A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and 49ers on Nov. 19, 2012.
Bears offense vs. 49ers defense
We have our confirmation. There was no suspense whatsoever or a critical gametime decision. The Bears announced Friday that Jason Campbell would start Monday against the 49ers while Jay Cutler recovers from his concussion. Whatever the Bears lack from not having Cutler’s athleticism and physical gifts, they’ll gain back from Campbell’s poise under pressure and ability to take care of the ball. Campbell entered the Texans game last week without having any preparation in practice leading up to it. That fact showed, as Campbell didn’t want to take too many chances downfield and resorted to checkdowns often. What he also did, however, was protect the football and not turn it over. That’s exactly what the Bears will need to do on the road against a tough 49ers defense. Campbell has had a lot of experience as a starter in the NFL, so don’t look for him to shake under pressure — like Caleb Hanie did last year in Cutler’s stead. The Bears brought Campbell in, and paid him well, for exactly this reason: to fill in for Cutler if need be and keep the ship afloat. If anything, the Bears have less to worry about in Campbell than they do in an offensive line playing in a hostile environment. It’s sure to get loud and that’s when miscommunication among the line can run rampant. The 49ers rank just 19th in the NFL in sacks, but all it takes is one missed assignment by the offensive line to open the floodgates. The Niners are stout against the run — ranked 6th — and their physical secondary and versatile linebackers have them ranked 5th against the pass. The strength of the Niners defense is at linebacker, where Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman anchor the middle of the field. The two beasts lead the team in tackles and are a driving force behind their strong ability to stop the run. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith is a force to be reckoned with on the outside as he comes off the edge and creates havoc in the backfield. He leads the team with 9.5 sacks and is ranked third in the NFL in that category. On the other side, Ahmad Brooks has four sacks and two forced fumbles. This is clearly one of the best groups of linebackers in the NFL. In the secondary, Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown line up at cornerback and like to be physical with receivers. Donte Whitner lines up at strong safety and packs a punch while Dashon Goldson roams the field at free safety and has two interceptions on the year. Although they’re a tough defense and ranked No. 5 against the pass, the 49ers don’t hawk the ball very much. They rank just 22nd in the NFL with 6 interceptions on the season. The Bears need to run the ball and control the clock to neutralize this defense.
Bears defense vs. 49ers offense
You hate to keep asking the defense to win games for you but that’s exactly what they’ll have to do this week. Although we could all be pleasantly surprised and Jason Campbell could wow us with his performance, I find that difficult to believe. It’ll take a three-phase effort to win and the defense will have to be the most dominant of them all. That won’t be easy against an offense that ranks No. 1 in rushing yards. The 49ers average 170.2 rushing yards per game and running back Frank Gore ranks 8th with 83.7 yards per game. He also averages 5.4 yards per carry and will run over and through defenders. The Niners clearly have a good run-blocking offensive line but their pass blocking is suspect. Quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 24 times, 7th-most in the NFL. Smith is not the most gifted passer — he ranks 28th in the NFL (one spot below Cutler) in passing yards — but he’s been an efficient one this year. His 104.1 passer rating ranks third behind Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Smith has thrown 13 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions, so taking away the ball will be difficult for the Bears to do. The 49ers loaded up on offensive talent this past offseason and Smith has a variety of weapons to throw the ball to. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree leads the team with 44 receptions for 510 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Vernon Davis is a physically gifted player and is second in receptions, tied with newcomer Mario Manningham, who used to be with the Giants prior to this season. Veteran Randy Moss came out of his one-year retirement and fills in with spot duty while the Niners also use Gore out of the backfield. With defensive end Shea McClellin ruled out of this game while recovering from his concussion, there are talks of the Bears activating Amobi Okoye for the first time in more than three games because he would provide better help stopping the 49ers’ solid run game. The Bears have generally had good success this year in stopping the run, so there is some hope that they’ll match up well against this 49ers offense. The Texans’ Arian Foster had a big first half against the Bears last week, but the defense adjusted and then clamped down in the second half. They should be able to do the same this week, but hopefully adjust a lot sooner.
San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers, who set the NFL record for most field goals made in a season with 44 last year and also tied the NFL record for longest field goal made — from 63 yards — on Sept. 9 of this year, has actually been struggling this year. Akers has missed six field goals this season and his 71% conversion ranks third-worst in the NFL. Robbie Gould has missed three kicks this year, two in the last three weeks, but has been much more consistent and he provides an added advantage in the kickoff game. The Bears brought in punters for a tryout this week to help light a fire under Adam Podlesh’s backside. Podlesh has not been giving the Bears the production they need from their special teamers. His net average of 38.4 ranks him 25th in the NFL. And his gross average of 41.7 ranks him even lower, at No. 30 overall. Niners punter Andy Lee ranks 10th in the NFL with a 41.5 net average and he ranks fourth overall with 20 punts downed inside the 20. That could spell doom for the Bears offense if they get pinned deep in their own territory. Devin Hester couldn’t do much last week in the return game. He ranks 16th in kickoff return average and 13th in punt return average. For the 49ers, Kyle Williams averages 27.5 yards per kickoff return, ranking him 12th overall, and Tedd Ginn ranks fifth overall with 12.3 yards per punt return. This game will mark the return of special teams standout Blake Costanzo, who played for the 49ers prior to coming to the Bears this year. It’s because of Costanzo and the Bears’ coverage units that the Bears get the edge in this matchup.
Everybody remembers the last time the Bears faced the 49ers on the road in prime time. Jay Cutler threw five interceptions in his first season with the Bears in a Thursday night matchup. That 49ers team, while talented and having many of the same pieces that are on the team today, was not as good as the present version is. That’s what is causing a whole lot of apprehension this week. Cutler is out for this one, though, and I wouldn’t expect Campbell to turn over the ball five times. But the offense needs to find a way to generate some points because the Bears defense can’t do this alone. The Bears face a number of challenges right off the bat. For one, it’s a road game and that works in the 49ers’ advantage. Secondly, it’s a west coast game and teams traveling in that direction generally don’t adapt well because of their body clocks. And third, the loss of Cutler figures to have at least somewhat an effect on how the Bears offense clicks. The Bears generally don’t get blown out on Lovie Smith’s watch. There have been some ugly performances, sure — most recently back in Week 2 against the Packers. But Smith gets his team prepared to play the strongest opponents. It’s precisely for that reason why I feel the Bears will keep this game close. But there are a bit too many factors working against the Bears in this one and it would take an incredible performance from a truly worthy Super Bowl contender to win this game. Are the Bears that team right now?
Final Score: San Francisco 23, Chicago 16