Three Bears Tested by Matchups Against the Giants
Facing a second Bill Belichick coaching tree opponent in two weeks might seem like an advantage for the Chicago Bears in preparation.
The connections are not as great as they might seem in this respect when they play the New York Giants at noon, Sunday at Soldier Field.
The offensive and defensive tactics employed by the New York Giants under new coach Joe Judge will test several Bears to greater extents than others.
Judge came from the Patriots but was a special teams coordinator. So while he might bring this team the "Patriot Way," it does not necessarily include the Patriots' ways.
Some tendencies are toward what New England and the Detroit Lions used, others are not.
Personnel-wise, the Giants haven't rebuilt to the point of having great advantages at various positions, although it's difficult for any team to find ways to stop running back Saquon Barkley. Pittsburgh did it, which should make the Bears even more wary. How often does it happen twice in a row?
It is more in the scheme and the way they'll use players where the Giants can present a problem, especially with only one game to rely on for scouting purposes with this coaching staff. Teams can still be burned by unscouted looks when it's only Week 2.
Bears who look to be under the most heat with their matchups against the Giants are cornerback Jaylon Johnson, tight end Jimmy Graham and inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
TE Jimmy Graham vs. SS Jabrill Peppers
An all-purpose safety who can cover tight ends, Peppers' skills are enhanced by all the disguising done by new Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The Giants will use a "amoeba defense," with players milling about not in a three-point stance at times as they try to deceive offenses. "He can come down and play your tight ends, he can play in the post, he has ball skills—you can just feel that," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. Having a player who can dominate physically like Peppers only adds to the confusion caused by scheme. Jimmy Graham made a few plays in last week's game, three catches, but easily could have had two others and one of those was a play he botched by mis-timing a jump. Graham and Mitchell Trubisky need to work more on their connection and timing still. If Graham is to win this battle, it's going to need to be with strength and experience because Peppers has the athletic advantage.
CB Jaylon Johnson vs. WR Darius Slayton
Last week the Bears didn't get to test their rookie, Johnson, against Kenny Golladay. He'll likely get a good dose of Slayton this week, though. After an excellent (740 yards) 2019 Slayton showed he's ready for the next level with a six-catch, 102-yard effort against Pittsburgh, with two touchdown catches. "Speed, speed and more speed," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said, describing the threat. "He's a great player and he can take the top off the coverage, so we've got to do a great job of being disciplined and playing technique and knowing where he's at at all times." He's also tall enough to take shorter cornerbacks vertically, at 6-1. Johnson last week showed great football sense and understanding of the defense considering he had little preparation time in it. Slayton normally would line up on the right side of the formation but he can move to both sides. However, lining him up on Kyle Fuller would be wasting a potential game-breaker. The Bears can expect he'll test Johnson. Slayton had four catches for 67 yards against the Bears last year.
LB Roquan Smith vs. RB Saquon Barkley
The Bears two years ago took the approach of making sure Smith was on Barkley every where he went, until he lined up in the slot or split wide. Last year they were more conventional and didn't get burned by Barkley the way they did in 2018. Smith's speed and open-field ability to break down and tackle on the dead run will be tested trying to bottle up Barkley, who is going to be ready to bust out after being held to an unheard-of 6 yards on 15 rushes by Pittsburgh. The Steelers got to him nine times in the backfield. Smith can make the same kind of hits, but he has to wrap up when he does because Barkley showed against the Bears just before halftime of their 2018 game what can happen if he bounces off the tackler. His run for 22 yards then turned around the game from a possible Bears blowout to an overtime Giants win and started him on the way to a 125-yard effort.