Q. How much faith do Bears fans have in Jason Campbell starting at quarterback?
A. There’s a lot more faith put in Campbell than most backup quarterbacks. The Bears went through this last season when Jay Cutler broke his thumb and they brought Caleb Hanie in. He was really inexperienced and had only flashed in preseason games. When the lights turned on, he wasn’t up to the task, so GM Phil Emery was diligent in free agency to bring in the best backup quarterback money could buy.
Campbell is a veteran with 70 appearances in his career. He is among the lowest in interception percentages among active quarterbacks, so he’s not going to be careless with the ball. That’s a good attribute for a backup. Campbell may not make the big, splashy play, but he’ll be steady.
Q. Will the Bears offense rely heavily on the running game with Jay Cutler out?
A. The Bears offense has gone through wide receiver Brandon Marshall for most of the season and despite Cutler being sidelined, I still expect them to go to BMarsh a fair amount. The Bears may try to get Matt Forte and Michael Bush going a bit more with Cutler sidelined, but it’s a tall task against a tough Niners defense.
Forte is pretty versatile and is also very effective in the passing game. The Bears seem to have forgotten about the screen game the last couple of weeks, but I’m thinking they may want to dust those pages off in the playbook and help Jason Campbell gain some confidence with some short passes.
I’d love to see Michael Bush get some more touches this week too. He had a costly early fumble last week vs the Texans and got some extra bench time. He’s atoned for his mistake and should see some more action on Monday night, especially in short yardage and around the red zone.
Q. Chicago’s defense is one of the best in the NFL and they score a lot of points off turnovers. What makes the defense so good?
A. It’s all about the takeaways. The Bears defense is predicated on the notion that they’re going to make teams drive 15 plays on them to score. They’re banking on the fact that their opponents will get impatient and make a mistake before they can score.
The core of the Bears defense is older, but they’ve been together forever. Watching the Bears play defense is like watching the Patriot or the Manning Colts offenses at work. Everyone knows their responsibilities and the defense runs like a Swiss watch.
The strength of the defense is the defensive line, anchored by Julius Peppers at DE and up-and-comer Henry Melton at defensive tackle. You obviously know Urlacher and Briggs are going to do what they’ve been doing for years. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are have outstanding years at cornerback while Major Wright and Chris Conte seem to be stabilizing the safety position.
Q. Which Bears player on defense will need to have a big game to stop Frank Gore and the 49ers rushing attack?
A. It’s going to take a team effort to slow down Gore. From what I’ve heard, the 49ers have a pretty fierce and physical offensive line, so the Bears will have their hands full. I look for Lance Briggs to be the key to slowing down Gore. If the Bears defense is working right, the plays should be funneled to Briggs. He’s had a penchant for getting into the backfield and creating some tackles for loss.
Q. What is your prediction for the game?
A. Foggy. There’s a lot of uncertainty this week with Cutler already declared OUT while Alex Smith is still questionable as of this writing. You don’t know how both teams will respond with backup quarterbacks. In a situation like this, I tend to favor the home team. The Bears haven’t won in San Fran since 1985 and I don’t see that trend ending on Monday night. Niners 16, Bears 12.
Niner Noise Q&A:
Q. We got word today that San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh had a minor heart procedure. Is he alright? Is he going to be able to coach on Monday night?
A. Harbaugh returned to the 49ers practice facility on Friday, one-day after having a minor heart procedure, and he is expected to coach on Monday night. It has been reported Harbaugh “likely” had an electrical cardioversion performed. Which is described as a “non-invasive, outpatient procedure that takes less than a minute and is a controlled electrical shock used to reset the heart’s rhythm. Patients can resume normal activities the day after the procedure.”
This is how Harbaugh describe what happened:
“I’m fine, I’m fine. No limits. Going about everything as normal. Had a little irregular heartbeat. I’ve had that before. Now that I have the procedure, a cardiovert, it’s amazing. It gets the heart rate back to normal. Atrial flutter is something I’ve had for a while, most of my life.”
Q. Speaking of guys who may or may not be available on Sunday, let’s start with your concussed quarterback, Alex Smith. We’ve seen that he’s been practicing the last couple of days, but still hasn’t been cleared for contact. Do you think he plays on Monday? If he doesn’t, how do you think Colin Kaepernick will fare against the Bears?
A. For the fourth straight day Alex Smith was at practice, however, he was wearing a black non-contact jersey. Smith seems to be on track to start even though he has not been medically cleared to play on Monday. Harbaugh said Colin Kaepernick took a few extra snaps than usually at Friday’s practice, but he likely said this to give the Bears some doubt about who will start. Bears fans will likely see Smith under center on Monday night.
The Bears defense could have a field day if Kaerpnerick starts. He is fast, has confidence and a strong arm, but is still learning how to play in the NFL and has a raw delivery when throwing. The 49ers offense would lean more heavily on Frank Gore to move down the field, but with the Bears rushing defense that is easier said than done.
Q. From Chicago’s point of view, it’s looking like Jay Cutler isn’t going to play and Jason Campbell will step in. Does it change the way the Niners prepare for the Bears? Given Cutler’s shaky history in night games including his 5 pick game the last time the Bears played in San Francisco, are the Niners disappointed they might not get to face him?
A. The approach for the Niners will likely stay the same even with Jay Cutler out. Cutler does love to throw INT’s when facing the 49ers, but San Francisco has more of an advantage with Campbell starting, so no disappoint. One advantage for the 49ers is the Bears offense will mostly be running, which the 49ers are tops in the NFL at stopping. With Campbell starting San Francisco’s pass rush will be relentless to force him to make mistakes and cause turnovers.
Q. This game sets up as a low scoring battle, with a couple of the best defenses in the league set to go at it. The key to the Bears’ defensive success is not a big secret – it’s all about takeaways. What’s the key to San Francisco’s defensive success? Which positional group on the Niners D is their strength? What is their defensive weakness?
A. The key to San Francisco’s defensive success is the front-seven with the linebackers and D-linemen. They not only stop the run consistently each game but they also generate a pass rush, lead by Aldon Smith and his 9½ sacks, that stalls offensive drives. The weakness on defense is the cornerbacks who are vulnerable in one-on-one coverage. Even though CB Carlos Rogers is having a decent season, you only need to look at last week’s tie against the Rams to see how he struggles in man coverage. Rogers and the 49ers corners made the Rams look like the Greatest Show on Turf was back in St. Louis. This is why Campbell starting for the Bears gives the 49ers an advantage in the game.
Q. What’s your prediction for the game? Please include a final score.
A. I agree the game will be low scoring because it will be a defensive battle. Both offenses will score, but whichever team wins the turnover battle will come out on top. The 49ers defense will pressure Campbell into mistakes which will give the 49ers offense a short field to score. 49ers win 16-10.