The Bears (2-1) will look to register their second straight win Sunday when they visit the Giants (2-1) at MetLife Stadium. Here are four storylines to follow in the contest:
(1) Will the Bears defense be able to contain Saquon Barkley?
Early this season, the Giants star running back has reverted to the Pro Bowl form he displayed before tearing his ACL during the second week of the 2020 season when he was tackled by Bears safety Eddie Jackson in a game at Soldier Field.
Barkley entered Week 4 ranked second in the NFL in rushing with 317 yards and two touchdowns on 53 carries. With 91 receiving yards, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft out of Penn State tops the league with 408 yards from scrimmage.
"He has big thighs, he has great contact balance, he can hit home runs, so he can take it the distance," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "The one thing that I do see that maybe I am not sure that I saw years ago, they feed him in the ball in the passing game also. So, he's well improved there, and [defenses] try to bring pressure and he blocks. He's a complete back."
After allowing 176 and 203 yards rushing in their first two games versus the 49ers and Packers, respectively, the Bears were much stouter against the Texans last weekend, yielding just 92 yards on the ground. They'll need a similar effort Sunday versus Barkley and a Giants run game that ranks fourth in the NFL.
(2) Will the Bears passing game be more effective?
The Bears have won two of their first three games behind a strong rushing attack and opportunistic defense, but they entered Week 4 ranked last in the NFL in passing yards (78.3 per game).
Sunday's contest against the Giants will provide another chance for Justin Fields and his receivers to get on track. The second-year quarterback struggled with accuracy and decision-making in last Sunday's win over the Texans, completing just 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards with two interceptions and a 27.7 passer rating.
The Bears spent the week in practice building on positives and correcting mistakes with Fields, who conceded that he "played like trash" against Houston.
"It's been good," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He's been positive, upbeat. He's been taking charge of the offense and working on his footwork, working on his timing, working with his receivers with timing. We're excited to see progress this week."
(3) Will the Bears defense generate a consistent pass rush?
As far as Eberflus is concerned, the six sacks the Bears have recorded in their first three games aren't enough. "We need to get more," he said. "We need more and it can come from all levels. We want our four-man rush to get going there and we will get that going, but certainly we need to have some from other spots as well."
Bears pass rushers should have some opportunities against a Giants offense that has permitted 13 sacks, the third most in the NFL. In a 23-16 loss to the Cowboys Monday night, quarterback Daniel Jones was pressured 24 times, the most in a game this year and the second most since the start of the 2021 season.
"I think it all goes back to stopping the run first and second down," said linebacker Roquan Smith. "I feel like when you do that, that's when you get people in more third-and-longs and that's when we are able to let our guys … pin their ears back."
Jones has completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 560 yards with three TDs, two interceptions and an 82.7 passer rating that ranks 23rd in the league.
(4) Will the Bears continue to run the ball effectively?
The Bears entered Week 4 ranked second in the league in rushing, averaging 186.7 yards per game. Their 560 yards on the ground in their first three games are their most since 1989 when they had 595. They'll look to continue their success versus a Giants defense that ranks 25th in the NFL against the run.
With David Montgomery ruled out of Sunday's game with an ankle injury he sustained last weekend against the Texans, the Bears will again lean on Khalil Herbert. The second-year pro rushed for a career-high 157 yards and two TDs on 20 carries after replacing Montgomery versus Houston.
"[Herbert] maybe didn't have as many touches in the first couple weeks, and then now he comes and he's ready to rock and roll," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "When he got the opportunity, he took advantage of it. It wasn't like we blinked or thought anything else of it. We think we have a few special backs and Khalil is that. He's one of our rocks and we're lucky to have him."
Getsy appreciates Herbert's patient running style and lauded the 2021 sixth-round pick for his ability to make the first defender miss against the Texans.
"Khalil's got a really cool patience about him," Getsy said, "that he's able to kind of let things happen and make it feel like he's not necessarily going full speed, but he is, which then allows him to make cuts and read off the blocks of guys really well."