The New York Giants came so close to getting their first win of the 2013 season.
Unfortunately for them, coming close only matters in horseshoes, which means that the Giants continued to bumble and stumble their way through another turnover-filled game punctuated by three Eli Manning interceptions, the last one of which killed any hope of a fourth-quarter comeback in what was a 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Manning, who threw two interceptions in his first five pass attempts, is averaging 2.5 interceptions per game, a rate that would put him on pace to finish this season with 40, a new franchise record.
While the interceptions are certainly a large part of the story behind the loss—if you missed any of the countless discussions, here is a compilation from the NFL Network's broadcast—there were other plays that weren't made that had a significant effect on the game’s outcome.
Let's look at few.
Play No. 1: First Quarter, 1st-and-10 at the NYG 41 at 1:40
Question: How many NFL fullbacks have a pass reception of more than 20 yards this season?
Answer: Bears fullback Tony Fiammetta, who took a short pass from quarterback Jay Cutler upfield for a 30-yard gain to give his team 1st-and-10 on the a drive that would break the 7-7 tie.
Here’s what happened.
Giants strong-side linebacker Keith Rivers started to cheat up toward the flat (blue arrow) instead of dropping back (red path).
Meanwhile, the Giants defensive secondary dropped back, leaving a huge gap of space in the middle of the field, while new linebacker Jon Beason was left to patrol underneath the coverage.
Fiammetta slipped out to the spot vacated by Rivers, and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, seeing his fullback is wide open, threw a check-down pass to him.
Rivers was so far into the flat that he had little chance of adjusting and coming back as Cutler released the ball.
By the time Beason and Rivers recover, there has been a collision that took both out of the play, not that it mattered as Fiammetta was well past the both of them.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas is left to come up and make the stop after the fullback gains 30 yards, giving his team 1st-and-10 at the Giants 11.
That play was the Bears’ longest play on the scoring drive that set up receiver Brandon Marshall’s 10-yard touchdown reception two plays into the second quarter to give his team the 14-7 lead.
Play No. 2: Second Quarter, 3rd-and-9 at the NYG 10 at 14:23
If there has been a consistent vice in the Giants defense this year—and there have been many—it’s been their inability to get off the field on third down.
The Bears completed 45 percent of their third-down attempts, and two things need to be kept in mind when analyzing this statistic from this game.
First, the Bears only had 11 third-down attempts, but out of the five they made, three were on scoring drives, and one, which is the next play we’ll review, was converted into a touchdown.
Second, when a team doesn’t have many third-down attempts, that is usually a good sign that they’re managing first and second downs well.
Let’s look at one of the third-down conversions, Marshall’s 10-yard touchdown reception.
The Bears are in the shotgun, and Marshall, circled in blue, is lined up on the weak side of the formation against a Giants zone defense.
The two Giants that end up responsible for covering Marshall’s route are safeties Will Hill and Antrel Rolle. Underneath, middle linebacker Jon Beason is keeping an eye on Alshon Jeffery.
At the snap, Marshall was bumped by Rolle, who passed him off to Hill. However, Hill, who had his eyes on the quarterback, is "stuck in cement,” waiting to see what happens, and he ended up breaking late on the ball.
Because Hill is late to break on the ball, Marshall crossed into the zone for an easy touchdown reception to give his team the 14-7 lead.
Play No. 3: Second Quarter, 1st-and-10 at the CHI 33 at 9:25
In the previously described play, it was noted how effective the Bears were on first down. To support that statement, Chicago ran 32 first-down plays, averaging 7.2 yards per gain. That figure supports the contention that many of Chicago's second and third downs were manageable.
Of particular note, in the first half of the game, which is where Chicago did most of their scoring, they ran 17 plays on first down, averaging 9.7 yards per gain.
There were many reasons why the Bears were so successful on first-down plays. Here's a look at the 27-yard reception by Jeffery, which was the Bears’ second-longest play from scrimmage in the game.
Jeffery lined up across from cornerback Terrell Thomas. Jeffery's route is to run straight down along the sideline. As he does so, he pauses just a tad, causing Thomas to hesitate for a split second.
In the frame on the right, Jeffery uses that slight delay to run behind Thomas, beating him in a foot race down the sideline.
Meanwhile, the cavalry—safety Ryan Mundy and linebacker Keith Rivers—is nowhere near the play, which remember, is along the right sideline (left frame).
Rivers, who doesn’t start to move until well after the ball comes out of Cutler’s hand, is seen in the left frame on the numbers while Mundy is seen making a mad dash to the other sideline.
In the frame on the right, the ball is well on its way to Jeffery while Mundy and Rivers come charging in from the next area code.
Thomas, meanwhile, is facing the end zone and appears to have lost sight of where the ball and the receiver were.
The result of the breakdowns was an easy completion on first down for a big gain which gave the Bears 1st-and-10 on the Giants' 40-yard line on a drive that included a defensive offside penalty against defensive tackle Shaun Rogers on a 2nd-and-10, the Bears' only 2nd-and-long situation on the drive.
As the Bears kept chipping away at the distance between the ball and the end zone, the drive ended on a three-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Marshall to increase Chicago's lead to 21-14.
Play No. 4: Second Quarter, 2nd-and-10 at the CHI 33 at 2:52
The Giants had a chance to halt the Bears’ final scoring drive before halftime if they had been able to get some solid play by their defense.
Unfortunately, the solid play didn’t come. As in this instance, the Bears completed a 15-yard pass on the right hash to tight end Martellus Bennett.
Two things happened that helped make this play successful for Chicago.
The first is the most obvious. Linebacker Jon Beason, assigned to cover Bennett on the play, fell down just as the big tight end caught the ball.
In the frame, Beason can be seen stumbling to the ground as Bennett starts to separate.
The second thing that helped the Bears is that safety Will Hill, who would eventually make the tackle, was a good seven yards away from Bennett, who, as seen in the frame, has begun to add on to his initial four-yard reception.
This play, by the way, is a good example of something the Giants have been doing on defense far too often, and that is giving up too much cushion underneath, regardless of the opponent.
While clearly the goal is to keep things in front of them and not get burned by the deep pass, the Bears only attempted four passes deep down the field (out of 36 pass attempts). Two of those four fell incomplete.
As teams before the Bears have realized, the Giants usually give up a lot of space underneath, so part of the Bears’ strategy was to attack that space between the defensive backs and the linebackers. The Bears did just that with success.
Thus, the majority of the Bears’ big pass plays of 20 or more yards usually started with a short or intermediate throw and catch to a receiver that managed to get behind the linebackers.