Bears-49ers: Game Plan & Matchups to Watch

The Bears will do more passing on first down and try to make themselves less predictable on second and third down, when they have been facing way too many long-yardage situations, putting their quarterback in predictable passing situations.

Offensive coordinator Terry Shea is not pleased with the production or the variety of the Bears' play selection, and he knows whom to blame: himself. "That's referring to my own play-calling," Shea said. "We've lost our flair as an offensive approach, and I don't feel good about it. It's not what we did in the preseason, it wasn't what we were accomplishing early in the season. And now, all of a sudden, we've become three-downs-and-out, and a lot of it's (unsuccessful) first-down runs, so we've got to change that up. We've got to become more of an offense that I believe we can."

After their initial possession against the Bucs, the Bears attempted eight first-and-10 runs and picked up 3, 0, 9, 3, 3, 0, 4 and minus-2 yards for an average of 2.5 yards per play. That frequently left the Bears in second-and-long and third-and-long, forcing the offense away from the run, which is what it does best, and into predictable passing situations.

"What allows you to become a little more unpredictable is when you have more production on first down, and that's what we're all geared up to do (this week)," Shea said. "We're going to obviously change our play-calling approach a little more. You might see a little more of ... well, I'm not sure what you're going to see. I can't say that. But we need more first-down production, there's no doubt about it. We've become a very predictable team, which is contrary to what this offense really represents."

49ers RB Kevan Barlow vs. the Bears' run defense and specifically MLB Brian Urlacher. Barlow has put up mediocre numbers so far: 367 yards on 99 carries for a 3.7-yard average and three touchdowns. But the Bears' run defense has plummeted to a tied for 29th in yards allowed and has permitted four 100-yard rushers in the past five weeks. The only featured runner who didn't crack the century mark was the Vikings' Onterrio Smith, and he had 94 yards on 17 carries. Urlacher hardly looked like a four-time Pro Bowl pick last week while making eight tackles in a 19-7 loss to the Bucs.

49ers TE Eric Johnson, who is second in the NFL with 45 catches, vs. Bears SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer, who earned a starting job while filling in for MLB Brian Urlacher earlier in the season.

Left guard Ruben Brown (knee) and center Olin Kreutz (elbow) both missed practice Wednesday but are listed as probable and expected to start Sunday. Defensive tackle Alfonso Boone (knee, questionable) practiced but defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (lower leg, questionable) did not. Boone should play on Sunday but Ogunleye is more like doubtful. Safety Bobby Gray (groin, doubtful) also missed practice and isn't expected to play.

The onus is on the 49ers defense to keep the Bears offense in check. Chicago will start rookie Craig Krenzel, who made his NFL debut last week in the Bears' 19-7 loss to Tampa Bay. The 49ers' first priority will be to contain the Bears' running game. Thomas Jones is fifth in the NFC with 510 yards, with five touchdowns, on a 4.4-yard average. If the 49ers are able to keep Jones in check, they have to clean up some rough spots in their pass defense.

The 49ers own the No. 13 overall defense, but they've allowed opposing quarterbacks to torch them for a passer rating of 102.5. The 49ers have to find a way to get some pressure on the quarterback to take the heat off a depleted secondary. They have recorded just 10 sacks in the first six games. Linebacker Julian Peterson, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, still leads the team with just 2.5 sacks.

Defensive end John Engelberger leads the 49ers with five quarterback pressures, while defensive tackle Bryant Young has four. Young does not have a sack this season. The 11th-year pro averaged more than eight sacks a season in his first seven years in the league. The last three years, he has averaged three sacks. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson will have to get creative in finding a way to apply constant pressure to Krenzel. Linebacker Jamie Winborn, who might be the team's best pass rusher, should be coming on blitzes in passing situations.

49ers run defense, which should be bolstered by the return of MLB Derek Smith, vs. Bears RB Thomas Jones, who has rushed for 510 yards and five touchdowns to give Chicago a respectable running game; CBs Shawntae Spencer and Jimmy Williams, who have just five career starts between them, vs. WRs David Terrell and Bobby Wade, who have just 17 receptions apiece through the first six games; FB Fred Beasley, one of the keys to the run game with his dominating lead-blocking, vs. MLB Brian Urlacher, who has 56 tackles despite missing two games with a right hamstring injury.

CB Ahmed Plummer is out for at least this week's game with a bulging disk in his neck. Plummer first experienced the pain this season on Oct. 17 against the N.Y. Jets. The condition kept him out of one game last season. QB Tim Rattay is expected to have a reduced time in practice this week because of a strained right forearm. Coach Dennis Erickson said he expects Rattay to start Sunday night's game. TE Eric Johnson benefited from the bye week to rest his cracked rib on his right side. Johnson is practicing this week for the first time since sustaining the injury Oct. 3 against St. Louis. DE Andre Carter's bad back is getting better, but he will miss his sixth straight game this week. Erickson said he expects Carter to return to action next week for the Nov. 7 game against Seattle. LB Derek Smith will return to the starting lineup after missing two games with torn ankle ligaments. LB Saleem Rasheed will not play after undergoing surgery last week on his right knee. DE Andrew Williams, who sustained a broken right lower leg in an Aug. 4 practice, is still about a month away from returning to action. C Jeremy Newberry underwent surgery to stabilize his right kneecap on Sept. 21 and is expected to miss most of the season. Erickson said he hopes Newberry will be ready to return to action in about a month.

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