By Bryan Dietzler
The 5-6 Chicago Bears will play host to the 3-8 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears are coming off of a stunning 17-13 win over the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night in Lambeau Field while the 49ers lost to the Arizona Cardinals 19-13. While the 49ers may look like somewhat of a pushover, they have played some decent football despite their record and will present a challenge for the Bears this Sunday as Chicago tries to even its record to 6-6 on the year.
The Bears played a good game against the Packers on Thanksgiving night and gave themselves a lot of momentum and confidence heading into this game. If they can keep that momentum going and continue to be confident they should be able to win this game and even their record but they can’t (and won’t) look past this game on Sunday. They have to take care of the team they play on Sunday and the 49ers are standing in the way of their sixth win of the year.
The following is a preview of the Bears game against the 49ers this Sunday. There is some insight into individual performances as well as unit performances along with what it will take to win this game for the Bears. Finally, there is a final score prediction.
The Bears offense has been notoriously slow to start games this year. A perfect example of this happened in their game against the Packers last Thursday night. The offense had three straight three and outs and only managed one first down in their first five possessions. After a while they were able finally move the ball but it took some time for them to get going. The Bears need to start faster in this game and get into the end zone quickly building a lead that the defense can then defend (which they tend to defend very well). How can they get a fast start in this game though? What will it take?
The Bears need to establish the run and control the ball and the clock in this game. Currently the Bears are averaging 110 yards on the ground per game which is pretty decent. The 49ers are allowing teams to rush for an average of 121 yards per game so the Bears should find some room to run. Giving the 49ers defense a one-two punch of Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford should do the trick and the Bears should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground. This will be important as it will keep the ball out of the 49ers hands and allow that hard-working defense to rest a little bit.
So a heavy dose of Forte and Langford will be a big key to the Bears offense moving the ball and helping them get a hold of this game. The Bears should be able to run the ball effectively against San Francisco and have a decent day on the ground.
When the Bears have to pass the ball they have a pretty solid passing game by which to do that with. Quarterback Jay Cutler has been having a pretty solid season throwing the ball and has been completing some passes without making a lot of mistakes this year. This, despite the fact he has been playing without his number one wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) at times and has had to work with second, third and fourth string wide receivers for a majority of the season. The good news for Cutler and the Bear’s passing offense is that Jeffery wasn’t on the injury report this week so he should play. Cutler will also get back tight end Martellus Bennett as well. (One thing of note is that Cutler was listed on Friday’s injury report as having an illness. Right now he is probable for the game but will most likely play)
One player the Bears may be without for this game is wide receiver Marques Wilson. Wilson hurt his foot on the last play of Wednesday’s practice and sat out Thursday’s practice so it is not known yet whether or not he will available. If he doesn’t at least the Bears will have Jeffery in play but if he is double covered Cutler may be throwing the ball to his tight ends Bennett and Zach Miller (although Miller showed up on the injury report on Thursday with a rib problem so his status is a little bit questionable at this time) as well as Marc Mariani. Cutler does have some proven receivers that have bailed him out at times in games so if Wilson doesn’t play he is going to have to rely on these second, third and fourth guys to get the job done.
On a per-game basis, the Bears are averaging 235.7 yards per game through the air and that is 21st in the NFL right now. The 49ers defense is allowing teams to throw for an average of 276.8 yards per game so the Bears should be able to get some yards through the air in this one. It’s believed that the Bears are going to try to run the ball first and then, in critical situations on third down for example, throw the ball to move it down the field. The Bears have been completing critical passes in critical situations (as seen in the Packers game last Thursday night) and should be able to move the ball through the air in this game.
The offensive line will remain the same as it did against the Packers (this despite the fact that guard Matt Slauson was reported as having a toe injury but he did practice in full this week) and this is good news for the team. Chicago’s offensive line is going to have to open up some holes for the running game and do a better job than they did against the Packers in getting the rushing attack going. They are also going to have to protect Cutler and allow him time to throw the ball and complete passes not allowing him to get rushed and make mistakes. Cutler has limited the mistakes that he has typically made in seasons past so if he can eliminate the mistakes in this game the Bears will have an excellent chance of beating San Francisco.
So the offense needs to run the ball, control the clock and limit mistakes. If they can do this and score (getting over their problems in the red zone) then they will have an excellent shot of winning this game.
