No NFL team in the history of the league has ever started a season 0-5 and made the playoffs.
The New York Giants, for as banged up as they are, for as many problems as they’ve had, are still holding out hope that they can be the first, and they’re hoping to get it started on Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, a team that has lost its last two games.
Tom Coughlin is approaching what is, perhaps, the rockiest point in his tenure as the Giants head coach the only way he knows how.
"You gotta work your ever-loving [butt] off, harder than ever," he told Bob Glauber of Long Island Newsday (subscription required).
The problem is that hard work does not necessarily yield confidence, which is what the Giants have been unable to demonstrate for 60 minutes of play.
All it’s taken is one little thing—a bounce of the ball, a misfired pass, a turnover—and instead of becoming angry, or intent on not letting the mistake happen again, they tend to instead become dejected.
Will this be the week that changes? Let’s break it all down.
The Bears lead the regular-season series, 27-19-2, a matchup that dates back to 1925, when these two teams split their games against each other that year.
The two teams last met in the regular season in 2010 at MetLife Stadium, a 17-3 Giants victory. Chicago has outscored the Giants, 826-649, in regular-season games.
The Bears also hold a 5-3 postseason advantage over the Giants, but the Giants have outscored the Bears, 162-142, in those eight games.
It’s hard to get much done when you’re constantly under pressure. With that said, Giants quarterback Eli Manning is not blameless in what’s been a debacle of a season so far.
“You just keep working and keep trying to improve and find out the mistakes I’m making and correct those,” Manning said when asked how he’s been dealing with the losing.
“If there are mistakes within the offense that are mental, if there are things we can do better, get everybody on the same page and how do you fix those mistakes. Just have a positive attitude and keep working, knowing that we can get to play at a better level. “
However, Manning, who has completed just 53.7 percent of his pass attempts this season, can’t correct the mistakes on his own. He needs his receivers to start separating down the field, running the correct routes and to cease dropping passes that are right in their hands.
On the other side, Cutler and company might have been victimized by turnovers in their last two games, but the Bears signal-caller seems to be more on the same page with his receivers than Manning has been with his as evidenced by his 65.7 percent completion rate this season.
Head coach Tom Coughlin told the media during his postgame press conference afterward that Wilson “did suffer some type of tingling,” which prompted the team’s doctors to pull him immediately from the game.
Coughlin has since updated Wilson’s status as being a “week to week” affair, which would indicate that the Giants' leading rusher (146 yards on 44 carries) could miss more than just this week’s game against the Bears.
That’s not a good sign for a rushing offense that is already ranked last in the NFL with 56.8 yards per game.
The Giants will turn to Brandon Jacobs and Da’Rel Scott, the latter of whom re-signed with the team on Tuesday, after being waived following Week 4’s action.
Both Jacobs and Scott have been susceptible to ankle tackles. Per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Jacobs is averaging 1.7 yards gained after contact while Scott is averaging 1.9.
The Bears’ main man is Matt Forte, who has rushed 81 times for 375 yards. Perhaps more impressive is that 211 of Forte’s 375 rushing yards (2.6 avg.) have come after contact. His yards gained after contact has Forte sitting in fourth place in the NFL.
Both starting tight ends in this game are banged up—New York's Brandon Myers has been nursing an ankle injury while Chicago’s Martellus Bennett has been hobbled by a knee injury. As such, both will be game-time decisions, though the chance of both playing is probably more than likely.
The Giants, remember, replaced Bennett with Myers. Thus far, Myers’ performance has been pedestrian at best. Unlike Bennett, Myers has struggled when asked to block.
Also, as noted in this week’s film breakdown, Myers has had trouble going against more physical linebackers, who have found success jamming him at the line of scrimmage. Because of that, teams can devote an extra defensive back to bracketing either Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz.
Assuming both Bennett and Myers are good to go for this week—and they should be—Bennett is probably more likely to have more of an impact in this game because of his ability to fight off linebackers and to help keep the edges clean for the running backs.
Bears receivers Brandon Marshall (6’4”, 230 lbs) and Alshon Jeffery (6’3”, 216 lbs) provide a big target for Cutler in the downfield passing game.
Thanks to Jeffrey’s emergence over the last two weeks—he’s caught 15 of 23 passes (76.9 percent) thrown his way for 325 yards and two TDs—teams might want to rethink devoting consistent double coverage to Marshall on every play.
Both Marshall and Jeffrey are also good downfield blockers who have contributed to Chicago’s success in running the ball in the second level.
