By Sam McPherson
Now that Colin Kaepernick is no longer part of the San Francisco 49ers’ present or future, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler may be the most polarizing QB in the National Football League. He’s taken a lot of flak as the Bears QB since Chicago acquired him from the Denver Broncos back prior to the 2009 season, even though Cutler has posted a 50-44 record as the Bears starter.
That hasn’t been good enough for many Chicago fans and media critics, but Cutler once again has the Bears fighting for a postseason berth. Coming off a big win at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving Night, Chicago is just one game out of the NFC wild-card chase, and this home game against San Francisco on Sunday will be critical for the Bears’ chances at reaching their first Super Bowl since the 2006 season.READ MORE: NorCal Heatwave Expected To Bring More Triple-Digit Temps To The Valley; No Power Shortages Anticipated
Chicago is 5-6 after its big road win against Green Bay. The Bears started the season 0-3 after facing Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle early on. Since then, Chicago has wins over Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego, St. Louis and Green Bay. The only “bad” Bears loss this year came in overtime against Detroit on the road. Cutler and his Chicago teammates lost two close games—by a combined five points—against division leaders Denver and Minnesota. This is a competitive team that has a potential offense when healthy.
The Bears on Offense
Cutler actually has posted the best numbers of his career this season, throwing for 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His 92.5 QB rating is a career-high, and Cutler is taking fewer sacks than ever before in his NFL lifetime. He has two potent weapons now in the backfield to utilize, too: established star running back Matt Forte and rookie running back sensation Jeremy Langford. Forte hasn’t been 100 percent healthy this year, but Langford has shown a great ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
When healthy, wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey is a nightmare matchup for opposing corners, and tight end Martellus Bennett leads the team with 50 receptions. Jeffrey is questionable (again) for the 49ers game, and that could make a huge difference for the Bears offense. Without him, Chicago’s WR corps is reduced to basically nothing.
The Bears on DefenseREAD MORE: Sacramento Highway 99 Closure Now In Place: How To Get Around It
This defense is not the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, and that’s a good thing for the San Francisco offense. However, the Bears have two young linebackers that tackle like machines: Christian Jones and Shea McClellin. They are supported by pass-rushing LB Pernell McPhee, who leads the team with five sacks. Veteran safety Antrel Rolle is hurt and may not play against the 49ers, but his experienced presence in the secondary helps Chicago against opponents’ passing games.
Overall, the Bears are giving up 24 points per game, which is 19th in the league. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent the last four seasons with the San Francisco defense in the same capacity under former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. This familiarity could be both an advantage and a disadvantage for the S.F. coaching staff heading into this game.
Bears Players to Watch
Jeffrey is the one to watch on the Bears offense, as his presence really opens up the game plan for Chicago. His size gives him big physical advantages on almost every corner that tries to cover him, and Jeffrey had seven catches for 90 yards against the Packers last time out. The extra days off probably will enable him to play against the 49ers, and that means trouble for the S.F. secondary. Jeffrey’s presence means Bennett can run underneath routes, and Forte and/or Langford can both find room to run out of the backfield.
San Francisco is 0-5 on the road this year, having played only one close game this season away from Levi’s Stadium (Week 5 against the New York Giants). The other four road losses have come by an average of 25 points, against Pittsburgh, Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle. The Bears aren’t similar to any of those teams, and they share more in common with the Giants in terms of a comparable opponent. The 49ers might have a chance to score some points against Chicago’s defense, but the Bears offense should be able to score on the S.F. defense, readily.
The 49ers have seen their opponents score an average of 35 points per game on the road against them, and the S.F. offense averages less than 14 per game this season. Maybe the 49ers have a chance in this one, but the cold weather and the math don’t add up to a fourth win for S.F. in 2015—at least not this week.MORE NEWS: West Oakland Home Converted To Mini Museum About Black Panthers; Will Open Juenteenth
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.