Four Downs: Keys to beating the 49ers (11/19/12)

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The San Francisco 49ers, led by running back Frank Gore, have the league's top-ranked rushing offense.
The San Francisco 49ers, led by running back Frank Gore, have the league’s top-ranked rushing offense.

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

1. Play physical

The San Francisco 49ers will be the most physical team the Bears have faced up to this point in the season, and quite possibly could be the most physical they’ll have faced by season’s end. The Niners beat teams by imposing their will, running a power offense and grinding down opponents throughout the course of the 60-minute games. Their defense clamps down on the run and their cornerbacks play physical with opposing wide receivers. The idea is to stifle the opposition, get them flustered, and limit offensive coordinators’ options. Where physicality becomes the most important factor is at the line of scrimmage. Whichever team is more physical in the trenches will most likely win this game.

2. Stop Frank Gore

This key piggybacks off the previous key. A lot of talk centers around whether the two starting quarterbacks — Jay Cutler and Alex Smith — can recover sufficiently from their concussions last week in order to play Monday night. But regardless of whether these two guys play, the team that wins the game is more than likely going to be the one that runs the ball better. San Francisco running back Frank Gore is the league’s 8th-leading rusher and he averages a whopping 5.4 yards per attempt. The Niners as a team lead the NFL with 170.2 rushing yards per game. The Bears got gashed by Houston’s Arian Foster — another of the league’s top backs — in the first half of Sunday night’s game, but they put the clamps down on him in the second half. If the Bears can contain Gore all game in the same manner as they shut down Foster in the second half, they’ll force whoever is taking snaps for the 49ers into having to make plays.

3. Improve first down production

The Bears offense has been atrocious on first down this year, and as a result their offense has suffered because they’ve been put in too many second- and third-and-long situations. When you have an offensive line that can’t sustain blocks for long periods of time, asking Jay Cutler — or Jason Campbell, as it were — to pick up first downs on long conversions is basically asking too much. The Bears need to find ways to gain at least 3-5 yards on first down to make second down more manageable and keep the playbook open. It’s on offensive coordinator Mike Tice to try to mix up his play calls on first down to jump start this offense. Using Matt Forte as a receiver out of the backfield is a start and being able to use the tight end is another benefit — but we all know how Kellen Davis has fared.

4. Protect the football

This was a key last week and I’m going to keep it a key this week, because the six turnovers the Bears committed last week cost them dearly against the Texans. Any time you face a good team, the importance of quality possessions increases dramatically. And any turnover you commit could have severe ramifications from which it is difficult to bounce back. The Niners are plus-4 in turnover ratio and take care of the ball.

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