Behind Enemy Lines: Part III

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Craig Massei of SF Illustrated, go Behind Enemy Lines for an analysis of Thursday's game between the Bears and 49ers in San Francisco.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS OFFENSE VS. 49ERS DEFENSE
QB Jay Cutler vs. FS Dashon Goldson:
The 49ers inserted the rangy Goldson into their starting lineup this year because of his ability to make plays on the ball. He ought to get some opportunities toward that pursuit with Cutler slinging downfield to keep the Chicago offense moving. The San Francisco secondary has not been playing well in recent weeks, and Goldson will be instrumental in changing that around against a good passer as he helps out corners in double coverage and does his part to contain productive tight end Greg Olsen.

RB Matt Forte vs. LBs Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson: There is no reason to assume the Bears will get the ground game going, as not only do the 49ers sport the fourth-best run defense in the league, but Forte averages just 2.5 yards per carry and 42 yards per game on the road. But Forte catches the ball as well as any back around, recording multiple receptions in seven straight games and at least five grabs in four of them. Lawson and Haralson will likely be covering him out of the backfield, so Forte needs to make the first man miss and get to the second level.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ERS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE
Chicago Safeties vs. TE Vernon Davis
Davis gave the Bears some bulletin-board material earlier this week by saying he's not impressed by Chicago's front seven on defense. But what about the Bears' secondary? Chicago's DBs will have to be all over Davis, because he is proving each week that he can't be covered by a linebacker. He had career highs of 10 receptions for 102 yards last week and is tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdown receptions. The 49ers will be looking Davis' way on a regular basis, and the Bears have to find a way to stop him or San Francisco will just keep going to him on every offensive series.

WR Michael Crabtree vs. CB Charles Tillman: Even though he is far and away Chicago's best cornerback, Tillman was no match for the likes of Chad Ochocinco and Larry Fitzgerald in recent weeks. Crabtree is still a rookie and only has three NFL games under his belt, so he's a long way from being Ochocinco or Fitzgerald, but he's oozing with talent and could be on their level before too long. Tillman couldn't finish last week's game because of a shoulder injury, which doesn't bode well for him since being physical is a big part of his game.


WR Michael Crabtree
Getty Images: Bob Levey

THE 49ERS WIN IF ...
... they prevent turnovers and keep the pedal to the metal offensively. The 49ers have made progress on offense in recent weeks to the point of becoming explosive, but they seem content just to keep the game close and try to win it at the end. They need to jump on the Bears and then keep the pressure on. If they can get consistent heat on Cutler and disrupt his rhythm, the 49ers will win.

THE 49ERS LOSE IF ...
... they allow the Bears to stick around and let Cutler pick apart their secondary. The 49ers have given away several games in the fourth quarter by allowing the opposing quarterback to take over and lead his team to a decisive score with the outcome swaying in the balance. The 49ers also need to protect the football. They have fallen to 23rd in the league in turnover differential after being a top-five team in that category earlier in the season. If the 49ers turn over the ball and give the Chicago offense short fields to work with, the Bears will leave town with a victory.

THE BEARS WIN IF ...
... Cutler has a career day and proves to be the best player on the field at Candlestick Park. It was assumed that the Pro Bowl passer would be better off in Chicago than he was in Denver because he'd have a competent defense and a bellcow running back, but he probably feels just like he did as a Bronco since the Bears can't stop anybody these days and Forte is stuck in the middle of a miserable sophomore slump. It might be time for Cutler to be the ultimate trump card and simply outscore his opponent no matter what happens on the other side of the ball.

THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
... the defense resembles anything like the one we saw in those recent blowouts at the hands of the Bengals and Cardinals. In both of those games, the pressure up front was non-existent and forced the secondary to cover dangerous receivers for too long. While Alex Smith is no Carson Palmer or Kurt Warner, the former No. 1-overall draft pick has thrown six touchdown passes in two and a half games since returning to the lineup and has a matchup nightmare in Davis at his disposal.

FINAL PREDICTIONS
Craig Massei:
I envision some points on the scoreboard in this game. The Bears will get their share, but this will be a breakout game for the rising 49ers offense and that will be enough to snap a four-game losing streak. And besides, there is no way Mike Singletary loses to his former team in this kind of circumstance. The 49ers are due to get their act together, and if they don't, their season is toast – 49ERS 30, BEARS 24.

John Crist: I keep thinking to myself that the Bears have more talent on either side of the ball than the 49ers do, although I thought the same thing about both the Bengals and Cardinals and now look like a fool for picking those games the direction I did. Chicago's offensive line is still among the worst in football, Frank Gore is twice the tailback either Cedric Benson or Tim Hightower is and there's no reason to be confident about the secondary at all. Cutler and Co. will keep up, but Smith plays just as well and ends his personal losing streak at seven – 49ERS 27, BEARS 23.

To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Craig answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Craig, Click Here.


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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Craig Massei is the publisher of SFIllustrated.com.


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