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1985 Bears Coverage: Stopping McMahon is Giants' concern

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Stopping McMahon is Giants’ concern

Brian Hewitt

Originally published Jan. 2, 1986

The New York Giants insist defensing a healthy Jim McMahon Sunday will be more difficult than stopping Joe Montana last week.

And they make a good case.

Montana is the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history. But the Dallas Cowboys left his ribs badly bruised the week before last Sunday’s 17-3 Giant victory over the 49ers in the NFC wild card game.

Plus, the Giants had correctly doped out Montana as a scrambler who is rarely effective going to his left. Bear quarterback McMahon is perfectly happy flushing out of the pocket in either direction. And that’s where the Giants’ problems will begin.

“I think McMahon’s a little more active than Montana, if that’s possible,” says Giants coach Bill Parcells. “As far as being a touch passer, I don’t think McMahon’s quite like Montana in that respect. But he really does have some great scrambling ability and some great improvisation ability.”

Against the 49ers, the Giants’ defense forced Montana to scramble to his left when they allowed him to scramble at all. They did it in much the same way a basketball defender will overplay a right-handed point guard, making him dribble with his left hand. Then the defensive right end would pinch Montana back toward the middle.

Meanwhile, New York’s innovative young defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, 33, often inserted outside linebacker Andy Headen in place of starting outside linebacker Gary Reasons.

Reasons is more solid against the run. But the more mobile Headen, normally all-Pro Lawrence Taylor’s backup at right outside linebacker, wreaked havoc on passing downs. Keeping Montana bottled up inside the pocket also allowed Giant nose tackle Jim Burt to collect two of the

Giants’ four sacks. The reason the Giants won’t be able to deploy Headen that way against the Bears is McMahon’s ability scrambling in either direction.

“In that sense, he’s more dangerous than Montana,” says Giant defensive end Casey Merrill. “You saw it in that Monday night game when he pulled a couple of rabbits out of his hat.”

Merrill actually was referring to the Bears’ nationally televised Thursday victory over the Vikings Sept. 19. In that game, McMahon came off the bench in the third quarter with the Bears trailing 17-9. He threw three touchdown passes in less than seven minutes. The Bears won 33-24.

Worse for the Giants, says inside linebacker Harry Carson, “McMahon’s not afraid to run.”

New York starting left outside linebacker Byron Hunt never will forget what McMahon did to his SMU defense his senior year in the Holiday Bowl. McMahon led the Brigham Young offense to three touchdowns in the last four minutes to beat SMU 46-45.

“And the Bears have good resources surrounding McMahon,” said Parcells.

Asked yesterday how he planned to stop Walter Payton, Parcells replied, “Jeeps, ropes, a lasso.”

The Giants are worried that stopping McMahon might not be so easy.