On the surface, the Giants receiving trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, are a strength of the offense.
The problem though is they have not been as productive or consistent. For instance, both Randle and Nicks had mental errors on plays in which they ran one way and the ball went the other.
When teams bracket Cruz with a safety and cornerback, his impact on a game is minimized—in two games this year in which the opponent (Kansas City and Philadelphia) deployed that strategy, Cruz caught eight of 19 passes (50 percent) for 73 yards and no touchdowns.
The Giants will be going into Week 6 with the same offensive line configuration they had the week prior, only the second time this season that has happened.
Last week, the unit appeared to have several communication breakdowns, but left guard Kevin Boothe said that wasn’t really the case.
“I don’t think communication was necessarily a problem last week or the week before. It was more execution, and we need to play better as a whole,” he said.
Still, Boothe, who is lining up next to third-year veteran Jim Cordle, who has played sparingly at center, admitted that he has been taking some extra steps to make sure that the communication is solid.
“There might be some things I wouldn’t have to say to a Dave Baas, but it’s not that Jimmy doesn’t know it,” Boothe said. “I want to make sure that he knows it. Jimmy’s been here long enough, and he understands the offense.
“So maybe just here and there, a couple of words that maybe I didn’t have to say with Dave, but it’s not bad. Ninety-nine times out of 100, he’s right there.”
The Bears, meanwhile, have had the same offensive line since Week 1 and have done a nice job of cutting down on the sacks allowed against Cutler, giving up nine through five weeks vs. the 14 they gave up through five weeks last season.
The Bears offensive line has also done a nice job of keeping the heat off Cutler, who, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), has been under pressure 77 out of 197 dropbacks.
The good news is that the Giants defensive tackles continue to play lights-out ball against both the run and pass. The bad news is that other than being able to play contain, the defensive ends still haven’t come close to being the force they were two years ago, as no one—not even Jason Pierre-Paul is drawing double-teams.
Likewise, the Bears' defensive line hasn’t yielded the type of production the coaches most likely had wanted. The unit has struggled to rush the passer, its star defensive end, Julius Peppers, recording just one sack in the first five weeks of the season.
A large part of the Bears’ problem has been injuries along the interior—they lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton and his backup, Nate Collins—which they've been unable to overcome.
Of the Bears' top four tackle leaders, three are their starting linebackers. That means the unit isn’t letting much get behind it.
The Bears’ unit is led by weak-side starter Lance Briggs, the team leader in tackles (55) and tackles for a loss (seven).
Briggs also has two sacks for minus-11 yards this year to go along with two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. That’s far better overall production than the Giants' three starting linebackers combined.
Strong-side linebacker James Anderson is second on the team in tackles with 45, and middle linebacker D.J. Williams is fourth with 31 tackles.
To put all those numbers in perspective, that’s 131 total tackles for the Bears starters compared to 71 by the Giants starters.
The Giants haven’t made any formal announcements, but it looks like Jon Beason, whom the team acquired in a trade last week from Carolina, will replace Mark Herzlich in the middle.
Herzlich is currently third on the team in tackles, but far too many of his stops are coming several yards downfield, which is a concern.
It’s not known just how much Beason has left in the tank, so it will be interesting to see if he is an upgrade to what is largely regarded as one of the weakest units on the Giants defense.
Both defensive backfields are dealing with some injury issues, but the Giants, despite their 0-5 record, seem to be holding up just a little bit better.
The Giants have allowed just 18 pass completions of 20 or more yards this season compared to the Bears’ 25, which is the second-most in the NFL.
The Bears are also ranked seventh in the NFL for most receiving yards allowed (1,445) to the Giants’ 1,383 (11th in the league).
Devin Hester. That’s the only name you need to know when deciding which unit has the edge in this category.
Hester has 18 career returns for touchdowns. The Giants' punt coverage team has already allowed two this year.
If that’s not scary enough, long snapper Zak DeOssie, the Giants’ leader in special teams tackles with three, is slowed down by his week-long back problems. That could be a huge concern given that DeOssie is usually one of, if not, the first man downfield on punt coverage.
If the Giants are to have any hope of taking Hester out of the game, punter Steve Weatherford, who last week was better after two straight weeks of shoddy punting, must kick it out of bounds, no questions asked.
Rounding out the rest of this unit, the Giants will be without David Wilson , their kickoff returner. Jerrel Jernigan will likely get that role again while on punts, Rueben Randle will continue to try his hand at helping his team gain the best possible field position.
