ReFo: Bears @ 49ers, Week 11
Ben Stockwell breaks down how the 49ers were able to dominate the Chicago Bears.
ReFo: Bears @ 49ers, Week 11
Entering the game this was a potential playoff preview between two teams ailing at quarterback. In a league where you can be one hit away from disaster we would get to find out which of the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears had the better backup plan. Would it be the dependable veteran in Chicago or the tantalizing youngster in San Francisco?
As it happened, if this was a playoff preview then the 49ers are going to be tough to stop in the NFC. Their offense was equally, if not more, explosive and mistake free with Colin Kaepernick under center, while after an off week their defense fired from the outset and simply never let the Chicago offense get going.
Here are some of the key performances that turned a potential playoff preview into one of the more lopsided games of the weekend.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
A Painful Reminder
This season has been somewhat of a tease for Bears fans in relation to their offensive line. The prevailing opinion is still that they have one of the worst lines in the league, and they do, but at times there have been glimpses of a strong unit hidden in the rubble. Last night’s game served as a brutal reminder that in pass protection their tackles are still outmatched against the league’s elite pass rushers.
Both tackles yielded three sacks in this game, with left tackle J’Marcus Webb adding another five hurries allowed for good measure. Were it not for a penalty on a fumble recovery, Gabe Carimi would have allowed four sacks in this game as he registered his seventh game of the season with a pass protection grade of -2.0 or lower. The sheer amount of pressure that these two gave away via bullrush and to their inside raises uneasy questions about how they were outmuscled by the San Francisco defense. This was not a speed rush tearing past a heavy-footed, run blocking lineman. This was simply getting beaten physically by the man across from you. On a team supposedly built around the running game and asserting your own physicality on the opposition, that is a grave concern.
Latest to Feel the Force
If the Bears fell short in the physicality stakes on offense then they were given a fairly frank example of how an offensive line can assert themselves on an opposing defense. This game was billed as a matchup between two of the finest defenses in the league, but the Chicago defense became just the latest to be controlled and pushed about by the 49ers’ exceptional offensive line.
In the run blocking stakes the 49ers have really been a class apart this season, and of the Bears’ entire defense it was only Tim Jennings who had any sort of consistent joy against this running game. That said, even he was the fortunate beneficiary of a tackle for no gain as he simply stood up to tackle Frank Gore after Mike Iupati had knocked the Bears’ CB over on a pull block. Up front the Bears’ defensive line rotation had no joy at all and whether it was offensive linemen, fullbacks or tight ends working to the second level, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher simply couldn’t get any traction to slow Gore and Kendall Hunter. The Bears will need to have a short memory and put this run defense display behind them for now. They won’t face a line like this again until the postseason, when they may need to front up to this battering ram once more.
Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery was active for the first time since Week 5, and the hope was that he and Brandon Marshall would be able to draw the attention of the 49ers’ back seven to create some space for Matt Forte to run against the San Francisco front seven. As it panned out this didn’t happen and arguably the Bears’ three most important playmakers, with Jay Cutler on the sideline, were left with extremely limited opportunities to make anything happen.
While Marshall made a play on a jump ball in the end zone to ensure the Bears didn’t return to Chicago pointless, that was one of only four targets for him. Though he collected a catch on the Bears’ second drive, Jeffery also was held to just two catches on four targets. With no threat outside, the 49ers’ inside linebackers went into hunt mode and quickly put their poor display last week behind them, suffocating Forte along with their defensive line. Should the Bears and 49ers meet again in the postseason Chicago will need to come up with some fresh ideas to get the ball moving on this defense.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Entering a game in relief as a quarterback and getting the start are two very different things for a player and an opposing defense to cope with and prepare for. After struggling a little as a passer in the 49ers’ comeback tie in relief of Alex Smith last week, Colin Kaepernick dazzled under the Monday Night lights against the Bears.
Kaepernick played a large role in the 49ers jumping on the Bears early, a position from which Chicago never recovered. Offered opportunities to find Vernon Davis down the field in single coverage, Kaepernick didn’t pass them up and hit his tight end on the money for three passes, including a touchdown on the opening drive. Brutal efficiency has been the hallmark of the 49ers’ offense this season when they have gone well, and Kaepernick far from stood in the way of that this week. The deep ball worked wonders for the 49ers, with Kaepernick going three of four for 111 yards on such throws over 20 yards in the air. This performance shouldn’t spawn a quarterback controversy in San Francisco just yet, but it certainly gives the 49ers an awful lot of confidence in their ability to compete should they lose Smith again when the season reaches its climax.
A Not-So Gentle Reminder
The transition of Aldon Smith into a full-time starter has been an undoubted success this season, but at times he has lacked a little of that ‘wow’ factor that accompanied his rookie season. This week, in a favorable matchup against the Chicago offensive line, Smith reminded us of his destructive ability and delivered the most devastating performance of his career.
Smith seems to have a thing for Monday Night Football, having taken the Steelers’ offensive line to pieces in Week 15 last season and he repeated the trick this week. His six sacks are almost unheard of in their own right, but in turning those into turnovers and points for the 49ers he was a constant and real threat to the Chicago offense. He also notched another two hits in this game for good measure.
Still Going Strong
In a league driven by stats, and with the proliferation of fantasy football, there have been some unfair questions raised over the performance of Vernon Davis this season. His productivity has been low at times causing people to question whether he is a truly elite tight end. Well, last night Davis proved the point that he most certainly is an elite tight end, and when the opportunity presents itself he can tear a defense to pieces.
Davis has been largely busying himself as a blocker this season, but presented with the opportunity to matchup one-on-one with safeties and linebackers last night he put the Bears’ defense to the sword. The Bears’ safeties are excellent Cover-2 safeties but Davis proved last night that doesn’t translate into Major Wright being able to cover him man-to-man. When it became apparent that Wright wasn’t up to the task (2 of 2, 25 yds, 1 TD) they switched Lance Briggs onto Davis and he fared little better (3 of 4, 47 yds). The 49ers have built an offense that means Davis no longer has to be fed the ball to get the passing game moving, but that makes him all the more dangerous when teams offer the 49ers mismatches in his coverage.
– As a result of Shea McClellin’s absence due to injury Corey Wootton recorded a career high 38 snaps and also registered the first start of his career.
– Continuing his fine form as a run blocker Joe Staley record his fifth game of the season with a run block grade of +2.0 or better. Staley is comfortably our highest graded run blocking tackle of the season at this point.
– The six quarterback disruptions Justin Smith managed (1 Sk, 5 Hu) are the most in a single game since his dressing down of David Diehl in the 49ers’ conference title game defeat back in January. It also matches the number of pressures he has recorded in the 49ers’ past three games (3 Ht, 3 Hu).
PFF Game Ball
A doff of the cap to Aldon Smith for his dominating display, but for taking the game away from such a fine defense so early in the game this game ball has to go to Colin Kaepernick.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.