We all understand the major threat posed by the New York Giants. With Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul lined up on the edge, the world champions possess the most dynamic and versatile set of 4-3 (or 3-4 for that matter) pass rushers in the NFL. And as the Bears are set to enter into the season with their most glaring weaknesses along the offensive line, there is no doubting the match-up of these two units is Friday night’s main event. DING!
But as should be expected from a group that’s won two of the last five titles, Tom Coughlin’s Giants feature another signature strength. As their running game in the post-Tiki Barber era has been reduced to one of the league’s worst (dead last in 2011), the G-men have turned to Eli Manning’s big play ability to win games. They are among the league’s top teams in every statistical category measuring the ability to throw the ball downfield.
Lovie Smith ought to be hoping Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride dials up a few shots over the top.
A week ago, I would have shrugged off this concept, leaning on my go-to “it’s just another meaningless game” mantra. But the injury suffered by free safety Chris Conte against the Washington Redskins changes that. Conte is the only safety on the Bears roster with the skill set to play the center fielder role. He has great closing speed and exceptional hands. His instincts were a bit rookie-ish in his rookie season (imagine that) but most reports from Bourbonnais seemed to suggest he had found his comfort zone in Lovie’s defense.
Can a combination of Major Wright, Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters handle the workload at safety? If Conte missing the first two weeks of the season can those three individuals defend the NFL’s blossoming golden boy Andrew Luck and current golden boy Aaron Rodgers? The Bears will most likely have an opportunity to test the Conte-less group Friday night in New Jersey. If they fail, Smith and Marinelli will have a great deal of work to do before the whistle blows against the Indianapolis Colts.