Tonight’s Monday Night Football tilt between the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears has the potential to be one of the ugliest games you will see in the National Football League this season. It already figured to be a low-scoring matchup between the league’s two best defenses, but now that both starting quarterbacks—Alex Smith and Jay Cutler—have officially been ruled out of tonight’s game after suffering concussions last week, points could be even harder to come by, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Though Smith and Cutler have been much maligned throughout their careers, anytime you substitute Smith for 49ers’ second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler for Bears’ second-stringer Jason Campbell, you are creating a recipe for…well, who knows what? Kaepernick has shown in limited action that he can be a good quarterback along the lines of a Randall Cunningham, with his ability to throw the deep ball and still be able to run like mad whether by design or necessity, but he’s still green out there and is figuring out how to play NFL football. And while Campbell has never exactly lit the league up with his talents, he has proven at times that he can be more than serviceable if he doesn’t let his circumstances dictate how he’s going to perform, something the 49ers will definitely try to make him do often.
The biggest pro coming out of this situation for both teams is that they knew there was a strong likelihood that these guys would be starting this week, so they have undoubtedly been able to prepare offensive game plans with these two behind center. They have taken more practice reps than they normally would have, and having the extra day to prepare for a Monday night game has to have been a blessing for them too. Both teams will be hoping their guys are comfortable and ready to go.
Ah, but the potential cons are many. Kaepernick looked shaky at times against the lowly St. Louis Rams last week before that game ended in the NFL’s first tie in 4 seasons. He may be quick and a good runner, but that’s probably not going to fly against the vaunted Bears’ front seven. Just as the 49ers’ front seven will eat you alive if you try to bounce anything out to the sides, Brian Urlacher & Co. will destroy anyone that doesn’t try to beat them through the tackles.
Campbell and Kaepernick are also going up against stingy, opportunistic secondaries who know how to turn turnovers into points, so how are they going to handle these challenges? How will Campbell and Kaepernick do when they are invariably forced into dangerous situations? Will they try to force a pass when taking a sack might be the better option? Will they stay calm in the pocket or run for their lives when Julius Peppers or Aldon Smith start breathing down their necks? Will they be able to call the right option plays when Patrick Willis and Urlacher start alerting their defenses as to what’s coming?
Possibly the biggest factor in who will win tonight’s matchup will be which quarterback can retain the most poise and composure in the midst of all the pressure they will assuredly be seeing tonight. 49ers’ running back Frank Gore and Bears starter Matt Forte might be the second biggest keys to this game, as aside from both of them being stout runners whose success will be key to any offensive hopes their teams have, they might also be called upon to repeatedly save their quarterback’s life via throwing key blocks or being open for screen passes.
This possible NFC Championship preview should be fun to watch, even if the reason you’re watching is because it’s a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of.