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Saquon Barkley Could Exploit Bears on Sunday

The Giants may not have the best record, but their offense can do some things against the Bears defense on Sunday.

Without their starting quarterback, the Bears face a task on Sunday in New York that will be more difficult than most thought two weeks ago. Chicago will have to rely on their defense with Chase Daniel at the helm on the other side.

To do so, the Bears will have to know the Giants’ offense well, and it is one with explosive potential. However, it’s strapped to its floor by three terrible players at three vital positions. Learn who those players are (you probably already know one of them) and more in my scouting report New York’s first phase.

Personnel

Of course, any offensive scouting report must begin with the single caller, and his name is Eli Manning. It’s a name that certainly has given New Yorkers many fond memories but his time has passed him by, and the Giants are a few years late in figuring it out.

He remains a quarterback who can put some zip on the football, but he rarely does so without diminishing his accuracy. The main sign of his deterioration with age is his inability to throw the deep ball. His skill position players have given him big-play chances but sometimes he just can’t toss it far enough to get it to them.

Do not be fooled by his stats, which don’t tell the story of one of the worst QBs in the league. They are inflated by one of the best cachets of weapons in football, who make tons of plays after the catch on Manning’s many check-down decisions.

Manning’s first instinct is to check it down at the slightest sign of pressure or solid coverage down the field, almost like he’s playing scared. And frankly, he should be, because if the pass rush gets anywhere near him, he will not escape. He is no threat to run whatsoever and doesn’t help his already not good offensive line at all in regards to sack totals.

The one thing I’ll say about Manning is that when he has time and he lets his routes develop (a rare case), he can still make throws with pinpoint accuracy. Not on a consistent basis, but callbacks to the old Eli are still there.

The engine of this offense is Saquon Barkley, who has generated a massive buzz in the Big Apple and the national media and has pundits denoting him a generational talent. The hype knows no bounds and…

It’s all true.

Barkley is sensational to watch on tape, being one of the bigger backs in the league but one who moves like he’s a 234 pound Tarik Cohen. There is no discernible flaw in his game. His signature moves are quick jump cuts yet ones that cover ample lateral ground, and also running through people. Arm tackles will not work, and if a defender drops his head, Barkley will be past him before he has a chance to look back up.

If he gets into the open field, forget it. And he’s not getting caught from behind, ever. The only way to stop him is to stop him from breaking contain and exercising all-out gang tackling.

Barkley is a refined route runner as well, running textbook wheel and angle routes from the backfield multiple times a game. He can go up and get the ball like an elite receiver if Manning throws a 50-50 ball, and he usually does. He’s also the number one check down target, which comes into play often.

Elsewhere in the backfield, Wayne Gallman will give Barkley a spell every now and then. He’s a perfectly capable backup; he’s a smooth runner who gets downhill quickly for some decent gains. Elijhaa Penny plays fullback, and with the exception of an odd stance, he didn’t stand out one way or another. He’ll get a target in the flat every now and then, with minimal success.

At receiver, there isn’t much explanation required for Odell Beckham Jr. Kicking nets aside, the only force that can consistently slow him down is Eli Manning. He’ll burn any defense with precise routes and superb YAC ability, showing on multiple occasions that he’s capable of taking a 10-yard slant an extra 60 yards to the house.

Beckham also likes corner routes, dig routes, and above all, go routes. Often he’ll line up tighter to the formation than usual, gain inside leverage and just blow by his man.

Sterling Shepard is the main underneath target, and he has some YAC potential as well. His method of gaining ground after a completion is more of a shifty and juke-y variety, as opposed to Beckham’s “run right past you” strategy.

Shepard and Beckham are the only two relevant receivers in this offense. Benny Fowler (remember him?), Corey Coleman, and Russell Shepard will get snaps but rarely targets. Evan Engram is a tight end whose game is closer to that of a receiver and he can be dangerous, but not to Chicago because he will not play on Sunday due to injury.

Stepping into Engram’s spot is Rhett Ellison, a less talented but more complete player than his second-year counterpart. He’ll line up all over (in line, wing, slot, or isolated man in trips) and be targeted on some in routes and underneath drag routes, sometimes on third and long. He’s one of their best blockers as well, regardless of position.

And finally, the offensive line. From left to right: Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Spencer Pulley, Jamon Brown, and Chad Wheeler. And what jumps off the screen most is that they do not pass protect well, especially on the outside.

Solder was a pricey free agent signing and he’s been a disaster in New York. Wheeler isn’t Ereck Flowers-level useless but there isn’t much he does well, and he probably isn’t looking forward to this week after what happened last season against a certain pass rusher. Both struggle most with the outside rush (in comparison to an inside counter move); Solder is vulnerable to a power rush through his outside shoulder and Wheeler will just let his opponent run around him with ease.

