3TFO: Bears @ 49ers, Week 11
With a full slate of Sunday games already in the books, we can now turn our attention towards Monday Night Football, and the meeting of two of the NFC’s heavyweight playoff contenders as the Chicago Bears take on the San Francisco 49ers.
This is a tale of two concussions, with both starting quarterbacks suffering from one and being questionable for most of the week. Alex Smith has won his battle with health, but Jay Cutler has come up short, forcing Jason Campbell into the lineup for Chicago.
The Bears have seen their season derailed in the past few years when Cutler has gone down hurt, so they made a point of upgrading his backup this offseason, and now is the time for Campbell to make that priority look smart. Let’s look at our three areas to focus on for the game.
Vernon Davis vs Brian Urlacher
People have accused Vernon Davis of not having the best of years because he hasn’t racked up the gaudy numbers as a receiver, but he is currently our second ranked TE overall, grading well as both a receiver and a blocker. The Bears’ defense has been on fire, but Brian Urlacher has not been himself after his knee problems. He has historically been the keystone of the defense on which everything else can lean, but his inability to drop into the deep middle as effectively this season has caused the Bears to come up with some unusual and creative ways of taking that responsibility off him. On some occasions they will drop one of the outside linebackers to cover that Tampa-2 deep middle area rather than Urlacher. Davis may not be having the kind of number-heavy season people want to see from him, but the vulnerability of this Chicago defense is up the middle, and they will need Davis to test that area of the D. This could be a big fantasy day for Davis, and the Bears need to be aware of the threat to neutralize it.
San Francisco O-line vs Bears Run D
The 49ers have the league’s best offensive line by a distance this year. All five starters ranked in the Top 20 of their respective positions heading into this week and they have been able to simply blow people off the ball and pave the way for their running backs to each average over 5 yards a carry. The Bears have one of the league’s top run defenses, averaging 92.3 rushing yards per game heading into this week, good enough for fourth-best in the NFL. The success of this D doesn’t come necessarily from the front four, but rather the run ability of the entire unit. Defensive ends Israel Idonije and Corey Wooton have been their best two run defenders up front and the guys you would expect to have the biggest impact: DT Stephen Paea and DE Julius Peppers, have not graded particularly well against the run thus far.
Chicago flows to the football like few other teams and four of the back seven are grading firmly in the green for their run defense, including both cornerbacks. If teams want to run on the Bears, they need to be able to win at the line of scrimmage, something the 49ers should be able to do on paper. Is this the week the Bears find themselves overmatched in the trenches?
Jason Campbell vs 49ers Pass D
Campbell is a capable quarterback and though he may not be the franchise guy Washington and Oakland wanted him to be, he can win games in the NFL and may force the Bears into a more conservative, efficient offense. The key will be whether the 49ers can convince Campbell to make risky throws and throws into tight coverage in order to move the football and keep the Bears ahead of the chains. Chicago will likely look to lean on Matt Forte, but the 49ers are a very stout run defense, and Campbell will have to make some throws in the game.
Both perimeter corners for the 49ers are grading well in coverage and allowing little to get through this season. Quarterbacks throwing at Chris Culliver have a rating of just 45.8 this season and Terrell Brown is playing better than the rating of 90.2 would suggest.
Carlos Rogers is the only one of the three that isn’t grading well, giving up 75% of all passes into his coverage, but he is being beaten for just 8.3 yards per completion. The ability of Campbell to beat these three coverage defenders is going to go a long way towards dictating whether the Bears can have success on offense. Cutler has thrown picks at inopportune times this year and the Bears have had to rely on their defense to bail them out of trouble, if Campbell can avoid mistakes and be efficient, that might actually prove to be an upgrade in the greater scheme of things.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam