The Bears are coming off their first lost in six weeks and in the process have lost their starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion. Chicago draws the 49ers this week, who also have a quarterback battling a head injury after taking multiple head shots last Sunday vs. the St. Louis Rams.
Alex Smith has been going in 49ers’ practice, but he’s been wearing the black non-contact jersey all week. He is likely to play on Monday, but if he can’t go, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be called into action.
The lack of starting quarterbacks could make this one a game of inches, and the team who can make the most of their opportunities will win the game. It's a game in back-to-back weeks where the Bears’ opponent has a defense ranked in the top three overall, and is near the top in a variety of different statistical categories.
Special teams and turnovers will play a major role in this game, as well as field position. Expect another low-scoring game, similar to the 13-6 Texans’ win last week at Soldier Field.
The match up to watch, which is most likely going to set the tone for this game, is how the Bears’ front plays against the 49ers’ running game.
49ers run game
San Francisco has, in my eyes, the best offensive line in the League and the best interior guard in Mike Iupati. The 49ers’ line can pass protect well, but this group is mostly suited toward running the ball. Joe Staley is considered to be the best run blocking tackle in the National Football League. His 15.2+ run block grade is far and away the best of any offensive lineman.
Alex Boone, the San Francisco right guard, has also been touted as one of the best run blocking interior lineman in the NFL. He has been graded positively in that area all season and could be considered as the best run blocking right guard in the League.
Next to Boone, at the center spot, is Jonathon Goodwin, who in his own right is just as effective in the run as he is in the pass.
Finally, we get to the highest graded player and a dual threat in Mike Iupati. Iupati has overbearing size and great foot speed. In terms of pass blocking, he packs a solid punch but lacks on lateral speed, which he makes up for with agility. As I said, Iupati is the best interior lineman as a dual threat in both the pass and the run.
The 49ers have four players who could be considered the best at their position along the offensive line, and most could land themselves a spot in the 2013 Pro Bowl. This unit consistently puts up positive, overwhelming grades in both pass and run blocking. It shows up in the numbers, where their rushing offense ranks first overall in the NFL with 170.7 yards per game.
It's a line with enormous size and incredible skill. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have had successful seasons running behind these guys, and both average above 5.0 yards per carry.
Keys to limiting the 49ers’ run production
The Bears have mostly been known for their success in stopping the running attack on defense. This season they rank fourth overall in rush defense, giving up only 92.3 yards per game.
The 49ers can be beat in a number of different ways—the most probable being through stunts and twist. The tackles have trouble picking up on stunts on inside runs. Confusing the tackles will be a key component in keeping the 49ers’ half-back inside the ends. Marinelli should also look to blitz with a safety in the box to not just help out in the pass rush but to help out in the running game as well.
The Bears need heavy gap control from their linebackers. The Texans, with their zone-blocking scheme, ate up the linebackers with the guards getting out in front. Giant holes were formed due to Bears’ linebackers failing to play the right gap and disengage blocks.
The one scoring drive from the Texans was due to the fact that they got blockers out in front and onto the linebackers. If the Bears can stay disciplined and not let Gore bounce it to the outside, they should be able to limit him.
The 49ers stay consistent and don't do as much as the Texans do on offense. The play action isn't as prevalent, and if the Bears can tackle on the outside, they should be able to keep the 49ers’ receivers in check.
The box should be stacked with seven or eight players at a time. Expect Major Wright, who was fantastic tackling in the run defense last week, to have an important role again this week. Marinelli obviously likes what he sees from the young safety, and likes to use him in the box on first and second downs.
The Bears need to key on the run on defense, and slow it down at all cost. Stop the run and this team has a chance to win.
Even without Cutler.