It was no minor miracle that the Bears defense held Colin Kaepernick to only 17 points in the first half, a fact that the 49ers seemed all too aware of as they opened the second half. The home team put together a beautiful drive, methodically driving the ball down until they found themselves in the shadow of their goalposts. But with the Bears' slim hope for a comeback on the line, rookies and young players like Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Jon Bostic, Kyle Fuller, and Shea McClellin all came up big, holding the Niners to a field goal and keeping their hope of victory alive.
It was clear on first down that that Niners wanted to pound the ball into the end zone with a run, but the Bears put in an eleven-man effort to turn them back on this first play:
Start by watching DTs Ego Ferguson (95) and Will Sutton (93). Sutton gets blown way back by a double team, but Ferguson plays it cool, pushing his man into the gap that Sutton just left open. With Jared Allen holding the other edge of that lane, Gore isn't able to hit the gap behind his left guard.
Now take a peek at the right side of the shot. Ryan Mundy (21) and Lance Briggs eat up the two lead blockers on the edge, leaving Kyle Fuller unblocked on the edge. As such, Gore can't get through on the other side of his left tackle, so he tries to bounce it out to the right edge of the offense. Although he overpursued the play a bit, Willie Young (97) is able to keep Gore from hitting the next hole, the one off right tackle. With Young keeping Gore from turning up the field, Kyle Fuller and Shea McClellin get Gore in their sights and take him down before the veteran RB can make the turn upfield for six.
Since there was nothing doing on the left side of the defensive front on first down, the Niners tried their luck on the right side for this next play. But while the play-call was different, the result was the same:
Again, start by watching rookies Sutton and Ferguson in the defensive interior. Ferguson makes a great move off the snap, swimming over the back of the right guard, and Sutton holds his gap much better than he did on the last play. Better still, Lamarr Houston (99) busts through a double team, leaving no room on the interior for Gore to exploit. The interesting thing about this play, however, is the personnel group - Willie Young is in as a fifth defensive linesman. He gets leverage off of the fullback's block, and is able to extend his outside arm to hold up Gore just enough to slow him down. Before Gore can get going again, Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic to join Young for the gang tackle and drop him for a loss.
It's a unique player group here, to be sure, but proved to be the perfect response to the heavy set that San Francisco put out on the field. Also, I really like how Shea McClellin is deployed on this play and the one prior - he's given edge contain duties on both. By setting him up to get a clean look at the backfield, Shea is able to use his greatest asset - speed - to his advantage. As such, the "rookie" linebacker is not only able to hold his lane at the snap, but also hustle to the ball after it goes the other way. As a result, McClellin is able to help with both group tackles on these plays.
With the left and right sides proving unbreakable, the Niners tried to push the ball in straight up the middle. And while you can't tell from this angle, they spread the field with three wide on third down, leaving only the front seven to defend against this up-the-gut run call. The linebackers and linesmen showed they could handle the Niners' vaunted offensive line to get this final stop:
The San Francisco interior gets zero push against Sutton and Stephen Paea on the interior, and the Niners fullback completely misses the kick-out block on Willie Young. Unblocked, the new Bears DE swung into the backfield to take out Gore's legs from underneath him, making Stephen Paea's job a whole lot easier: all the big man has to do is fall down on the RB to notch the tackle. The Bears hold, and the Niners are forced to settle for three.
While there were many turning points in the game - Kyle Fuller's two interceptions, the Cutler-to-Marshall touchdowns, and some bad defensive penalties by San Francisco that kept drives alive - this goal-line stand is the biggest of the bunch to me. If the Niners were able to offset the Bears touchdown from the end of the second quarter with a score here, it would have been that much tougher for Cutler to take the lead and hold it. Add in just how demoralizing a touchdown would be after such a long drive, and you'd have a recipe for a rout.
With some great play-calls by Mel Tucker and even better execution by the young defensive players, the Bears were able to hold here, and the D left the door open enough for Jay Cutler to sneak through another three touchdown passes and a win. While I don't see the Jets as quite the threat on offense that the Niners are, if the Bears defense can stay this stout against the run, they'll have plenty of opportunities to get those big INTs against second-year man Geno Smith. Here's to hoping that Trestman's prime-time luck and the upward trend of the Bears defense both continue on Monday.