CHICAGO - DECEMBER 28: Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half at Soldier Field on December 28, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
This Monday night showdown has all the makings of a classic old school defensive battle. Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks to concussions this past Sunday and Jay Cutler has been ruled out for the game. It will be tough for any quarterback, let alone a backup, to move the ball on Monday night as both teams boast top tier defenses.
49ers quarterback Alex Smith was cleared to return to practice on Thursday. He was a limited participant during practice, but is expected to be able to play Monday night. The news is not as promising for the Chicago Bears as Jay Cutler was not cleared to practice and is not going to start Monday night. Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith has stressed the importance for any player to get reps in practice before returning from an injury.
“As a general rule, we would like for guys to [practice] at least by Friday; get some type of practice work in. But for some of our guys that have been around a while, if we get to game day and they haven’t practiced and they feel like they can go, they’ll play,” Smith said.
Since Cutler is unable to go on Monday the Bears will turn to veteran Jason Campbell to start under center. Campbell has had plenty of NFL experience, but he needs time to get on the same page as the Chicago Bears receivers. He will benefit greatly this week from taking all of the reps with the first team offense. First team reps will allow Campbell and the receivers to get a better feel for each other, which was noticeably lacking against Houston. He will need all the reps he can get though because the 49ers defense ranks 5th in the NFL in opponents pass yards per game.
There is more to this game than the availability of the starting quarterbacks though.
The Chicago Bears rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will make his return from a hand injury Monday night in San Francisco. Chicago has sorely missed Jeffery and his ability to use his size to beat man coverage and take attention away from Brandon Marshall. Jeffery’s return could be the boost that the Bears need in order to overcome the loss of Cutler.
The key for the San Francisco offense will be pounding Frank Gore early and often. They might not be successful running the ball right away against the formidable defensive front of the Chicago Bears, but they will need to stay committed to the ground game if they hope to move the ball consistently. A big back like Gore will wear out a defense as the game goes on and his running lanes will start to get bigger.
Anyone who likes to see offenses light up scoreboards might be disappointed with this match-up, but that does not mean the game won’t be entertaining. These are two of the top teams in the NFL and the field will be littered with superstars on both sides of the ball. Since the Bears will be without Cutler they will struggle mightily to put up points and if Alex Smith is able to go for San Francisco then the 49ers should be able to get a win on their home field.