Bears offense vs. 49ers defense
The Bears, but specifically Jay Cutler, have not performed well in prime time games this season. I think that has more to do with the caliber of opponents they’ve faced and less to do with the time of the game and the national television audience. The Packers and Falcons both played well defensively at home and got after Cutler. The 49ers have a statistically better defense than the Falcons, but are not nearly as good as the Packers. In a prime time matchup, expect San Francisco to bring their best game. The Niners have the No. 4-ranked run defense in the NFL, so expect them to shut down Matt Forte, as most teams but the woeful Lions and Browns have done this season. I don’t expect them to have as much luck against Cutler and the passing game, though. Ranked No. 24 in that department, San Francisco could have difficulty defending against the Bears’ passing game if they spread the field and Cutler distributes the ball around as he’s done nicely this season. The 49ers have one of the best linebackers in the game in Patrick Willis, who leads the team in tackles, but he’ll be more a factor in the run game and the Bears can neutralize him by spreading the ball around the field.
Bears defense vs. 49ers offense
I’ve all but given up on this Bears unit. They can’t stop anybody. Allow me to quote Mike Singletary, whose team the Bears will be facing: “Can’t do it.” We’ve known since the beginning of last season that the Bears can’t defend the pass, but this season they’re having trouble stopping the run, too. If you can’t defend either facet, how do you expect to win? Last week, the duo of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells rushed for 149 yards, and they are part of the worst rushing offense in the league — or what was the worst until it met the Bears. Imagine what San Francisco’s Frank Gore will do against the Bears. Gore is one of the toughest runners in the NFL and his 5.6 yards per carry is near the top of the league. The Bears have become an increasingly soft team. They play soft and they look soft. They arm tackle and also get physically beat up. Teams have not only run past them, but are running through them, too. That’s why what 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said this week couldn’t possibly be construed as an insult or offensive. Davis said he felt his team “can destroy” the Bears’ front seven, and I happen to agree with him. The only thing that makes this a respectable matchup is that the 49ers are a little banged up on the offensive line and they have underachieving, 2005 first-overall draft pick Alex Smith quarterbacking their team. If the Bears can generate some kind of pass rush — something they haven’t been able to do with their defensive line or from their blitzing linebackers — then they might have a shot.
I don’t expect this to be a blowout, but, then again, I expected last week’s game against the Cardinals to be close. But in close games, special teams play a huge factor and the Bears’ special teams could be the difference-maker in this game. Robbie Gould and Joe Nedney have been about even this season. San Francisco punter Andy Lee has a better net average and two more punts downed inside the 20 than Brad Maynard. But the Bears’ punt return coverage has allowed 159 fewer yards, so their coverage has been better. Danieal Manning got some returns in place of Johnny Knox last week, but I like both of them plus Devin Hester over their counterparts this week.
The 49ers have lost four straight games after a 3-1 start whereas the Bears have gone 1-3 since beginning the season the same way. The Bears are coming off a second embarrassing loss in three weeks and are traveling across the country on a short week of preparation. I don’t think this will be a pretty game and the NFL might be regretting having scheduled this game as its first Thursday night game. Get ready to hear all you can handle about Singletary and his first matchup as head coach against the team for which he once played. After all, without that story line, why else would the Bears and 49ers have been scheduled in prime time in front of a national audience? I’d like to think that the Bears could beat a team as bad as the 49ers with a quarterback as inept as Smith, but the Bears’ defense has been shockingly bad this season. When you match them against one of the best young running backs in the league on the road on a short week, that doesn’t spell good news. Until the Bears prove me wrong, I have to pick against them.
Final Score: San Francisco 24, Chicago 21