If you had to pick a unit on the Bears that was performing at the highest level of all three units on the team you would have to say that the defense has been the best of the bunch. They have played well consistently for several games since the loss to the Lions and have held opponents to under 20 points over the last few games. The defense will need to rise to the occasion and do it again this Sunday against the 49ers. They will be going up against a quarterback in Blaine Gabbert that has some starting experience but hasn’t played much this season. He is an athletic quarterback with a strong arm that can make a lot of throws but is prone to making mistakes. Can the Bears force him to make mistakes in this game?
The 49ers are averaging 198.4 yards per game through the air which is 30th in the league right now. The Bears defense is allowing just 214.5 yards per game which is currently second in the NFL. The Bears have done an excellent job of defending against the pass over the past few weeks and have really only been burned in the passing game, this season, in their game against the Lions.
The Bears have been getting progressively better in defending against the pass and we should look for them to continue that trend in this game. They will be going against a quarterback that has, for the most part, progressively been getting better but he is still vulnerable to make mistakes. Chicago needs to do something that it does well at times and not so well at other times and that is to get pressure on the quarterback. Getting pressure on Gabbert is going to go a long way towards forcing him to make mistakes and get rid of the ball before he is ready. The Bears have been getting good pressure at times but they need to ratchet it up a bit and get a little more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The secondary, especially Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter, have been doing an excellent job against opposing wide receivers as of late and they should continue to provide good coverage this Sunday. The main target in the 49ers passing offense is wide receiver Anquan Boldin so the Bears will have to take care of him on Sunday and make sure that he doesn’t hurt them through the air. It’s likely that Porter will be on Boldin during the game and if Porter has played like he has the last few weeks he just might be able to shut him down.
Chicago does have a weak point on defense that has been exploited a lot over the past couple of games and that weak point is their run defense. The rushing defense has allowed well over 100 yards in the last couple of games and the Bears have been lucky that this lack of defense in the run game hasn’t hurt them more than it has. Chicago will be going up against a rushing attack, this Sunday, that is averaging just 97.1 yards per game. The Bears are giving up a whopping 128.5 yards per game. Something has to give.
Either the Bears are going to be able to keep the 49ers somewhat anemic rushing attack at bay on Sunday or the 49ers are going to run all over the Bears. Chicago needs to do whatever they can to ensure that the 49ers don’t get a solid running game established because the Bear’s offense needs to possess the ball as much as possible in this game. Getting good play against the run means that the Bear’s linebackers need to stay in their gaps and not be two players to a gap with an empty gap somewhere along the line. The linebackers need to flow to the ball better and get their hands on the ball carrier bringing him down right away instead of letting him churn out another two or three yards before he hits the ground. Tackling has also been a problem as the Bears tend to miss tackles on running plays.
Stopping the pass may not be too big of an issue for the Bears defense this Sunday but stopping the run may be. Chicago needs to clamp down on the run this Sunday or they stand a good chance of losing the game. Look for the Bears to be tougher against the run in this game especially since the 49ers aren’t strong running team.
The Bears special teams had a bit of breakdown in the Packers game allowing a long return. Special teams have been fairly unspectacular for the Bears and they have recently switched things up a little taking Mariani off of kick returns and leaving him just on punt returns. This hasn’t helped much but it prevents the fumbling problems that Mariani has experienced from time to time this season from happening on kick returns. Kicker Robbie Gould is as solid as ever and punter Pat O’Donnell has been kicking the ball well this season.
First and foremost, the Bears defense needs to stop the run. If they can do that and force the 49ers to try to pass the ball more often than the defense can lock down the passing game, like they have in several games this season, and keep the 49ers out of the end zone. If Chicago can’t stop the run it’s going to be a long day for them but they could still get a win.
The Bears offense has had some slow starts and will need to start faster and build a lead against this 49ers team who is better than their record indicates. Establishing the run should be Chicago’s first order of business and they should be able to do that with two dynamic runners in Forte and Langford. Look for the Bears to establish the run and keep the ground game going with the short to intermediate passing game being what they use to move the ball on those third and medium and third and long plays. The Bears should have their full complement of receivers available (depending on the health of Wilson) so they should have no problem moving through the air.
This is going to be a good game and one that is a little hard to predict but the Bears do have an advantage. The have momentum, they are playing at home (the 49ers are winless on the road this year) and they have a solid pass defense. As long as the Bears can shut down the run, not allow Gabbert a lot of time and not make a mistake or two on special teams they should be able to win this game. Look for Chicago to beat the 49ers this Sunday and get to .500.
Score Prediction: Chicago 21 San Francisco 13