By Steve Silverman
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Preseason games ordinarily mean very little in the grand scheme of things, but when the Giants face the Bears on Friday night it could reveal a potential challenger for the defending Super Bowl champions.
The optimism in Chicago has never been higher since Lovie Smith became head coach. That includes the 2006 season, when the Bears went to the Super Bowl with the unfortunate Rex Grossman at quarterback.
This year, the Bears have upgraded their passing attack and should have one of the most exciting offensive teams in the league. They have a solid and dependable running back in Matt Forte. More importantly, they have a quarterback in Jay Cutler who can wing the ball all over the field.
They also finally have a big-time receiver.
Brandon Marshall is the Bears’ version of Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Houston’s Andre Johnson. He is a big, fast, athletic wide receiver who can race past defensive backs, leap over them and make big plays.
In addition to his talent, he is very familiar with Cutler. The two had formed a dangerous passing duo in Denver.
Marshall brings his share of baggage, but he’s still the most talented receiver the Bears have ever had on the roster. This has been a team that has lacked the ability to hit opponents with the big punch, but that may no longer be the case.
The Cutler-Marshall combination is not the big story for this game, however.
Here’s what makes this game interesting. The Giants have the best pass-rushing defensive line in football. When Jason Pierre-Paul sets his mind to it, there is basically no stopping him. If you want to test JPP, you better put an All-Pro in front of him.
You will not find any All-Pros on the Bears’ offensive line — especially at the tackle position. On the left side, the Bears are going to try to take the NFC North away from the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions with J’Marcus Webb in the starting lineup. At his best, Webb has average quickness and is a decent run blocker. At his worst, he is confused, penalty prone and slow.
Right tackle Gabe Carimi has a solid college pedigree from Wisconsin, but he may never be good enough as a pass blocker.
The Bears’ interior blockers of left guard Chris Williams, center Roberto Garza and right guard Lance Louis are decent, but that’s not good enough when facing the Giants.
Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice are holding their breath at the prospect of facing the Giants’ defensive line.
The third game of the preseason is always the closest thing to a regular-season NFL game, and both sides could go at it hard for at least 30 minutes.
That’s 30 minutes that could expose the Bears’ offensive line as a sham. They could show that they are ready to step up, but that seems unlikely.
Tice has not often been happy by what he’s seen from his blockers in practice this summer.
This is a key test for the Bears. They can prove something by protecting Cutler and opening holes for Forte against the Giants.
On the other hand, the Giants can plant significant seeds of doubt in a team that could become a contender this season by playing a devastating half of preseason football.
That in itself makes this game at MetLife Stadium a preseason contest with actual meaning.
Giants fans, will the Bears pose a legitimate threat to the G-Men in the NFC this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…