Chicago Bears: Frank Gore
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Stopping Frank Gore and the San Francisco 49ers running attack Monday night is the No. 1 priority for a Chicago Bears defense that has surrendered 100-yard rushing performances in each of the last two games to Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Houston's Arian Foster.
The Niners will try to run the ball against the Bears' fourth-ranked rushing defense (92.3), that much is certain. San Francisco is the top-rated rushing offense in the league with 170.2 yards per game on the ground for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. The 49ers also lead the NFL in overall rushing yards (1,532) and carries of 10-or-more yards (52) and are second in the league with 83 rushing first downs.
At the center of it all is Gore, the NFL's eighth-leading runner with 753 yards and five touchdowns. Since 2005, Gore leads the league with 32 100-yard rushing games.
"He's physical, wow," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's downhill, one cut, and every yard he's fighting for. He twists and turns, he fights, this guy is never down. He's never down."
Once again the Bears might face life without Cutler, who suffered a concussion against the Houston Texans on Sunday night. Is the veteran Campbell, with 70 NFL starts under his belt, up to the challenge of beating the 49ers on Monday night in San Francisco if Cutler can't go?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears can beat the 49ers with Jason Campbell at quarterback.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. One of Caleb Hanie's biggest issues was the fact he had no NFL starting experience when he took over for Cutler late in 2011. Campbell does not suffer from the same problem. After starting 70 games for the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, Campbell is more than qualified to run the offense if Cutler is sidelined due to a concussion. Granted, Campbell needs to perform better than he did against Houston, where he looked somewhat indecisive in the second half. But a full week of practice should help that, not to mention a decent game plan from the coaching staff that doesn't restrict Campbell from attempting longer throws down the field if the play is open. The Bears haven't won in San Francisco since 1985, so knocking off the 49ers even with Cutler at quarterback would be a difficult task to accomplish. But Campbell should give the Bears a decent shot, which is really all you can ask for from a backup quarterback.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Give Campbell a week of real preparation time, and he should be perfectly capable of filling in for Cutler against one of the league's top defenses on the road. Observers point to the tentative nature in which Campbell performed in the loss to the Texans in assessing his skillset. But that would be a mistake, considering how ill-prepared Campbell was due to limited practice reps. Campbell isn't Todd Collins or Hanie. He's a former first-round pick with a .443 winning percentage as a starter that should be taken with a grain of salt since he played for horrid teams in Washington and Oakland before joining the Bears.
Scott Powers: Fact. Part of the equation depends on whether quarterback Alex Smith plays for the 49ers. If he doesn't suit up, the Bears can definitely beat the 49ers. But even if he does play, the defense should keep the Bears in the game. The Texans possess arguably a better offense than the 49ers, and the Bears held them to 13 points. Matt Forte will have to produce more than he did last week, and Campbell is better than most backups the Bears have had in the past. The offense should be capable of getting in the end zone once or twice and setting Robbie Gould up for a few field goals. If the Bears' defense is its normal self, that should be enough.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Well, I mean they can beat the Niners with Campbell by running the ball with their two top-tier running backs and the Bears' typical defensive dominance. But I think the spirit of the question is "will" they beat them, and the answer is no. I'm pretty sure the Bears would lose with Cutler, and probably in a more awful fashion. San Francisco, which operates out of a base 3-4, has the No. 1 rush defense, according to Football Outsider, and in traditional statistics, it ranks seventh in yards per game (95.3) and tied for third in fewest rushing touchdowns (three). I can imagine the game plan will be to stack the box and deny Forte the outside. I foresee a 13-10 win for San Francisco, but hey, maybe the Bears' defense will score three touchdowns and pull out a win.
How about Charles Tillman?
The 10th-year cornerback earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time last season. He blanketed the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson during a 13-7 victory Monday night.
With two forced fumbles against the Lions, Tillman has 32 for his career. That ranks tied for third since Tillman's rookie season (2003) and the most for a defensive back, according to the Bears. Tillman has two picks and scored on both.
Tillman is playing very well. He's playing for a dominant defense. His team is winning. He makes the MVP Watch list this week, his first appearance.
Tillman joins MVP Watch mainstay J.J. Watt as the only defensive players to appear on the list this season. Lawrence Taylor was the most recent defensive player to win the Associated Press version of the award. He won following the 1986 season.
Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
Kyle Terada/US Presswire
San Francisco's Frank Gore is averaging an NFC-best 5.6 yards a carry.
The Niners boast one of the top running backs in the NFL in Frank Gore, who is averaging an NFC-best 5.6 yards per carry.
"North and south, he's the best in the league," Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "He gets downhill fast. He's not a guy that's going to get on the edge and do a lot. He's going to get up the A gaps and run. He's doing that very well."
But don't let Gore's in-between-the-tackles running style fool you; he's just as dangerous in the open field. The star running back had touchdown runs of 79 and 80 yards earlier this season against Seattle, part of a 207-yard day.
"He's the kind of guy that will run through you, and run away from you," Ogunleye said. "We have to be on top of our game, and our safeties have to be in the right gaps."
"He's definitely a beast who sort of reminds me of Ced [Benson]," Bears defensive tackle Marcus Harrison said. "He's a downhill runner; one cut and he's gone. But their offensive line is very physical, in terms of what they do up front. If he gets to that second level, you got to get him, because he can take it to the house. He's a threat."