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If Cutler can’t play vs. 49ers, Bears must stress run

Bears running back Matt Forte stiff arms Carolinlinebacker Thomas Davis during run first quarter Chicago Bears 23-22 wover CarolinPanthers Sunday

Bears running back Matt Forte stiff arms Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis during a run in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 28, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 19, 2012 1:10PM

Josh McCown has spent the last several weeks throwing footballs to high schoolers, but he knows better than others what it’s going to take for the Bears to succeed if Jay Cutler is sidelined.

“I know this is a unique team,” said McCown, who joined the Bears in November of last season to back up Caleb Hanie after Cutler broke his thumb. “As good as our defense is playing, as a quarterback, if you’re just smart with the football and protect it as an offense, you can give yourself a chance to win ballgames with our team.”

In other words, with Cutler’s status uncertain at best, the onus is on veteran Jason Campbell to manage a game plan that should look every bit like what the San Francisco 49ers do every week and have made their specialty.

As 49ers defensive end Justin Smith put it on Thursday, “We’re committed to running the ball, and we try to fly around on defense, and special teams can bring the wood, too.”

So will the Bears. And with all the questions swirling about the Bears’ lack of an offensive identity, it’s perhaps what the Bears always should have tried to be even with receiver Brandon Marshall.

Plenty of Bears players expressed their faith in Campbell, who was signed to prevent a repeat of last season’s collapse when the Bears went 1-5 without Cutler. Before McCown took over, Hanie didn’t win in four starts, throwing nine interceptions and ultimately becoming the main reason for Campbell’s arrival.

All signs point to Campbell starting Monday night in San Francisco. As much as the Bears say they’re hopeful Cutler can play and that he’s doing better with his concussion, he didn’t practice Thursday, while Campbell and McCown went through checks and plays long after others had left.

There definitely are some things to work out as they prepare for another top-tier defense. Campbell’s practice reps with the starters had been limited when Cutler was healthy.

“It’s good [to get those reps],” right tackle Gabe Carimi said. “Obviously, we install a cadence, but even that’s different between quarterbacks and where they are in the pocket. So it will be a good thing.”

Tight end Kellen Davis also worked with Campbell after practice.

“It’s just like a difference in personalities with the way he runs the offense and cadence and things like that,” Davis said. “It’s just being comfortable with the different checks and things. Nothing huge or monumental, just subtleties.”

But Matt Forte and the Bears’ ninth-ranked running game should remain the same.

Coach Lovie Smith described the 49ers matchup as two teams that like to win the same way by “getting off the bus running the football, play-action passes and all that good stuff.”

The 49ers’ commitment to their top-ranked running game, though, isn’t debatable like the Bears’ commitment is, especially with Forte only topping 20 carries twice in nine games.

“We just have to keep that commitment to the run, which we’ll do, and eventually it will happen,” Smith said. “A lot of football to go this year.”

If Cutler is out, that commitment should be more apparent, and it’s also a must to defeat the 49ers.

The 49ers are 1-2-1 this season when they allow more than 100 rushing yards.

The Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants handed the oft-praised 49ers their two losses by being the only teams to hold them under 100 rushing yards, while rushing for 146 and 149 yards, respectively.

Center Roberto Garza said the Bears are better equipped this season than last year when Cutler was injured, including the running game.

“We’re a better team,” Garza said. “We have to play better than we have. Obviously, Jason has the experience that we talked about. But we have a lot of guys that want to get better and are going to this week.”

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