In today’s Key Matchup we examine one battle that will help decide the Bears-49ers game in Week 11.
Key matchup: Bears RBs Matt Forte and Michael Bush vs. 49ers defense
At first glance, it might appear that the Bears had a good night running the ball against the Texans in Week 10. They had 23 rushes for 115 yards for a very respectable five yards per carry.
Those numbers are a bit misleading.
Jay Cutler accounted for 37 of those rushing yards on three attempts before he exited the game with a concussion after one half. Take Cutler’s rushes and Jason Campbell’s one five-yard run out of the mix, and the Bears were left with the 73 yards on 19 carries (3.8 average) that was provided by RBs Matt Forté and Michael Bush.
That is the fewest yards rushing produced by the two backs this season in a game in which they both played.
Forté was limited to a season-low 2.4 yards per carry (16-39) vs. Houston. He started very slowly, running seven times for only 11 yards (1.6 average) in the first half. He did not have a rush longer than eight yards in the game and fared even worse as a receiver, making two catches for minus-three yards on five targets.
The Bears know they are going to need more out of Forté to win most weeks, and he will be as valuable as he has ever been this season with Cutler’s status for Monday night’s game still in question as he recovers from a concussion.
The 49ers know it, too, though. It will not come as a surprise to them if the Bears come out on Monday night and look to establish a solid running game on early downs, which is something the Bears have not done nearly well enough this season.
If Cutler does not play, stopping Forté will become even more of a focus for the 49ers’ third-ranked defense, which has allowed 136 rushing yards or more in three of its past four games.
The 49ers still rank seventh vs. the run, but they have struggled a bit against physical backs like Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, who both gained 100-plus rushing yards against them in the past month.
Forté is in a different mold than those two runners. Forté is not a finesse back — he has good size and strength — but he does not pound away at a defense the way Jackson and Lynch do. Bush is more in that mold, and it will be interesting to see if the Bears’ game plan calls for giving Bush — who fumbled the ball way in the first quarter of Chicago’s loss to Houston — more opportunities than he has had recently (six carries or less in four of the past five games).
San Francisco plays a physical brand of defense that can wear down a back. If Cutler is out and Jason Campbell looks hesitant to take deep shots down the field, the 49ers likely will feel more comfortable playing an extra defender in the box, which will give Forté and Bush even less room to run.