: Keep pounding it

Here’s hoping the Bears build their game plan around running the football. No team has been more successful on first down rushing the ball than the Bears, who are tops in the league at 5.5 yards-per-carry. The Giants defense ranks 18th against the run on first down, permitting 4.27 yards a carry, which is exactly the league average. Still, it’s not going to be easy.

The Giants are stout, ranked seventh overall against the run and fifth in per-carry average allowed. However, the Bears have enough of a sample size to roll out a running game that they can consistently utilize to set up play-action for Jay Cutler. The right side of the line — with Ted Larsen and likely Mike Adams — may be filled by backups, but both have plenty of experience to handle the job. The Giants have only given up 19 runs of 10-plus yards, which is fourth-best in the league. Led by Jordan Howard’s 21 such runs, the Bears have 28 overall. Jeremy Langford and Kadeem Carey will also need to help handle the load.

Defense: Prevent yards after the catch

While the Giants only average 74.2 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry, they can run it when they want to and need to. The Bears’ front seven must prevent that from happening. The intermediate passing game is Eli Manning’s wheelhouse right now, with 81 of his completions coming in the 6-to-10-yard range.

The run-after-the-catch is the biggest concern for the Bears. The Giants are sixth in the league in yards after the catch, led by receiver Odell Beckham’s 281 yards, which ranks in the league’s top 15 and sixth among receivers.

The Giants do give the ball away. They are tied for 27th in the league with 18 giveaways, including Manning’s 10 interceptions. The Bears don’t take it away much, but this seems to be an opportunity for them.

Special teams: Field position

There may be a chance at some good returns against the Giants, who are struggling in punt coverage in allowing 13.6 yards per return in the first nine games. Giants punter Brad Wing has forced just eight fair catches, with a hang time that ranks near the bottom of the NFL

Conversely, Bears punter Patrick O’Donnell leads the league in forcing fair catches now with 22.

At other times, the Giants’ coverage units have done a nice job of pinning teams inside their 20, and the New York defense has yet to permit a touchdown (and just two field goals) this season in such a scenario. Dallas is the only other team to not allow a touchdown when opponents start inside their own 20. So the Bears must be smart about taking the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs and fielding punts.

Intangibles: Fight, scratch, claw

The Bears have to find the players who are willing to fight, scratch and crawl their way out of the hole they’re in. The Bears also must protect the football to even have a shot against the Giants. From there, the intensity and focus must be of a four-quarter, 60-minute variety. Chicago can’t let up even for one snap. The players who accomplish that will garner more attention from coaches and the organization moving forward.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.

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