As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their season opener against the Chicago Bears, it will surely be a test for their revamped secondary. A team that lost three starters from last season including their two cornerbacks in CB Carlos Rogers and CB Tarell Brown, the 49ers secondary will need to show up once again on Sunday night. Not to mention, the 49ers also lost their vocal leader in SS Donte Whitner it will be up to new replacement SS Antoine Bethea to help set the tone.
Last week saw Bethea deliver a vicious blow to the back of Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, and more of that type of presence will be needed this time around. A very talented wide receivers unit led by WR Brandon Marshall and WR Alshon Jeffery, it will now fall on the shoulders of CB Chris Culliver (concussion) and CB Tramaine Brock (toe) to pick up the slack.
Two players that play aggressive, in-your-face football, both of those players will need to hold their own in pass-coverage if the 49ers are to stand a chance of pulling out a victory. Culliver will be lined up against Marshall as he plays split-end, meaning Culliver will likely be tested deep.
The majority of Marshall’s routes under Bears OC Aaron Kromer’s scheme are strictly quick slants (2-route), dig (6-route), corner (7-route), post (8-route), and fades (9-route). Realizing this, don’t be surprised if you see Culliver play off-coverage in an effort to get a jump on the longer routes.
In redzone opportunities, Kromer loves to throw the fade and fly-routes so look for him to test Culliver early, as his No. 1 go-to-guy in redzone opportunities is Marshall. However, Marshall isn’t the only one that will need to be accounted for as some believe Jeffery may be the better receiver of the two.
The former South Carolina Gamecock should not be overlooked. A Pro Bowl wide-receiver in his own right, as Jeffery earned his first appearance last season after recording 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns, Jeffery is definitely a top 10 wide receiver in my book. And with Culliver having ties with Jeffery dating back to their college days, you can be sure he is giving both Brock and CB Perrish Cox pointers on how to attack the former Gamecock. But the question remains, will that be enough?
Before Brock’s injury he was seen giving up a big play on routes that the Bears love to use. He gave up a 20-yard slant-route to Bryant and while that’s a small sample size not much has changed from previous seasons. Sure, Brock can make the occasional great interception, but if he can’t defend the 15-20 yard routes, the 49ers are in trouble. Whether T-Brock plays however remains to be seen but if he does, look for Bears QB Jay Cutler to pick on him instead of the bigger and faster Culliver.
One way the Bears love to get Jeffery involved is by using bunch formations in 10-personnel (1 running back, 4 wide-receivers). When Jeffery is lined up at flanker he will usually step-back for a bubble-screen allowing his two other wide-receivers on his side of the field to throw blocks downfield. Brock and/or Cox will need to account for this as they do this often, especially in short-yardage situations.
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And if that’s not working, then look for the Bears to incorporate Marshall on short dig-routes. Kromer has no fear throwing on 3rd-and-1 and he will do so by using Marshall’s big frame to basically “post-up” the smaller defensive backs off the play-action pass. If the 49ers sniff this play out pre-snap look for the linebackersto back off in coverage while quickly shutting down those passing lanes.
With the 49ers getting ready for their toughest battle yet in the Bears, they will have to play a sound game of football in all three phases if they hope to come out on top. And while their secondary may see plenty of new faces, they are younger, faster, and hungrier while continuing to make strides as household names, just like their former teammates did before them.