To date, neither has impressed, though to be fair, the blocking hasn’t always been there.
The Giants, once known as the NFL’s “Road Warriors,” have lost seven straight regular-season road games, with their last road victory coming on Oct. 28 at Dallas.
The Bears, meanwhile, are coming off back-to-back losses in which they’ve been outscored 66-50. What’s been the difference for them order that two-game stretch?
So why give them the edge in the intangible department?
Despite their ball-security issues, the Bears have accomplished the one thing the Giants have yet to be able to do, thus far, this season: transfer the productivity during the practices to the playing field.
The good news for the Giants offense is that the Bears' defensive line, which has been banged up, has had its share of trouble rushing opposing quarterbacks. By allowing the opposition time to throw, the Bears have allowed 25 pass plays of 20 or more yards, second-most in the NFL.
“I’ve noticed that,” said Coughlin when asked about the Bears’ tendency to give up the big pass play. “I’m hoping that we can protect the passer.”
With the Bears’ secondary also banged up—cornerback Charles Tillman will be game-time decision, per ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson—if the Giants offensive line can fulfill its head coach’s desire to protect quarterback Eli Manning, there might just be a few deep passes there for the taking.
The Giants have 21 passing plays of 20 or more yards, fourth-most in the NFL, but if they are to improve that stat, they need to keep the pocket clean for Manning.
If they can get the passing game going, the Giants’ revamped running game could very well get the boost it’s been looking for, especially if the Bears decide to drop their linebackers deeper in coverage.
Lastly, if the Giants plan to double up against defensive end Julius Peppers, who will line up across from left tackle Will Beatty, it will be important to make sure, on passing downs, they at least get a chip block on any blitzers coming in from the second level in order to buy time for quarterback Eli Manning.
According to NFLGSIS.com (login required), the Bears have lined up in their 11 personnel package (one back, one tight end) for 116 snaps (90 passing plays, 24 rushing plays) and have averaged 6.46 yards per play, 34 first downs and six touchdowns.
One of the staples of that personnel grouping is running back Matt Forte, a big, powerful back who can leave an opposing defense gasping for air.
The good news, though, is that the Giants run defense has done well against some of the NFL’s top rushers. In the last two weeks, the Giants run defense has held Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles to 65 yards on 18 carries and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy to 46 yards on 20 carries.
What’s been the key? Gap control. The defensive tackles, in particular, have done a nice job of staying on their feet, surfing the line of scrimmage and plugging the gaps to take away the cutback lanes, which has forced the running backs to take their chances against the Giants' defensive ends, who have also done a decent job with contain.
One area, though, where the Giants need to be extra diligent is in their tackling. Arm and ankle tackles are not going to get it done against Forte, who, as noted above, is fourth among all NFL running backs in gaining yards after contact. Tackling has not always been a strength of this Giants defense; it needs to be this week.
In the passing game, the Bears sport two very big and physical receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and a familiar face (for the Giants) at tight end in Martellus Bennett.
As previously mentioned, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago Bears reported that Bennett (knee) is going to be a game-time decision. However, it would be surprising if he misses a chance to compete against his old teammates.
One thing that Bennett does well is he’s able to chip a man and then beat a linebacker to get into his route, where he then becomes an option. Thus far, the Giants have had trouble covering the middle of the field, so expect the Bears to try a lot of curls and slants.
As for the receivers, look for Marshall to draw the double coverage, most likely a combination of a safety and 5’9” cornerback Trumaine McBride. Jeffery will likely draw the single coverage from Prince Amukamara.
It might also behoove the Giants cornerbacks to get their hands on the Bears receivers as allowed because if the Bears do plan to attack the middle of the field with timing routes, jamming the receiver will help disrupt the effectiveness of these plays.
What They're Saying
“Whoever is up dressed and ready to go.”
—Giants Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride, when asked who will run the ball for New York this week
“This is a team that has a lot of championship-level players.”
—Bears head coach Marc Trestman on what he sees in the Giants
“I don’t think it’s weighing on us that much. I mean, we’re thinking about it, we understand that obviously it’s not the best feeling when you look at our win-loss column, but I think we understand that we have a good bunch of guys in here, and we can win football games. We just have to be able to finish games.”
—Giants receiver Victor Cruz on if the team’s 0-5 start is weighing on them
“I didn’t realize we played you until after we played the game last week. I never know we play the next week, but I always know the week of. That’s it. It pops up on my phone. I got to save the dates, so I get these reminders the beginning of the week.”
—Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, when asked if he had this game against his former teammates circled on his calendar
Giants Injury Impact
It’s bad enough that, with 56.8 rushing yards per game, the Giants have the league’s worst rushing attack.
However, it’s even worse that Wilson, their most explosive running back, who had started to show signs of getting into a groove before he suffered a neck injury, will be out for this week, and, perhaps, longer.
Coughlin has classified Wilson’s status as being a “week to week” affair, which would indicate that the Giants leading rusher (146 yards on 44 carries) could miss more than just this week’s game against the Bears.
As previously noted, Jacobs and Scott will try to jump start the Giants’ struggling running game.
“I can handle a full load; there’s no question,” said Jacobs, who last had a full workload on Dec. 11, 2011, which also happened to be his last 100-plus-yard rushing performance. “I’d be hurting the next day, I’m not going to lie and say that, but I can definitely handle a full workload if I need to.”
“I just have to make the most of (the second chance),” said Scott, who admitted to being humbled by his one-week layoff after getting the start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. “I just have to show up on Thursday.”
DeOssie has a history of back issues since joining the Giants in 2007 as their fourth-round draft pick, but come game day, he’s usually shown up and been a solid contributor.
While there is no reason to think that will change this week, despite his not being able to practice Monday or Tuesday, if DeOssie can’t go on Thursday night, either Jim Cordle, currently the team’s starting center, or Herzlich, who is still listed on the injury report with a toe ailment, will fill in for him.
Myers, a new addition to the injury report, was “getting better,” according to Coughlin, who added that he was encouraged by his tight end’s ability to get through a few things at Tuesday’s practice.
Barring any setbacks, Myers should play; if he can’t, Bear Pascoe, who has primarily been working at fullback, will presumably get the start, which would open the door for fullback John Conner, who has yet to take any snaps with the offense, to make his Giants debut.
Joseph insisted to reporters that he plans to be back in the lineup after missing last week’s contest. If he does return, that doesn’t mean that rookie Johnathan Hankins, who played very well last week and was praised by Coughlin, is the odd man out in the rotation.
Instead, look for Shaun Rogers, who was removed from the injury report after making it through last week’s game, despite a back problem, to be the one whose snaps are reduced to make way for Hankins.
Thomas took one snap on defense against the Eagles, but that as by design rather than because of an issue with his knee.
The Giants have been trying to manage Thomas’ reps, and with three games in 17 days, the coaches and Thomas both felt he would be better off if he limited his snaps against the Eagles and focus on getting ready to face the Bears’ tall and physical receivers.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted)
* According to the Chicago Bears’ weekly media notes, running back Matt Forte’s 102.8 scrimmage yards per game is second-best behind the late Walter Payton, who averaged 111.9 yards per game.
Forte and Payton are the only players in the Bears’ franchise history, which dates back to 1920, to average over 100 scrimmage yards per game.
* Giants quarterback Eli Manning is one touchdown pass away from 220 career touchdowns.
* Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has won six of his past seven games played in October. Cutler’s teams are 26-2 (including playoffs) when he posts a 100 or better passer rating.
* Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has 15 career 100-yard games, including playoffs. He had eight catches for 110 yards in his last meeting against the Bears.
* Bears return specialist Devin Hester needs one more return for a touchdown to tie Deion Sanders for the most in NFL history (19).
* Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has eight sacks and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in his past eight games played during the month of October.
* Since 2012, the Bears have a NFL-leading 10 interception returns for touchdowns
* Giants defensive end Justin Tuck has 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in last two meetings against the Bears. He’s looking for his third consecutive game against the Bears with a sack.
In the midst of a three-game swing in a matter of 17 days, the Giants have barely had a chance to catch their breath from last week’s devastating loss to the Eagles.
While the general consensus to come from the locker room was that the short workweek might just be a blessing in disguise, one has to wonder if, in addition to being beaten up physically, how they really are mentally.
Have the Giants accepted this year is a lost season, or are they looking at the glass as being half-full, considering they’re just two games back in their division?
The Bears, meanwhile, are coming off two frustrating losses on the heels of three straight wins. They, no doubt, are secretly licking their chops to get at a beat-up Giants team that fell against the Carolina Panthers and the Eagles.
However, they will need to be very careful not to get too confident early on, as that’s when bad things can happen.
The Bears will come out on top, but it should be a lot closer than people might anticipate.