Larry Mayer and Simon Kaufman of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Sunday's road game against the New York Giants.
Offense: Receiver Taylor Gabriel
After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Browns and Falcons, Gabriel has made the most of an expanded role with the Bears. He leads the team in both receptions (51) and receiving yards (527) and has caught two touchdown passes. The 5-8, 165-pounder has proven to be an all-around receiver, making plays inside and outside. Taylor clicked with quarterback Chase Daniel in the Bears' Thanksgiving win over the Lions, catching seven passes for 49 yards while being targeted eight times—the same number as fellow receivers Allen Robinson II (4) and Anthony Miller (4) combined.
With the Bears having much more success through the air than on the ground this season, Gabriel figures to once again play a key role Sunday against a Giants defense that ranks 25th in the NFL in points allowed, 23rd in total yards and 28th on third down. Gabriel will face Giants cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and B.W. Webb, who signed with the Bears as a free agent last year but failed to make the opening day roster.
Defense: Safety Eddie Jackson
All you need to know about Jackson is that Khalil Mack took to social media to endorse the dynamic safety as the NFL's defensive player of the year. Jackson was named the NFC's defensive player of the month for November after scoring three touchdowns in helping lead the Bears to a perfect 4-0 record. The 2017 fourth-round pick from Alabama has produced key second half pick-sixes in the last two games, leading to narrow division wins over the Vikings and Lions. His five defensive touchdowns since the start of the 2017 season are more than 21 NFL teams.
The Bears will need Jackson's play-making ability against a Giants offense that features two game-breaking stars in rookie running back Saquon Barkley and veteran receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Both possess the ability to score every time they touch the ball. Barkley, who was selected with the second pick in this year's draft is a dangerous threat; he ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 829 yards and eight touchdowns on 171 carries and is tied for 10th with 71 receptions for 581 yards and four TDs. Beckham is eighth in the NFL with 74 catches for 1,017 yards and five TDs.
Offense: Running back Tarik Cohen
Like the Giants' Barkley, Cohen is a dual threat as a runner and receiver. Cohen brings the extra element of serving as a punt returner, where he's racked up a league-high 322 punt return yards.
Cohen led the offense with 10 touches last week against the Lions, running three times and recording seven catches. He also had four punt returns and tallied more than 100 total yards on the day. Cohen was crucial in always giving Daniel a receiving option in the backfield, which was critical as the offense adjusted to a quarterback who isn't as inclined to run as regular starter Mitchell Trubisky.
The Giants have a few playmakers on defense in linebackers B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter, but the matchup bodes well on paper for Cohen. The Giants rank in the bottom fourth of the league in rush defense, allowing more than 125 yards per game on the ground and haven't fared much better through the air, where they've allowed opponents more than 250 yards per game. If Cohen can continue to attack defenses as both a runner and receiver, the Bears offense should be in good shape on Sunday.
Defense: Cornerback Prince Amukamara
Amukamara played his home games in the Meadowlands for five seasons, but on Sunday, he'll play at MetLife Stadium for the first time as a true visitor. Amukamara – who was drafted by the Giants in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft and won a Super Bowl there in his rookie season – said he's not viewing the game as a homecoming of any sorts, but rather as just the next challenge on the schedule.
Amukamara has 22 tackles in his last three games, his most over a stretch of three games since the 2014 season. He's also tallied three pass deflections and two forced fumbles during the span. Amukamara and the Bears defense will have an interesting challenge against the Giants, a team that boasts one of the most dynamic receiver and running back combos in the league in Beckham and Barkley. The duo has combined for 17 touchdowns and more than 2,440 yards this season.
Amukamara said he'll focus on containing Beckham at the line and that the secondary will be critical in helping the defensive line take down Barkley on run plays. Given how good the Bears' pass rush has been this season, and how the Giants offense has struggled at keeping quarterback Eli Manning's jersey clean—he's been sacked a league-high 38 times this year—it's possible the Giants try to get the ball out of Manning's hand fast and beat the Bears with short pass plays. If Amukamara can stick to Beckham off the snap and change course when New York does call a run, the Bears defense will be looking at another praise-worthy performance.