Bears vs. 49ers: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Monday Night Clash
The San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1) will welcome the Chicago Bears (7-2) to the West Coast Monday night for what some are calling the "Backup Bowl."
While both are among the best in the NFC this season, both will also be without their starting quarterback for this prime-time clash.
The 49ers ruled out Alex Smith (concussion) Monday morning, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, while the Bears were already well into their preparations without Jay Cutler (concussion). Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell will be the respective starters Monday night.
In the following slides, we break down the matchups that will decide which backup quarterback wins this important NFC clash Monday night.
Bears LT J'Marcus Webb vs. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith
How the Bears protect backup Jason Campbell will likely be the deciding factor in this game.
The Houston Texans brought extra pressure on the majority of Campbell's 19 dropbacks Sunday night, and the results were mostly disastrous for the Bears passing offense. Campbell completed 11 of 18 passes for just 94 yards as Chicago struggled to move the football.
Webb vs. Smith on the left side of the offense is the matchup to watch in pass protection. While Webb hasn't been the turnstile many predicted him to be, elite pass-rushers can still make him look silly. Smith fits that description.
If Webb can't keep Smith off Campbell's back Monday night, the Bears will have a difficult time scoring points against the 49ers defense. Backup quarterbacks, even experienced ones like Campbell, rarely fare well against consistent pressure.
Bears RB Matt Forte vs. 49ers ILB Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman
While still one of the game's best run defenses, the 49ers have sprung a few leaks in stopping the run over their last three home games.
The New York Giants (149 rushing yards), Seattle Seahawks (136) and St. Louis Rams (159) each physically outclassed the 49ers at times in the running game over the last month, giving the Bears hope to get Matt Forte going Monday night.
Chicago probably can't beat the 49ers on the road without a two-dimensional offense. Especially with Cutler on the bench, Chicago needs to funnel its offense through Forte and find success running the football.
On the other side, both Willis and Bowman must do a better job shoring things up on the ground. The 49ers defense has made its living forcing teams into a one-dimensional look, and things could get very dicey for Campbell (0-2 in San Francisco lifetime) if he's asked to win the game with his arm.
Bears WR Brandon Marshall vs. 49ers Secondary
Brandon Marshall has arguably been the NFL's most dominant receiver over the last six weeks.
After being held to just 71 yards in Week 3, Marshall has produced at least 80 yards receiving in each contest since. He also has six touchdowns during that stretch.
However, Marshall should expect plenty of bracket double coverages Monday night. During a Week 2 loss to the Packers, Marshall saw trail coverage from cornerbacks with a safety over the top on almost every drop back. He caught just five passes for 24 yards and the Bears passing game sputtered.
The 49ers will likely use a similar strategy to take away Chicago's only true threat in the passing game. Can Marshall disengage to help his backup quarterback?
Bears Secondary vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick
The Bears are the NFL's masters at the Cover-2 defense, and that puts the onus on a backup quarterback to be careful and accurate in the passing game.
Kaepernick wasn't exactly either in his first real NFL action last Sunday. Far too often against the Rams, Kaepernick locked into his first read and then was inaccurate in his delivery. Those mistakes can't happen against the turnover-happy Bears defense.
More than likely, Jim Harbaugh will give Kaepernick a number of short, safe options in the passing game. If the big play isn't available—and facing the Bears, it likely won't be—Kaepernick has to be able to check down and live to fight another day.
Forcing throws and turning over the football would give the Bears the opening they need to win this game on the road. Zero turnovers at home usually means a win.
Bears Special Teams vs. 49ers Special Teams
These are two teams that pride themselves on special teams play. Both have Pro Bowl-caliber returners (Devin Hester for Chicago, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams for San Francisco), and the specialists for each are assets each week.
In a game likely to be very defense-centered, special teams multiply in importance.
The 49ers made mistakes in the punting game against the Rams (two fake punts for first downs), so their discipline and focus needs to improve against the Bears.
But watch the returners Monday night, as there should be plenty of punting. The team that springs more big plays on special teams is a likely winner in San Francisco. Can Hester and Ginn set up short fields for their backup quarterbacks to navigate?