Cutler And Co. Are Sliding And One More Loss Could Set Off A City-Wide Panic

By Steve Silverman
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The Giants are 0-5, beaten up and unable to mount any kind of pass rush.

The Chicago Bears are 3-2 and view themselves as a challenger to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. They are coming off back-to-back losses to the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints, and if they lose Thursday night to the winless Giants, a full-fledged panic will envelop the “City of Broad Shoulders.”

When the Bears are at their best, they have a versatile offense that can put a lot of points on the scoreboard. They have changed their personality and no longer are a defensively dominant team. Instead, rookie head coach Marc Trestman has focused on offense and has plenty of options.

Start with a running back in Matt Forte who can attack between the tackles and cause damage when he gets to the second level. He’s also a special pass receiver who knows how to get open and make big plays. Forte is similar to Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, but he’s not quite as explosive.

The Bears have a big-time receiver in Brandon Marshall, who is bigger, stronger and faster than any of the defensive backs the Giants will throw at him. However, Marshall was double-covered last week by the Saints. That allowed No. 2 receiver Alshon Jeffery to break free for a 10-catch, 218-yard performance.

That was a huge effort for the Bears, because it demonstrated that they have another wideout alternative to Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t have to focus on one primary target.

But not everybody was happy about Jeffery’s eye-opening day. Marshall caught just four passes for 30 yards against New Orleans and didn’t like playing second-fiddle to Jeffery. He had no problems with Jeffery getting the ball; he just wants to make sure he gets his as well.

Ex-Giant Martellus Bennett has given Cutler a decent red zone target and has caught 25 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bears have developed a real offense as their defense has aged. They are no longer an intimidating and hard-hitting crew. Instead, tackling has become an issue because Julius Peppers has gotten old, Brian Urlacher has retired and Charles Tillman has knee and groin issues.

But one thing the Bears can do is take the ball away. That’s the fuel that drives this team. They have forced 11 fumbles and have six interceptions.

Turnovers have been among the Giants’ biggest issues, and nobody is more to blame than Eli Manning and his 12 interceptions. Overall, the Giants are minus-13 on the takeaway/turnover table and that’s hard for any team to overcome.

But here’s the thing: the Bears are a team that is psychologically vulnerable. They may have been playing football for 90 years, but they have won one NFL championship since 1963, and if you take it back even further have won two titles since 1946.

That’s a long history of frustration and failure, and that means the team is almost always waiting for something to go wrong.

The Bears should have an easy time of it against a team that is 0-5, turning the ball over and can’t mount a pass rush. However, they will find themselves in trouble if the Giants can hang in there in the first half. If the Giants are within one score by halftime, the Bears will play as if something could go wrong.

When Cutler has the ball in his hands late in the game, he could throw the most beautiful 35-yard pass or telegraph a throw to a safety. He is hit or miss, up and down and inconsistent.

He could very well make fourth-quarter mistakes when the game is on the line and give the Giants a chance to win.

The key for the Giants is finding a way to avoid the turnovers they made so regularly through the first five games. If Eli stops being generous with his throws and he can find Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle, the Giants may come up with an opportunity for their first win of the season against a team that is on the verge of panic.

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