CHICAGO BEARS (7-2)
at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-3-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Line: San Francisco -6, Total: 40
Two of the elite teams in the NFC with serious quarterback concerns will face one another on Monday night when the Bears visit the 49ers.
Both Chicago QB Jay Cutler and 49ers QB Alex Smith suffered concussions last week. Although Cutler has been ruled out for Monday's game, Smith is on track to take the opening snap for this key showdown. The Bears’ backup is ultra-conservative, checkdown veteran Jason Campbell (11-of-19, 94 yards against Houston last week). Both of these defenses are elite, ranking first and second in the NFL in scoring defense with San Francisco allowing 14.1 PPG and Chicago giving up 14.8 PPG. While the Niners typically smother opponents, the Bears rely heavily on forcing turnovers. Chicago already has 30 takeaways on the year. But San Francisco is very good protecting the football, with just nine giveaways.
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Campbell is 31-39 all-time as a starter in this league, with one of his worst career performance occurring the last time he stepped foot in Candlestick Park in 2010. In that 17-9 defeat with Oakland, Campbell completed just 8-of-21 passes (38%) for 83 yards (4.0 YPA), 0 TD and 2 INT, equaling a 10.7 passer rating. For the Bears to move the ball through the air against San Francisco's fifth-ranked passing defense (197 YPG), Campbell will likely force-feed top WR Brandon Marshall. He has 67 of his team's 163 catches (41%), 904 of Chicago's 1,908 receiving yards (47%) and seven of the 12 touchdowns (58%). If Marshall cannot get open, the Bears will turn to RB Matt Forte, who had gained at least 4.0 yards per carry in every game this season before the Texans limited him to 2.4 YPC last Sunday (16 carries, 39 yards). San Francisco allowed a season-high 159 rushing yards (4.3 YPC) in its 24-24 tie with St. Louis last week, so it's certainly possible that Forte will be able to sustain a decent ground game. The Bears might also give more carries to Michael Bush who rumbled for 34 yards on just three attempts against the Texans. Chicago turned the ball over four times last week, giving the team eight giveaways over the past three weeks. Luckily for the Bears, San Francisco is not a ball-hawking defense, creating just three turnovers in the past four games. The Niners pass rush is also subpar, as they have just 17 sacks on the year (21st in NFL).
Smith has passed all his concussion tests and although he's been limited in practice, he should be able to start on Monday night. Smith has been in quite a zone over the past two games, completing 25-of-27 passes for 304 yards (11.3 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT. If he suffers a setback, the Niners will turn to ultra-athletic, but unproven, second-year man Colin Kaepernick (11-of-17, 117 pass yds; 66 rush yards against St. Louis). Although the Bears defense leads the NFL with 19 interceptions -- returning seven for touchdowns -- they have allowed 215 passing YPG (10th in NFL). WR Michael Crabtree is sure hoping Smith can play. Last week he caught four passes for 59 yards and a TD before Smith got injured midway through the second quarter, but Crabtree was not targeted at all after halftime. Crabtree now has three touchdowns in his past two games. Niners top RB Frank Gore has been bothered by injuries to his wrist and ribs, but he'll be able to suit up on Monday night, trying to improve upon 753 rushing yards and a healthy 5.4 YPC average. He is the main reason the 49ers lead the NFL in rushing offense, but the Bears defense has been tough on opposing ground games, allowing just 92 YPG (4th in NFL).