The Chicago Bears beat the visiting New York Giants, 27-21, on Thursday night. For the Bears, it broke their deadlock with the Detroit Lions to take sole possession of the NFC North lead. The loss dropped the Giants to 0-6 for the first time since 1976. Here's what we learned from Thursday's game and what each team needs to do moving forward.
Eli Manning struggled, but a run game makes him better
Eli Manning is still throwing a lot of interceptions, but he is demonstrably better with a reliable running game. Looking back at his prior successes Manning has always had a solid running back that can move the chains and open up the play action pass. At the team's height this was a one-two punch from Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, but times have changed.
David Wilson was unable to make an impact as the team's lead back to start the season, but the return of Jacobs could be a difference maker if he can keep up Thursday night's pace. He finished with 106 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Manning finished with his second-best completion percentage and quarterback rating of the season.
It's probably time for Manning to have a spell on the bench and get his confidence back, but that's not happening. He's won two rings and that's enough to have complete control. At 0-6 this has become an evaluation year for New York and it's probably smart for the Giants to let their franchise quarterback get his head back in the game while giving some reps to rookie Ryan Nassib.
What's happened to Julius Peppers?
The Chicago Bears have been able to skate by without a reliable pass rush, but as the schedule gets tougher the team should be asking more from its $84 million defensive end.
Through five games Peppers has just eight tackles and one sack. Raw statistics don't always tell the whole story with pass rushers, but he was routinely stonewalled by Giants' rookie Justin Pugh without any ability to generate pressure.
It's not a huge issue for the Bears right now, but it's something the team should keep close tabs on and scheme around if needed. Chicago managed just one sack against the Giants on Thursday and too often the team is leaning on its excellent secondary to mitigate the lack of pass rush and reliable tackling. Teams will exploit this as time progresses.
New York can't afford to trade Hakeem Nicks
It seems like a foregone conclusion the Giants will lose wide receiver Hakeem Nicks after the season, but even a winless team can't completely destroy the season by giving away one of its only offensive weapons.
Rueben Randle is improving, but New York would lose the ability to properly evaluate its talent over the next 10 games if Nicks is traded. In a contract year, the best the Giants can hope would be a late-round pick. It's a difficult situation to be in, but ultimately keeping him is the best move.
Nicks routinely extended drives with his 70-yard game and was more reliable on key downs than Victor Cruz.
Alshon Jeffery needs to become a bigger focus on offense
The rapport between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall is undeniable, but getting Alshon Jeffery involved more in the offense is a huge factor in the Bears' offensive successes.
Marshall had a good game, but was targeted 11 times by Cutler while Jefferey had just five passes thrown his way. Part of this is a question of separation, but he has the size to outmatch most cornerbacks in the NFL. Using both receivers in concert is the key to making the Bears' pass offense.
Ultimately it comes down to trust and it's unclear whether Cutler completely trusts his second-year receiver yet, even after his record-breaking day against the New Orleans Saints.