Monday Night Football
Chicago @ San Francisco
This week's Monday nighter projects to be long on defense and short on points. Both quarterback starters will be sidelined by concussions. As of Friday, this game's over/under was 38.5 points. It took a nosedive Monday morning when ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Alex Smith would not play. Vegas' point projection is now 34 -- lowest of the 2012 season. Both clubs field top-five defenses and have offenses that will be quarterbacked by backups. So fantasy production may be hard to come by. ... The Bears have defended the run well for most of the season, but they've spung some leaks the past two weeks. Titans and Texans backs racked up 286 yards and a touchdown on 53 carries (5.40 YPC) against Chicago in Weeks 9-10, shining some light on Frank Gore's Week 11 fantasy matchup. It also can't be understated how dominant the Niners' offensive line has been in the trenches. Both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders rank San Francisco as the league's premier run-blocking team. The No. 8 overall fantasy running back to this point, Gore should be locked into fantasy lineups. ... Smith's absence and Colin Kaepernick's insertion may negatively impact the 49ers' passing numbers on Monday night, but Vernon Davis should be open. Chicago's defense entered Week 11 permitting the fifth most receptions in the NFL to tight ends, often allowing them to simply run uncovered over the middle. A major pass coverage liability at age 34, Bears MLB Brian Urlacher can't run anymore on bad knees.
Jim Harbaugh might be smart to dial up frequent three-receiver sets on Monday night, spreading out the Bears' secondary and forcing slot CB Kelvin Hayden to match up with Michael Crabtree. Outside receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will struggle to get open against LCB Charles Tillman and RCB Tim Jennings, but Crabtree is capable of eating up Hayden down the seam. The Kaepernick effect remains to be seen, but Crabtree has a plus matchup on paper. ... Kaepernick's biggest 2012 impact has come on zone-read runs. The Nevada alum came from a run-first Pistol Spread college offense and is still learning how to play in an NFL pocket. He's held his own as a passer in limited doses this year, completing 16-of-26 throws (61.5 percent) for 206 yards (7.92 YPA), but this is Kaepernick's first career start and he'll make it against a Bears defense that entered Week 11 leading the NFL in interceptions, ranked sixth in sacks, and first in quarterback rating allowed. In an ideal world, Kaepernick won't drop back to pass more than 20 times in this game. Kaepernick's big-play running ability still gives him the edge on Jason Campbell if you're in enough of a bind that you need to start one of them. Kaepernick has rushed 21 times this season for 177 yards (8.43 YPC) and three touchdowns. ... In case you were curious, here is Kaepernick's target distribution on those 26 pass attempts: Davis and Kyle Williams 5, Manningham and Moss 4, Crabtree 3, Gore 2, Kendall Hunter and Delanie Walker 1.
On the other side, Jay Cutler's concussion leaves the Bears' quarterback reins to Jason Campbell. With little to no mobility and windmill arm action, Campbell is nearly as poor a fit behind Chicago's sieve-like offensive line as Byron Leftwich is for Todd Haley's quick-pass offense in Pittsburgh. Leftwich at least got to face an average Ravens defense in Sunday night's loss. Campbell must deal with the 49ers, who rank third against the pass and second in total defense. Campbell would be a poor two-quarterback league play in this matchup. ... Although San Francisco plays run-tough defense, Chicago will be left with little choice but to hitch its wagon to Matt Forte's legs. Even if it means jackhammering Forte into a brick wall. The Bears will have to hope 49ers Week 10 opponent St. Louis put a crack in that wall with 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on 36 rushing attempts by Steven Jackson and rookie Daryl Richardson last Sunday.
Scoreless since Week 3 and averaging six touches for 32 yards over his last five games, Michael Bush has been reduced to handcuff or late-season stash only. He's little threat to Forte's workload and off the fantasy radar as a standalone option. ... Replacing Cutler, Campbell came off the bench to attempt 19 passes against Houston last week. His target distribution: Brandon Marshall 9, Forte and Matt Spaeth 3, Kellen Davis 2, Earl Bennett and Kris Adams 1, Devin Hester 0. ... So Campbell at least knows where to go with the football. He hooked up with Marshall six times for 86 yards in one half of work against the Texans, most notably connecting on a 45-yard bomb in Pro Bowl CB Johnathan Joseph's coverage. No other Bears passing-game member is worth Week 11 fantasy consideration, but Marshall looks like the one player capable of overcoming the downgrade from Cutler to Campbell. ... Returning from his fractured hand, rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery resumed practicing fully on Friday and is expected to be active on Monday night. Jeffery missed the Bears' last four games. Although not a viable fantasy option, Jeffery could add another dimension to Chicago's passing attack when Cutler returns. Jeffery flashed big-play ability early in the season, averaging over 13 yards per reception with two touchdowns in five games.
Score Prediction: 49ers 17, Bears 14
Start or Sit: Monday Night
How worried should you be about starting Brandon Marshall considering Jay Cutler is out? And should you be worried about Matt Forte or Frank Gore? Kay Adams (@heykayadams) breaks down Bears - 49ers.
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