1. The arrival of the Giants represented an opportunity for the Bears to get the dormant pass rush going against an offensive line that has been racked with injuries and one that has struggled protecting Eli Manning. Entering the game, New York had allowed 15 sacks, which tied for the sixth-most in the NFL.
A struggling offensive line against a front that is beat up with injuries and has been struggling to get home? This was a good chance for the Bears. But they turned up just one sack when Lance Briggs got Manning down in the third quarter on a third-and-11. Turned out it was one of just four third downs that the Giants did not convert as they finished 7 of 11.
But before you dismiss the idea that pressure on Manning wasn’t fruitful, take a closer look. Manning’s first two interceptions came against blitzes called by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The Bears might not have driven Manning into the Soldier Field grass, but they did one better in these instances.
On the first interception, James Anderson, playing middle linebacker in the nickel package, blitzed through the A gap with nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey coming unblocked off the left edge of the defense. He forced an early throw by Manning, who was trying to connect with wide receiver Rueben Randle.
“He dropped back and he was looking my way and threw it,” Bowman said. “I had a good read and got a good break.”
The opportunity to convert the takeaway into points was squandered when Marc Trestman made the unusual decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Giants’ 4-yard line. But Manning gave it right back to the Bears on the next possession. This time, it was only Frey blitzing. Manning looked to get the ball out quickly and he and Randle were clearly not on the same page. Tim Jennings read the play the entire way. In fact, if you re-watch the play Jennings is watching Manning the entire time, not Randle.
“I really wasn’t (watching Randle),” Jennings said. “I was kind of keying the quarterback. I knew we had three-deep. I knew we had a blitz going so if you’re going to sit there and double move me, I believe in our rush, I believe in our blitz package and I just kind of played it slow, kept my eyes on the quarterback and he threw it and I had a good break, good read on it and I was able to go up and get it.”
Is that a situation where Manning could pump-fake Jennings and get Randle wide open, though?
“He can pump me,” Jennings said. “But everything I saw, I saw him hit his back foot (setting to throw) and I saw his hand come off the ball. Once you do that, I am gone because I believe in our rush. If you sit back there and can pump that and do all that, you don’t have that much time.”
How does Jennings keep his faith in the pass rush to do its job when it hasn’t performed well through the early portion of the season?
“I believe in my defense,” he replied. “We brought an extra guy there on that play and I believe in my defense. I believe in the guys around me that are going to do their job just like they believe in me. I believe it. I saw it and I was able to get a good break.”
It was encouraging because the blitzes produced results even if the pass rush doesn’t necessarily show up in the stats for those plays. They were well-executed calls and the defense made plays even if Manning’s miscommunication with Randle served up a gift that Jennings returned for a touchdown.
But the pass rush is still not where it needs to be. Defensive end Julius Peppers was a no-show on the defensive stat page in the gamebook afterward for the second consecutive week. That means no tackles, no assists, no hurries, no deflections. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I wrote about Peppers making Bengals reserve offensive tackle Anthony Collins money in free agency after the season opener when Peppers was a non-factor. He’s done little since and it has to be a serious concern for the coaches whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
But in these key instances, the blitz helped create a pair of turnovers, one that produced a touchdown.
2. Second-round draft pick Jon Bostic got his first experience on defense this season after D.J. Williams went out with a chest injury. Williams declined to answer questions afterward, saying he wants to find out more about his condition on Friday. But Lance Briggs seemed to indicate Bostic is going to be needed, at least for the next game Oct. 20 at Washington.
“Bostic did well,” Briggs said when I asked him how the rookie performed. “He got in and got his nose in it. He found out that some of the stuff you see in practice or the preseason is a little bit different on the field. But Bostic is going to be big next week.”
If Bostic is going to be “big” next week, that implies Williams, who missed the entire preseason with a calf injury, is going to be out again. Perhaps coach Marc Trestman will shed a little light on the situation at his news conference scheduled for noon.
Bostic got credit for one assist in press box statistics after playing only on special teams through the first five games.
“I wouldn’t say anything surprised me,” Bostic said. “Anybody can go down at any given time and this is really my first experience with someone going down. Preseason is one thing and the regular season is totally different.