Heading into tonight's game with the Chicago Bears, the stifling Chicago defense was going to be a challenge no matter who the 49ers rolled out as their starting quarterback. The switch to Colin Kaepernick creates plenty of question marks that could provide an assortment of good and bad answers. Prior to this switch I spoke with Windy City Gridiron about the Bears defense, particularly their skill at the takeaway. The answer provides plenty of info even without the 49ers QB specified.
Niners Nation: Chicago leads the NFL in both interceptions and fumbles forced. Is there technique leading to these huge numbers, a little bit of luck, some combination?
Windy City Gridiron: Every time the ball hit's the ground in Bears practice, the defense picks it up and scores. Regardless if it's a fumble or an incomplete pass the Bears defenders are conditioned to attack the ball. Lovie Smith preaches takeaways, and his defense has a goal to score every game. Charles Tillman's ball punch is deadly. Tim Jennings worked with the Jugs machine all off season to improve his hands. The defense is fast and they always rally to the ball. There's always some luck involved, but the Bears practice taking it away.
NN: Can you describe any weaknesses in the Bears defense?
But seriously, the Bears want to keep the ball in front of them when they are playing their zone coverages. If a QB is patient, and has time to throw, he could find the holes the their Cover 2. But the Bears are so good at disguising their coverages, so they may show a 2 deep look, but roll into a cover 3, or they may drop both corners back and give a quarters coverage.
One of the more vulnerable places in their base defense is right over the middle after Brian Urlacher drops middle third. If the o-line can keep Chicago's pass rush at bay, an offense can slip a back over the middle and dump it to him with room to run.
While the Bears use of the cover two provides some advantages and disadvantages for Kaepernick, I have to think they'll mix things up quite a bit to try and confuse the second year QB. Jeff Garcia spoke about Kaepernick earlier today on 95.7 The Game and discussed how the Bears will often bring inside linebackers right up the middle on the blitz.
It will be interesting to see just how much the Bears come up the middle, versus how much the 49ers send Kaepernick around the edge. The 49ers have shown a willingness to use QB keepers around the edge with Smith, and Kaepernick brings greater athleticism than Smith. Of course, there are some question marks about his handling of the football while running. Last week, liberty_JAC pointed out an example of his poor choice of carrying the football.
While Kaepernick was able to get away from the defender in that play, the Bears are a team built around forcing turnovers. While I am excited about the athleticism and cannon arm that Colin Kaepernick brings to the table, careless play is my biggest concern tonight. He needs to hold onto the ball a bit tighter, but he also can't fall into traps the Bear smart, veteran defense will be setting much of the night.
While Colin Kaepernick has crazy amounts of athleticism, it is critical that he not try and do too much tonight. I'm not saying the 49ers need to tie him down force handoffs and dumpoffs. We'll learn a lot about how he can read defenses and what kind of decisions he can make based on that. Kaepernick has had his ups and downs in that regard, and this will be as big a challenge as any he might face this year.
It will be interesting to see what the 49ers game plan looks like coming out of the gates. Will we see them running a heavy run offense, or will they try and open things early and keep the Bears off-balance? My gut says heavy run, but Coach Harbaugh does not exactly go with the expected sometimes. While it is a little scary to consider what could happen tonight, it also brings a certain sense of excitement. Maybe this will end up a complete train wreck, maybe we see an inspiring effort. My guess is somewhere in the middle, but it's still an exciting run up to the game.