Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Here’s how unpredictable the NFL is: As dark as these days are for Chicago and its fans, I have no trouble conceiving the possibility that the Bears could go to San Francisco on three days’ rest and beat the 49ers. Often, that’s how this league works: You get steamrolled one week (or, in the Bears’ case, twice in the past three weeks) and then win a game that logic dictates you shouldn’t.
How could it happen? Let’s run through a few tips as we anticipate an 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff:
Never underestimate how bad the other team might be, or might be playing at the moment. Sure, things seem dire for the Bears as they sit at 4-4, having recently been on the losing end of 45-10 and 41-21 games. But don’t forget the 49ers have lost four consecutive games and haven’t won since the first week of October. San Francisco fans are feeling the same way about the 49ers as you feel about the Bears.
Don’t oversell to stop tailback Frank Gore. There’s no doubt Gore has been a game-breaker at times this season. But know this: Almost half of his season yardage total have come on three big carries. That’s right. Gore has touchdown runs of 80, 79 and 64 yards; that’s a total of 223 yards. On his other 77 carries, Gore has 224 yards. That means on 96 percent of his runs this season, Gore is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. I’m not diminishing the game-changing potential of a long run. But it’s important to remember that in the big picture, Gore has been pretty well shut down by opposing defenses. If it were me, I wouldn’t necessarily be compelled to bring an eighth defender in the box.
Consider quarterback Alex Smith eminently shakable and scheme your blitzes accordingly. In his past two starts, Smith has thrown four interceptions and has been sacked eight times. The Bears shouldn’t back off their pressure packages just because Arizona’s Kurt Warner handled them well last week. With the Bears’ injury-depleted secondary, pressure will be at a premium. Smith is more likely to force passes and make poor decisions than Warner or even Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer.
Resist the urge to remove some pressure from quarterback Jay Cutler. After eight games of an almost nonexistent running game, there is no reason to believe the Bears can suddenly dominate the game on the ground against a Patrick Willis-led defense. It’s true that Cutler has struggled in two prime-time games this season, throwing a combined six interceptions at Green Bay and Atlanta, but he is still the Bears’ offensive MVP. In a time of crisis, you have to count on your top players. Or, at least, go down with them having every opportunity to right the ship.
Let’s circle back on these issues after the game.