Chicago Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack can wreck a game. Giants second-year right tackle Chad Wheeler primarily will be tasked with stopping Mack on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and he knows “you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game” to compete with the NFL’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
Wheeler’s insights on his matchup with Mack lead our Friday Five ahead of Sunday’s game between the Giants (3-8) and Bears (8-3).
1. WHEELS UP: ATTACK OF THE MACK
Wheeler had the distinct displeasure of facing the combination of Mack and Bruce Irvin last season in Oakland when Mack still was destroying opponents for the Raiders, before new Oakland Jon Gruden improbably traded him to the Bears.
What stood out to Wheeler then was that Mack never stops.
“He’s just relentless,” Wheeler, 24, a second-year undrafted USC product, said Wednesday. “He’s a great player. He has an internal drive that’s tough to match, so you’ve got to bring it … There’s a chip on his shoulder; you can tell. Some players in the league have a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got some ‘X’ factor that makes them, I don’t know, different or unique. That’s what I think of when I see him.”
Mack had four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and another QB hit on the Giants’ Geno Smith in Oakland last season. This year, Mack has eight sacks, 28 tackles, five forced fumbles, three passes defended, two fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown in nine games.
Wheeler has been a clear upgrade over Week 1 starting right tackle Ereck Flowers but still has had his growing pains, and certainly there are defenders that are impossible to stop. J.J. Watt in Houston in Week 3, for example, had three sacks, eight tackles, four QB hits, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Wheeler’s first start in place of Flowers this season.
That was the definition of being thrown into the fire. Since, Wheeler has helped the Giants’ running game and has battled in pass protection and hopes the results will follow the improvement.
“You gain some confidence, but it would be better if we won some games with it, too,” Wheeler said. “Personally, (my game) could be better, could be a lot better. Obviously, I want some plays back in the run game, pass game, can always be better.”
2. NEW COACHES NAGY AND SHURMUR FACE OFF
Bears coach Matt Nagy, 40, and Pat Shurmur, 53, both are part of the Andy Reid coaching tree and were on the same staff briefly in 2008. Nagy was a first-year Philadelphia Eagles intern then for a few weeks while Shurmur was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach, before Shurmur left to be the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator. So there is a mutual respect and a history.
“Me being a young guy still playing at the time, I was a player in the Arena League, I was building relationships with that internship,” Nagy said Wednesday. “(Shurmur) was the one coach that would always return my phone call or return a text message and ask how I was doing. That went a long way with me. I thought that speaks volumes of who he is as a person, and I always remembered that.”
Nagy is 8-3 in his first year with Chicago, his first head coaching opportunity after serving as Reid’s QB coach or offensive coordinator in Kansas City the past five seasons. He has a strong defense and a budding young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. The Giants never interviewed Nagy and he said this week that he never heard from New York.
Shurmur is 3-8 in year one with the Giants and his second head coaching stint after his unsuccessful stint in Cleveland (2011-12). He got here by directing an explosive Minnesota Vikings offense last season but has struggled to build the same this year in New York with Eli Manning at QB, a porous O-line to start and a disappointing defense.
3. DANIEL T THE RUN THREAT TRUBISKY IS
The Giants have had to prepare for two quarterbacks this week, and they’re expected to get the less dynamic Chase Daniel instead of Trubisky (right shoulder), who would sit out his second straight game.
That’s unique from a preparation standpoint, studying tape of a 10-year veteran making only his fourth career start in Daniel. And it also could be a relief, since Trubisky is so much more dynamic with his legs.
Trubisky, 24, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 draft, is second among all quarterbacks with 363 yards rushing, with four rushing TDs and four runs of 20 yards or more. Only Cam Newton (417) has more rushing yards among QBs.
“I think the real challenge when you play against a guy like Trubisky is if it’s not there … he’ll pull it down and run with it,” Shurmur said. “He’s got a good set of legs that will either keep a drive alive or they can use him in the zone-read game. Whether they choose to do it because he’s coming back from the shoulder thing, I don’t know, but we’ll need to prepare for it.”
Daniel, 32, had just four rushes for four yards on Thanksgiving in Detroit, but he still directed a 23-16 win with 27-of-37 passing for 230 yards, two TDs and no turnovers.
“One thing is you just have to get back there, you have to make him feel the pressure and kind of force them into making errors,” Giants edge rusher Olivier Vernon said.
4. BARKLEY DEFENDS SHURMUR, WAVES OFF THE HYPE
Saquon Barkley politely dismissed a question Thursday about whether he’s at the point where he can suggest a play to Shurmur, in the wake of second-guessing of the coach’s play-calling and usage of Barkley last week’s second half in a loss to Philadelphia.
In the process, Barkley demonstrated not only loyalty to his coach but also deflected all the attention on his production to his coaches and teammates helping him do it. In just 11 games, he has 171 rushes for 829 yards (4.8 yards per carry), 71 catches for 581 yards (8.2) and 12 total touchdowns.
“I try not to do that because you believe in what your coaches are going to call,” Barkley said. “After the game, everyone wants to be the coach, and everyone thinks they know what should be called in that situation or how we should do this or we should do that. They’re there for a reason. So I just believe in those guys.
“And they’ve been putting me in position to do well, and everyone has been loving it or hyping me up like ‘oh rookie this, rookie that,’” Barkley said, referring to talk of his being the rookie of the year. “It starts with the team, starts with the offensive line, but also starts with the coaches putting me in position to make plays. And I think they’ve been doing that not only with myself, but with everyone on this team this year.”
5. WEBB: QUIT IN PLAYERS
Veteran corner B.W. Webb emphatically stressed this week that he and his Giants teammates will continue to work hard the rest of this season, even though the playoffs are far out of reach.
“People outside might think it’s hard, but everybody in here, we’re playing for families,” Webb, 28, said this week. “People are playing for each other. People are playing for an opportunity to come back and play here next year or (for) another team, wherever it is. People might think that’s hard, even though we might be out of the picture, but it’s easy. It’s what you signed up to do. We’re playing for each other. There’s no drop-off on that.”