Alex Smith gave the San Francisco 49ers a scare when he was knocked out of the first quarter in last week’s game against the St. Louis Rams with a concussion. Questions surrounded the organization if he would be available for the upcoming Monday night tilt with the Chicago Bears, but earlier today, it has been confirmed that he has been ruled out. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is in line to draw his first career start.
For three quarters, Kaepernick held the fort down, giving the Niners a legitimate shot to come out victorious against St. Louis. But a missed kick by David Akers and a stalled drive in overtime prevented San Francisco from acquiring their seventh win of the season. Instead, the game ended in a 24-24 tie. Still, the Niners stand atop their division at 6-2-1.
The Bears defense has been putting up historic numbers this year, forcing a league-leading 19 interceptions while scoring seven touchdowns. Not only are they adept at causing turnovers, but they limit opposing offenses to just 14.8 points per game, which is second to the Niners (14.1). Through eight games in 2006, Chicago’s defense put up similar statistics, allowing only 12.5 points per game in addition to 24 forced turnovers. That team made it to the Super Bowl.
Much of the Bears’ success this year can be directed toward the play of cornerback Charles Tillman. If his cover skills weren’t exceptional enough, Tillman has a knack for punching the ball loose. So far, he leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles, while contributing with two touchdowns of his own. If he continues to perform at this high level, his name will be thrown into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion.
With the Bears’ swarming defense taking the field, the Niners must make it a priority to secure the football. Through nine games, San Francisco has done a proficient job of doing just that. However, the story changes when Kaepernick is inserted into the starting lineup. He played well last week given the circumstances and did not turn the ball over, but how successful will he be when there is tape on him? The Bears defense is filled with talent and experience, making it seem like an unfair fight. The task at hand won’t get any easier for the second-year quarterback with the possibility of rain.
Unfortunately for Chicago, Jay Cutler is also sidelined with a concussion. Last year without him, the Bears went on a five-game skid after losing him in Week 10. Though he is prone to throwing interceptions, defenses must respect his mobility and arm strength.
Backup Jason Campbell is set to take the reins, but the Niners should not take him lightly. As a starter for the Oakland Raiders last year, Campbell led the team to a 4-2 record before his season ended with a broken collarbone. Give him bona fide players in Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, along with a full week to prepare, he can piece together a solid outing.
Aside from the Cardinals’ game, San Francisco’s run defense has slipped in recent weeks. Against the New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, the Niners have surrendered an average of 148 rushing yards in addition to 12 runs going for 10 or more yards. Whether the defensive line is not getting in the way of opposing offensive linemen, or the linebackers not wrapping up, those numbers are a bit discerning.
Justin Smith has also regressed this season, and one has to wonder if the loss of Parys Haralson is beginning to take its toll on the team. He might not possess the talent of Aldon Smith, but he was skilled in containing running backs. Given their struggles, expect to see a heavy dosage of Forte and Michael Bush.
The Bears will provide the Niners with a formidable test. Offensively and defensively, Chicago has the talent to make a deep run at the playoffs. The same could be said about San Francisco. Whether or not you are a follower of either team, this game marks the definition of must-see TV- even with the backup signal-callers taking center stage.
Charles Tillman Yahoo! Player Profile
Travis Chan is a longtime fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Giants and Golden State Warriors. He is also a contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.