Generally, the Giants don’t like to give their line much help in the way of chips or extra blockers, the exception being on a play action outside zone with two TEs staying to help sell the run fake. There are 52 reasons why that should change this week, and that could heavily alter their offensive scheme (more on that later).

Inside, the big guys in the Big Blue has actually improved very much from week one to now and developed into a decent three-man team. Hernandez is a very good player, coming out of UTEP as a rookie. Barkley had to do it all himself in the early season but now they’re giving him just enough space to make magic happen.

It should be noted that the run blockers have a difficult job because they face a disproportionate amount of loaded boxes due to the passing game woes.

Scheme

HC/OC: Pat Shurmur/Mike Shula

Shurmur comes from a very familiar foe, the Minnesota Vikings, where he was their offensive coordinator under Mike Zimmer.

Like Matt Nagy, he’s an Andy Reid protege, but he’s an Eagles Reid guy and not a Chiefs Reid guy. In other words, his offense will feature some similar concepts but in a more traditional style.

On Sunday, you’ll see much less pre-snap motion than you’re probably used to, given its recent spike in offenses like Chicago’s. They’ll still work some end-around action, usually with Beckham, to widen out the defense in the run game, but that mostly comes from tight formations instead of motion.

They run a bunch of two-tight end sets, normally in 12 personnel (first digit means running backs, second digit means tight ends) and often with both TEs on the same side of the line. They’ll run away from the strong side in an inside zone from under center more often than one might think, so teams shouldn’t shift too much towards the unbalanced front.

Out of the standard 11 personnel, their main formations are a doubles tight and a doubles wing set, with the doubles wing tending to be their go-to for two-man bunches and condensed looks. If there’s a wing and it’s a run play, chances are the wing is going to slide across the formation and kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage. This is part of their cutback blocking scheme, where Barkley will take the handoff on the left side of Eli Manning and run right (and vice versa), into the hole that a T-G double team on the three-technique and the kick out have created.

The goal of this is to isolate Barkley with ideally the nickel cornerback, but often a linebacker or a safety, one-on-one. Even if the defender fills the open hole correctly, Shurmer is counting on Barkley to make the man miss, which more often than not is something he does.

From the shotgun, they can do something similar, where Barkley will take the ball and walk inside, then bolt around the free linebacker when he commits to the A gap. This is something Chicago’s LBs have to avoid or they’ll pay dearly.

Their other run concept is an occasional end-around from Beckham, which they run every other game or so and will go for either zero or 10 yards, depending on how well the defense plays it.

They have a few route schemes that they like to run consistently. They’ll show a vertical clear out concept with a TE (Ellison) taking advantage of open space underneath. They could run a mesh (crossing drag routes with verticals down the sidelines) with Barkley looking to seep out and catch his defender napping on a wheel route. Said wheel route, the aforementioned Barkley angle route, and goes to Beckham are their favorite and most fruitful plays.

To increase pass protection success, they’ve been copying the LA Rams a bit and faking an outside zone, moving the pocket (and therefore the pass rushers), faking the run and moving into max protect, and looking to give Manning time to hit Beckham or Shepard farther down the field than he can normally do.

Other than that, they’ll run a healthy amount of play action boots and slides with designed short passes, usually a sliding wing, Shepard on a drag route, or Barkley out of the backfield. They ran it once with Odell as a fullback but that was probably a one-time thing.

Those boots with Barkley releasing to the flat are their bread and butter in the red zone. Their inside-the-20 strategy is all about number 26, much like the rest of the field but to a greater degree.

Matchup the Giants can exploit: Saquon Barkley vs. Bryce Callahan

I have been president of The Loop Sports’ Bryce Callahan fan club since week one, but this week will be a tough task. As the nickel, he’ll be asked to keep the edge against Barkley and probably make some tough one-on-one tackles. Callahan plays bigger than he is in coverage; now is the time to see if he can do it in run support.

That being said if Vic Fangio should be operating much more out of the traditional 3-4 this week. The key to defeating the Giants is to clog every lane by holding firm at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage, giving Barkley no hole and making sure DBs or even LBs don’t have to make those high-pressure stops.

Matchup the Bears can exploit: Khalil Mack vs. It doesn’t matter but especially Chad Wheeler and Nate Solder

Every week, Mack could be placed in this section. But this week specifically is one in which he should wreck the game.

Neither Giants tackle has a prayer of taking on Chicago’s gift from Gruden by himself, and they don’t like to give extra help very much. Shurmur has to make some major adjustments because if he doesn’t allow some major backup to the OTs, Beckham won’t be much of a factor because Eli isn’t going to have more than about two and half seconds before he’s eaten alive.

Bottom line

Contain Barkley and this shouldn’t be too much. The Giants need a quarterback and soon because these guys could be an all-world offense if they had one. For now, though, the Bears should wreak enough havoc on Manning to escape New York at 9-3.

Follow Jack on Twitter–Featured Photo Credit: USA Today¬†

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