Today's absurd prediction:
The Bears' loss of Thomas Jones will cost them a few games.
I was fortunate enough to score free tickets to the Bears-49ers game this weekend, and pretty much liked what I saw from Chicago. San Francisco did score two touchdowns while the starters were playing, but one was on a very short field due to a muffed punt, and the other was on an interception return. The first-string defense for the Bears gave up very few yards.
The running game for the Bears, however, did not look good. Cedric Benson doesn't seem to get the NFL game yet; doesn't understand that he's not fast enough to dance away from linebackers. He kept juking when he should have plowed. He consistently gained 1-3 yards on most of his carries, and his long of the night was 7. That's not going to cut it.
Most of the fans at Soldier Field would tell you that the thing that looked bad for the Bears was Rex Grossman, which simply wasn't true. Every time he did something perfectly, the fans would clap and cheer a bit in surprise. But every incompletion got booed with twice the fervor, including one smart decision to throw the ball away with everyone in tight coverage and the pressure closing in. That isn't to say that Rex played a great game; his stats were decent, but his game was worse than statistics show. The two categories in which the 49ers outperformed the Bears were interceptions (1-0), and third down conversion. Now the Niners only converted 3 of 11 third downs, but the Bears were even worse at 3 of 14.
Those are the downs where Thomas Jones will be missed the most. Almost all of Grossman's pretty passes were on first or second down; he's a choke master on third. And on 3rd-and-4 or 3rd-and-5, the defense knows Benson isn't much of a threat. So they can focus more on Rex and the passing game. Missing these plays is going to cost them a few games. Also, those are the types of downs where another ill-fated short slant or out pattern might be called, like the one that was run back for a TD by Walt Harris.
Grossman just doesn't seem to grasp where to place the ball on those plays. If the ball is underthrown at all, or even thrown directly to the receiver, it's very easy for the cornerback to cut in front and intercept the pass, and when he does, there's usually no one between him and the end zone. It wasn't the first such throw by Rex, and it won't be the last.
Benson, of course, isn't the only back on the Bears' roster. Adrian Peterson got some decent runs, averaging a solid 4.5 yards per carry, which beat Benson's 1.7 handily. But he too was no threat to break a long run. Rookie Garrett Wolfe actually led the team in rushing, getting most of his play in the fourth quarter. Wolfe averaged 3.2 YPC, and racked up 41 yards. I only saw three of his runs before I had to leave, two very solid ones where he sped through the line for significant yardage, and one where he got nailed for a huge loss. So it appears he's going to be one of those backs; he'll gain you eight or he'll lose you five. Best used as a change-of-pace second option.
Other observations from the game:
Of the fans at the stadium wearing jerseys, I'd say 90% of them were Brian Urlacher #54s. The second most popular? Walter Payton, maybe another 5%. Yes, a good part of the city is still living in the past. The rest were miscellany, Gale Sayers, Muhsin Muhammad, Devin Hester, Nathan Vasher, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris... and I don't think I saw a single Lance Briggs jersey. Is there another city with more unanimity in jersey selection? Even the Colts and Patriots must have more diversity, with some people wearing Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, Richard Seymour, Laurence Maroney, and Tedy Bruschi's uniforms. I daresay that Brian Urlacher is the face of his franchise more than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are of theirs.
The 49ers are screwed without Frank Gore. Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks were practically invisible. I don't expect there will be any complications as Gore's broken hand heals, but if he misses time, chalk up a loss for the team instantly. Without the threat of Gore, the offense will never get anything going.
It's entirely possible that Trent Dilfer is still the best QB on the Niners' roster. Sure, his 9-12 passing for 99 yards and 2 TDs came against the Bears' second stringers, but it's not like that's a weak secondary; the Bears have great depth at corner and safety. These numbers came against Danieal Manning and Ricky Manning Jr., both of whom played a big role in the Super Bowl run. Alex Smith got nothing going, finishing 4-8 with 47 yards.
Favorite play of the game: 4th and 13. Punter Brad Maynard mishandles a snap, scoops it up and notices daylight to the right. He books it as fast as he can and runs out of bounds five yards past the marker. The drive continues, ending with a touchdown.
One last thing about Grossman: I didn't notice him completing any tough throws. Every completion that stands out in my mind was to a wide open receiver. This means a few things: 1) Grossman has a long way to go and may never get there. 2) The Bears' receivers may be a bit underrated; they're running great routes. 3) The 49ers' shiny new secondary is not living up to expectations.