A smart quarterback will take what the defense gives him, but in the case of Chicago Bears sudden starter Jason Campbell, he must be more aggressive than he has been throughout his career against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.
This key Week 11 showdown pits two of the NFC's best teams against each other, as both are vying for position in claiming the No. 2 seed and the resulting first-round bye.
While there is still a chance that Niners QB Alex Smith could suit up, it is certain that his typical counterpart Jay Cutler will be out with the third concussion of his pro career (h/t ESPN Chicago).
Campbell doesn't have the cannon that Cutler has, but he has a strong enough arm to stretch the field effectively. The problem is, he doesn't necessarily utilize his physical tools to their full capacity.
According to ESPN NFC North lead blogger Kevin Seifert, Campbell's passes have traveled a league-low average of 6.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage since the beginning of the 2008 season.
When Cutler went down in the middle of last season, Caleb Hanie fell flat on his face as the new starter. The Bears went on to lose five straight and miss the playoffs. Considering the multiple concussions Cutler has endured, Campbell may be in there for a while.
He definitely understands the game and has had to undergo a change in offenses nearly every year of his pro career. The pressure will be on Campbell to cut loose and, well, play much better than Hanie did in 2011.
There is a fine line between being smart with check downs and dinking and dunking to the point of being counterproductive, though, and Campbell has toed that line often in his eight years in the league.
The Bears must have this game, and implementing a conservative, run-based game plan simply won't work against the San Francisco defense. While the Bears' D may hold their own ground in what will likely be a low-scoring affair, Campbell has Brandon Marshall at his disposal.
He could take advantage of the downfield receiving threat and amazing ball skills Marshall has, assuming he doesn't fear turning the ball over on those deeper passes. Or whatever the reason is that he throws it so short so frequently.
And being aggressive doesn't even mean launching the ball deep into double coverage and hoping Marshall will go get it. Chicago has to score touchdowns when it gets into the red zone, which means Campbell must not be afraid to give it a shot.
It will be important for the Bears to establish some semblance of a running game with Matt Forte and Michael Bush—who may be more heavily utilized in this one due to his powerful style.
Despite his lack of reps with the starters, Campbell just needs to trust what he sees, read the defense and react. Too often, he will hold the ball too long or check it down too quickly, and both aren't exactly good.
It's easier said than done to just play on instinct—particularly on the road against one of the toughest defensive units imaginable. But Campbell must step up and take some chances like their usual gun-slinging QB, or the Bears may end the week suddenly knocked out of the NFC North lead.
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