As Aldon Smith repeatedly bull rushed past Gabe Carimi, used swim moves to rip through the doughy hands and cement block feet of J'Marcus Webb and delivered one brutal blow after another to poor Jason Campbell on Monday night, I was thinking about books. One, specially, written by Michael Lewis about professional football. "The Blind Side" will never share the same legacy as Lewis' other hit, "Moneyball", because it won't be remembered so much for burning the establishment to the ground as it will be for relaunching the career of Sandra Bullock. But "The Blind Side" -- and I've never seen the movie, but my parents love it -- does leave one indelible impression: the most important thing a football team can do is consistently pressure the opposing quarterback.
This seems obvious enough and maybe it is; the book's central idea was never really meant to challenge conventional wisdom in the same way that, say, the anti-bunting message of "Moneyball" did. Still: this is every bit as true as the lessons brought by Lewis' more highly-touted work, particularly as NFL rules and NFL offenses become more and more geared towards throwing the ball. If you can terrorize the other team's quarterback, the world is in the palm of your hand. If you can't can't protect your own quarterback, you might as well be dead on arrival. This was a truth hammered home once again on Monday night, as the 49ers and Aldon Smith drilled the Chicago Bears into submission with a deadly and frighteningly steady pass rush. Chicago and its porous offensive line never really stood a chance during the 49ers' 32-7 victory at Candlestick Park.
It's funny, or something, because this wasn't supposed to be the one-sided beat-down it ended up being. This was the current No. 2 and No. 3 seed in the NFC's early playoff picture locking horns, a game between stud defenses and backup quarterbacks thought to be fought on a level playing field. Oh, if only. The 49ers have one advantage on the Bears, and it's a major one: while Chicago's offensive line is often touted as one of the NFL's worst, smart people say San Francisco employs the best unit of road graders around. Here's how you take a purported level playing field and contort it until everything slides in your favor: pressure Campbell with merciless intent and thwart the Bears' own front-seven throughout the night. Colin Kaepernick doesn't know how lucky he is.
It's Kaepernick who is destined to become the headline-grabber after a downright amazing debut start against this vaunted Bears defense, and the 25-year old is every bit deserving of the praise. He looked like a quarterback sent straight from the future: ultra-cool, never rattled, combining undeniable athletic gifts with live arm and impressive accuracy. He looked like a quarterback from a movie, but from a movie that won't come out until 2050. He looked evolved, no small task during his first NFL start, let alone against a Bears defense that has been murdering the opposition all season. But it still all comes back to the pass rush, which San Francisco could bring and Chicago couldn't. Where was Julius Peppers? Where was Corey Wootton? Where was Henry Melton? Chicago's pass rush, which has been so good most of the season, was nowhere to be found on Monday, and Kaepernick used the extra time to pick apart Lovie Smith's Cover-2.
I'll admit it, I was thoroughly impressed. Maybe it's insane for the 49ers to hand a Super Bowl contender off to Kaepernick, and to Wally Pipp (yeah, it's a verb) incumbent starter and recovering concussion victim Alex Smith, but if I was a San Francisco fan, I'd probably be rooting for it. I touted Kaepernick in the week leading up to the game, but never did I think he'd be that good, that poised and that capable of shredding the Bears.
Chicago, conversely, will have no such QB controversy. Aldon Smith sacked Jason Campbell 5.5 times all by himself and that was pretty much that. The Bears finished the game with exactly 58 passing yards. Campbell averaged under five yards per completion and seemed overly eager to check-down. Maybe he didn't have a choice with that 49ers pass rush hellbent on killing him on every play. The only winner for Chicago might have been Jay Cutler, the often embattled Bears starter who had to rest due to a concussion. Cutler will be back because he's one of the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL, though I'm not entirely sure how much his presence would have helped the Bears on Monday. We've seen Cutler get rattled by a strong pass rush before, and the 49ers did it about as well as anyone can on Monday. It's a wonder Campbell made it out in one piece after taking shot after shot from Smith and company.
The other factor in-play during the loss? For the first time all season, the Bears' defense did not engineer a takeaway. Lovie Smith's defense is predicated not only on forcing turnovers but scoring with those turnovers, as the Bears have already done seven times this season. Kaepernick and the 49ers, though, attacked the soggy middle of the Cover-2 with dynamic tight end Vernon Davis and ran fundamental offensive plays -- counters, dives, ect. -- out of disguised sets to confuse the Bears. It worked better than anyone could have imagined, and the result was a loss every bit as frustrating as what happened Week 2 in Lambeau Field. For the Bears, this was decidedly 'not good'.
And now Chicago waits, waits to see if these once 7-1 Bears are a contender or ultimately a flawed pretender. On a short week, the Bears face the 6-4 Minnesota Vikings in what nearly amounts to a must-win. Chicago needs victory for moral as much as it does to keep pace with the Packers in the NFC North, or, hell, even in the wild card race. The Bears are now 0-3 against teams that will surely be in the postseason, a troubling sign for a city and squad that really believes a Super Bowl is possible. Maybe it still is. It all depends on Cutler and the offensive improvement, starting first and foremost with baby steps for the line. It doesn't matter who is playing quarterback if the opposing pass rush is going to be so dominant, and it shouldn't take a good book to tel you that.