NEW YORK (AP) — As the last unbeaten team in the NFC, the Chicago Bears are among the season’s biggest surprises. The New York Giants are probably surprising for the wrong reasons.
The Bears look to improve upon their best start since their last Super Bowl season four years ago Sunday night when they visit a mistake-prone Giants team that has dropped consecutive games.
Chicago (3-0) went 7-9 a year ago as newcomer Jay Cutler threw a league-high 26 interceptions. It’s been a different story in 2010 with Cutler throwing for 870 yards – fifth-most in the NFL – with six touchdowns and two interceptions under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
“It’s just different,” Cutler said. “Mike is a quarterback-friendly offensive coordinator. He’s going to give quarterbacks answers for each play. There is no gray area, and whenever you see a certain coverage, you know where the ball is supposed to go.”
While the Bears are undefeated this far into a season for the first time since opening 7-0 in 2006, the Giants (1-2) are looking to avoid their worst start since 1997. They opened 4-0 the past two years.
Eli Manning is tied for the NFL lead with Minnesota’s Brett Favre with six interceptions, and the Giants have 10 turnovers – tied for second-most in the league.
“You can’t make the errors,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “You cannot be careless with the football. You’re not going to win at this level.”
The errors included 11 penalties – five were 15-yard personal fouls – in last Sunday’s 29-10 loss to Tennessee. Two of those were committed by right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who was benched and apologized to his team Monday.
Those kinds of mistakes won’t help New York against a Bears team that has beaten playoff teams from last year each of the last two weeks, including Monday’s 20-17 win over Green Bay. Devin Hester had a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 28-yard return that set up Chicago’s first score.
“He was definitely back last week, even the times we didn’t score, I felt like he was a threat every time he touched the ball,” coach Lovie Smith said. “It’ll be interesting to see what exactly our opponents do.”
Hester has victimized New York in the past, returning a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown in a 38-20 win in the Bears’ last visit to New Jersey in 2006. The Giants – with rookie Matt Dodge struggling to a 33.0-net average on eight punts – do not plan on letting Hester become a factor.
“Kick it out of bounds,” said Coughlin about his instructions to Dodge. “Don’t let him have the ball.”
Chicago may have an edge in going up against New York and first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who was a candidate for the same position with the Bears before joining Coughlin’s staff. Chicago promoted Rod Marinelli.
Fewell’s defense is allowing 136.7 rushing yards per game to rank 26th, although that may not be a factor against a Bears offense that emptied its backfield on numerous sets Monday and has the league’s fourth-worst rushing attack (72.0 ypg).
Still, Cutler doesn’t expect any surprises.
“I’m kind of familiar with the Giants because they run a similar system that we do here in Chicago defensively,” Cutler said. “They have a really good front four and brought in some defensive backs to help them out. It’s going to be a good test for us, they’re a good, physical team.”
Marinelli’s defense is allowing 39.7 yards per game on the ground to lead the NFL. It will be facing a Giants running attack which has gained more than 100 yards every game behind Ahmad Bradshaw, while disgruntled Brandon Jacobs has received four carries each of the last two weeks.
The Bears have an unhappy player of their own in Tommie Harris, the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle who was benched last week and could be on the sidelines again.
Still, Chicago’s defense has been buoyed by the addition of Julius Peppers, who had a strong game against the Packers and played well last year for Carolina in a win over New York. Peppers will look to take advantage of a Giants offensive line that could be missing center Shaun O’Hara (left ankle, Achilles’ tendon) for a second straight game.
“You have to recognize where he is – he’s going to line up on the right side, on the left side, he’s going to line up to the open side, he’s going to line up to the tight end side – and you’ve got to make some adjustments with your schemes,” said Coughlin about Peppers.
The Giants have lost their last five regular-season home meetings against the Bears since a 28-24 victory in 1969. The winner of the last two meetings – in 2006 and 2007 – has gone on to the Super Bowl.
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