Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week ten opponent – the Chicago Bears.**
Coaches won't want to read this, but as a player, I always had two scoreboards; one for the team and one for myself. That sounds selfish, but I unfortunately, played through a lot of losing streaks in San Diego. If you've lost six or seven in a row and start to become down on yourself, then that attitude becomes so prevalent on a team, then just by virtue of the fact that you're in a losing streak you play poorly. For me, I always wanted to evaluate myself to say, am I playing winning football? If you can do that, and you're grading out high each week, and each of your teammates is individually grading themselves out high each week, then it's not selfish and it's all going to come together to end the losing streak.
Of those players who I feel are playing winning football, Eric Heitmann is definitely one for the offensive side. Joe Staley was playing winning football when he was in there, but he's now injured for the foreseeable future. Vernon Davis is obviously having a Pro Bowl year. And there's one guy who's only been here for three games, but, Michael Crabtree is the real deal.
For the team, this is the perfect opportunity this week to do what Coach Singletary and Jimmy Raye have talked about from day one – they want to be a smash mouth football team. Chicago has struggled defensively to stop the run and from watching film I can see it. They've had some injuries though that have set them back.
Tommie Harris, who is a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle, is not playing at his regular level, partially due to a knee injury. Anytime you lose a perennial All-Pro like Brian Urlacher, it makes a huge difference. They used to have a heck of a line backing crew, but now all that really remains for this game is Lance Briggs. It's had a dramatic impact on their front seven. Anytime you can't stop the run, it's tough to play defense. They've ended up benching guys defensively in an attempt to solve that problem.
The Bears are also dealing with some injuries in the secondary as well. There is not easy opportunity in the NFL, but this game is certainly one where the 49ers offense should look to get on track.
One thing the 49ers defense should be looking to do against the Bears is to cause a turnover. They have not done so since a month ago against Atlanta.
It was on a Dre' Bly interception, which was subsequently fumbled back to the Falcons. Think about that; it's been a full month since a turnover and that one was handed right back. So then you're talking five games since an actual take away. That's not good enough.
Joe Staley is a playmaker. He's been phenomenal. And just like Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said, if it wasn't for him, his running back Chris Johnson would have had three more touchdowns last Sunday.
One way that Willis has been able to improve his game is by improving his recognition. That's the amazing thing about Willis' game, is that he is still learning. He can still get better. He's improved in his pass coverage skills and he can still get better. It actually hinders Willis sometimes that he is so fast. It causes him to over pursue. A lot of times in man-to-man coverage, you think you have to be stride for stride, but it's actually better to be inside and underneath. It makes the throw tougher for a quarterback. For a linebacker, who runs as fast as wide receivers, it's hard for him to gear down.
I'd like to see the rest of the playmakers on the defense step their game up in the second half. Takeo Spikes had three interceptions last year, but has yet to grab one this year. Dashon Goldson has shown good range, but needs to get his hands on the ball – that's your job at that position. Really, the 49ers defense needs to start taking advantage of their opportunities. They haven't been.
Going in to this game, Jay Cutler is a lot like John Elway and Brett Favre in the sense that he has cannon for an arm and he thinks he can throw it anywhere he wants. It's great to be a confident quarterback, but it hurts when he tries to put the ball in windows that are much smaller than most quarterbacks could hit. The 49ers should get the opportunity to get their hands on some balls come Thursday night.
Lastly, I mentioned Davis' play earlier and how important he's been to the 49ers offense. But I think whichever tight end in this game, Davis or Greg Olsen of the Bears could impact this game greatly. Olsen caught three touchdowns last week and has six on the season, which is one less than Davis, who has been atop of the NFL's touchdown leaders most of the season.
Obviously each of them is a big red zone threat, so it's going to be a battle between the two touchdown receiving tight ends of the NFC. Whoever comes out on top in that matchup, should greatly influence the outcome of the game. Both are keys to their team's offense, so it should be interesting to see which one has the better overall game.