Larry Mayer and Eli Kaberon of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Sunday night’s road game against the 49ers:
Offense: Jay Cutler
Already a leader on offense, quarterback Jay Cutler will have to be even more of a stabilizing force than usual Sunday night against the 49ers because the Bears will be missing some injured starters. “[With] these new guys I have to make sure that when we break the huddle we know exactly where we’re going, we’re getting our splits and we’re getting lined up correctly,” Cutler said.
In last Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Bills, Cutler passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two costly interceptions, something he knows he must avoid against an opportunistic 49ers defense that generated four takeaways in a Week 1 win over the Cowboys.
“They’re not tremendously difficult scheme-wise, they’re just extremely sound,” Cutler said of the 49ers defense. “They know exactly what they want to do. They’re going to keep the ball in front of them on the backend. They’re going to bring pressure. They’ve got very talented guys. They’ve relied on them in the past rightfully so. They’re not going to put themselves in bad positions.”
Defense: Lance Briggs
Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs didn’t start the season the way he would have liked, registering four tackles in last Sunday’s overtime loss to the Bills. But the seven-time Pro Bowler is confident that he can revert to form beginning with Sunday night’s contests against the 49ers.
“We’ve only played one game,” Briggs said. “I told [defensive coordinator] Mel [Tucker], ‘I once came out in our first game and had 36 loafs and one tackle against Atlanta and got some of the same criticism, and went on to have a regular year.’ I’m not like everybody else. I don’t hit the panic button.”
Briggs conceded that he was out of his gap on a 47-yard run in the season opener and knows he must stay put Sunday night against the 49ers. “They’re really sharp and they’re very efficient in where guys align, their motions. They’ll ‘wham’ just about everybody on the defense and force a different player to be disciplined and make sure he’s in that gap. If he gets pushed by, it creates another alley for Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to run.”
Offense: Martellus Bennett
With much of the Bears receiving corps not 100 percent healthy, quarterback Jay Cutler is going to need someone to throw to. That means more opportunities for his tight end. In the Week 1 loss to Buffalo, Bennett was second on the team with 10 targets, which resulted in eight receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. He’s a reliable red-zone target and is able to move the chains, and is somebody that Cutler trusts in key situations.
Along with his contributions as a pass-catcher, Bennett may also take on a larger role in the running game. With both Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson missing practice this week because of ankle injuries, it is likely the Bears will have two backup offensive linemen starting against a physical San Francisco defense. Bennett’s strengths as a run blocker will be relied upon to create room for Kyle Long. The Bears used two-tight end sets on 24 of their 69 offensive plays versus the Bills, with Bennett rarely leaving the field. Expect more of that against the 49ers.
Defense: D.J. Williams
In his conference call with Chicago reporters this week, 49ers running back Frank Gore asked for a message to be delivered to his former University of Miami teammate, D.J. Williams. “Tell D.J. to not hit me so hard on Sunday,” Gore said.
For the Bears defense to contain Gore and the San Francisco rushing attack on Sunday night, they will need Williams to lay some big hits. The middle linebacker had 22 defensive snaps versus the Bills and didn’t record a tackle, as Buffalo rushed for 193 yards on 33 carries. A veteran defender who has typically been strong against the run, Williams needs to be in the middle of the action versus the 49ers, which not only rely on the ageless Gore, but also his backup, rookie Carlos Hyde and quarterback Colin Kaepernick to gain yards on the ground. Williams’ job will be to limit that damage and give the Chicago run defense a boost.