Colin Kaepernick's first career NFL start came against the Chicago Bears, on "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 19, 2012. He lit up the Bears that night and while circumstances have the quarterback and his San Francisco 49ers teammates opening their new home against that same team, Kaepernick is anything but sentimental about the career arc. Besides, it's been almost two years and many things have changed.
NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers, and Michael C. Wright, who covers the Bears, break down the Week 2 matchup:
Gutierrez: Michael, the Bears obviously have a high-powered, pass-happy offense with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery & Co. And with the 49ers' secondary beat up, particularly at the cornerback position (starting corners Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are injured, as well as nickelback Jimmie Ward), do you expect the Bears to attack the Niners through the air even more than usual?
Wright: Paul, I really think that would be a huge mistake, especially when considering there's some concern as to whether the Bears will have center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson in the fold. The Bears generated 427 yards of offense in the opener, but the pass-run ratio (49 passes, 18 runs) was atrocious. What's worse is the Bears weren't playing catch-up against the Bills, and Matt Forte was averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. Yet the ground game was virtually ignored. Bad move. My guess is the Bears reviewed tape of the opener and realized they've got to get Forte involved more. Besides that, DeMarco Murray had some success last week running the ball against the 49ers. From my vantage point, Forte is a better player than Murray. You also have to consider Chicago's situation at receiver. Jeffery left last week's game due to a hamstring injury, and Marshall was in and out of the lineup due to an ankle injury.
Given San Francisco's issues on the back end, throwing the ball would make sense, sure. But the Bears need to control the ball in this game, which in turn would keep their struggling defense off the field.
Sore subject, I know. But with all that's gone on with this Ray Rice situation, how much backlash has the organization gotten from the fan base by letting Ray McDonald -- who was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence -- play in the season opener against the Cowboys, and how much of a distraction has it all been in the 49ers' locker room?
Gutierrez: It's strange, because if you use social media as a barometer (which I do not recommend, by the way), then the fans are just fine, thank you very much, with letting him play until he is either formally charged with a crime or he is not charged with anything, even with the alarming nature of the arrest. Everyone associated with the 49ers from CEO Jed York to general manager Trent Baalke to coach Jim Harbaugh, who even harkened the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment for the media, are taking the “due process” route. As far as it being a distraction in the locker room, I can't say that it is, other than reporters asking players about it in media access periods.
Speaking of distractions, real or imagined, has Cutler finally won over the masses in Chicago?
Wright: That's an interesting question. Let me say this: the fans in Chicago absolutely want to love Cutler. But I'd say the fan base is split about 50-50 on him. Cutler seemed to be turning the corner last season as a quarterback and as a person, and that played a major role in the team deciding to invest in the quarterback long term. But then in the opener against the Bills, you saw the same old Cutler; the guy who reverts to shoddy fundamentals, and makes questionable decisions with the ball that get you beat. Obviously, one game isn't enough to truly gauge Cutler's progress. But everyone expected to see Cutler show a lot more command in Year 2 of operating Marc Trestman's system. He flashed that at times in the opener, but also tossed a pair of interceptions that led to Bills points. Then, in the aftermath, Cutler was petulant about his role in the defeat. So I wouldn't say Cutler has won over the masses. More and more people are beginning to believe Cutler might not be the answer long term.
The Bears gave up 193 yards on the ground against the Bills last week, so stopping the run is absolutely paramount this week. What would you say are the main differences between Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in terms of their running styles, and in what situations would the 49ers be more likely to utilize each back?
Gutierrez: Well, for one, Gore is a 10-year vet and Hyde a rookie. For another, the 31-year-old Gore is built like a bowling ball at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds and has a lot of mileage on him after becoming the 29th member of the 10,000-yard rushing club, while Hyde, who turns 24 on Sept. 20, is 6-foot and 230 pounds. Gore is the bell-cow back who bounces off tacklers while Hyde prefers to try to run over opponents. Gore is the every-down guy, while Hyde is more of a short-yardage specialist. Too generic? Maybe, but it is interesting that while Gore led the Niners with 63 rushing yards at Dallas last weekend, Hyde averaged an eye-popping 7.1 yards per carry, and he popped it in from 4 yards out for his first career touchdown. Also keep this in mind: with the Niners releasing LaMichael James this week, they have only two tailbacks on the roster. You might see a return of the read-option by Kaepernick or even rookie receiver Bruce Ellington lining up as a running back in certain packages. And if so, I would not want to see him as a blocking back.
Which brings us to pass-rusher extraordinaire Jared Allen. How much does he have left in the tank?
Wright: Hate to go off just one game here, but he sure appeared to be running on fumes against the Buffalo Bills. The official statistics say he contributed only one tackle. Then, after the coaches reviewed the tape, they credited Allen with two stops. To me, the best defensive end for the Chicago Bears last week was Willie Young (seven tackles and a sack), and he doesn't even start. So my guess would be moving forward the Bears will likely start to give Young more time, while making Allen more of a pass-rushing specialist. Again, it was only one game. But Allen was a non-factor against the Bills against the run and as a pass-rusher. I truly don't think that performance was indicative of Allen's ability. Based on what I saw at training camp, Allen appears to still be one of the NFL's premier players. But he certainly needs to step up his game this week at San Francisco.
San Francisco has a couple of injuries in the secondary, but seems to have some decent replacements waiting in the wings. What's the status of Brock, Culliver and Ward, and if they're still ailing what types of things -- such as blitzes and coverages -- would San Francisco likely do to compensate for the situation in the secondary?
Gutierrez: Neither Brock, who sprained a big toe in Dallas, nor Culliver, who suffered a concussion and a stinger, practiced on Wednesday, which would seemingly be a bad omen when it comes to them suiting up on Sunday. Ward, meanwhile, did practice after a concussion was ruled out by doctors. If Culliver and Brock cannot go, then Perrish Cox, who picked off Tony Romo last week, and rookie Dontae Johnson will be the starting cornerbacks, and Chris Cook, who was not activated for the opener, will dress for the Bears. As far as schemes, the 49ers don't like to dial up too many blitzes or get too cute because their whole game plan is for their front seven to disrupt the quarterback enough to give their secondary time to adjust in coverage.