Much like the Bears, the San Francisco 49ers lost their starting quarterback on Sunday to an apparent concussion. As of now, the status of Alex Smith is up in the air for their showdown with the Bears on Monday Night Football.
Following Smith’s concussion in the second quarter, second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick filled in admirably, going 11-of-17 for 117 yards and running the football eight times for 66 yards, one touchdown and one fumble.
Kaepernick has been featured prominently this season in the Wildcat as a change of pace.
He has tremendous speed, and although his mechanics need improving, he throws a fairly accurate ball. He came into Sunday’s game having just 14 career pass attempts, and if he needs to start, they will likely not call upon him to do too much with his arm.
Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will have to be aware of Kaepernick’s ability to run with the football, as Jim Harbaugh will likely draw up plenty of designed runs for him. By containing running lanes, the Bears can force him to throw the football and make him prove he can move the football through the air.
No team in the NFL runs the football more effectively than the 49ers, who lead the league with an average of 170 yards per game.
Frank Gore leads the charge with 753 yards on 140 carries and five touchdowns. Gore has great acceleration and good vision that helps him find a hole and power his way through. He is good both up the middle and has the ability to bounce the ball to the outside.
Gore’s backup, Kendall Hunter, has gained over 300 yards on the season and is averaging five yards a carry.
Bears’ nose tackle Stephen Paea will be called upon to maintain his gap responsibility and to force Gore to an area where the linebackers can take him down. If healthy, Matt Toeaina will likely be activated because of his ability against the run, as will Nate Collins, who has been impressive in the last few weeks.
Gore and Hunter would not have the success that they have had this season without the stellar play of their offensive line.
They have invested a lot of money on former first round picks Joe Staley (left tackle), Anthony Davis (right tackle) and Mike Iupati (left guard). Jonathon Goodwin has been solid at center since signing as a free agent, and Alex Boone has played great at right guard after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
The line has been great at opening up lanes in the running game, and despite allowing 29 sacks (one more than the Bears), a lot of them are based off of quarterback Alex Smith’s tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
The matchup of Julius Peppers against Staley should be a great one, as Peppers faces yet another top left tackle. Staley has struggled at times in pass protection but has been spectacular in run blocking. Peppers does a nice job of forcing plays back inside and should have those opportunities again on Monday night.
In recent years, the 49ers have gone out of their way to provide Alex Smith with weapons, drafting guys like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree and signing free agents Mario Manningham and Randy Moss this offseason.
Crabtree is finally starting to show signs of the player that warranted being drafted 10th overall in 2009.
He currently leads the team with 510 yards and 44 catches and is tied for the team lead with four touchdowns. Crabtree has benefited greatly from the additions of Moss and Manningham because it has taken the pressure off a guy who was expected to take the league by storm when he entered it.
Moss has just 15 catches on the season, but he is averaging nearly 17 yards a catch and is still a threat in the red zone. Manningham has a knack for the big play but has not been as effective as expected this season.
Smith’s health will determine the role the wide receivers play on Monday night.
Kaepernick will not be expected to throw the ball much if Smith is out, decreasing the roles of the receivers. It will be interesting to see if the Bears go with the smaller Jennings on Crabtree and the bigger Tillman on Moss, given Tillman’s prior success against him.
Despite a slight decline in his numbers this season, tight end Vernon Davis is still a player the Bears will need to keep in check.
He is second on the team in yards with 404, tied for second in catches and tied with Crabtree for touchdown receptions with four.
He is a matchup nightmare with his size and speed.
Defensive backs are too small to be physical with him, and linebackers are too slow to keep up with him. Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher will likely have the duty at some point of covering him down field.
The Bears will likely try and bring a safety over top to prevent Davis from beating them deep.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.