By Bryan Dietzler
The 2-9 Chicago Bears will play host to the even less lucky 1-10 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears are coming off a 27-21 last second loss to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday while the San Francisco 49ers lost 31-24 to the Miami Dolphins. San Francisco did put up a fight but fell short in the end.
The 49ers, like the Bears, don’t have a lot going for them and are just trying to finish out the season. They, like the Bears, was to get a fresh start next year. They have had quarterback changes, injuries and trouble with their new schemes and this has affected them greatly.
Chicago has been in a similar boat in that injuries have hurt them and they have struggled with proper play on both sides of the ball all year. They are just looking to play out the rest of their schedule to get to the offseason where they can heal, re-group and rebuild.
This game may end up being a good one despite the fact both these teams have losing records. Let’s look at some of the matchups for this game, what to look out for and who just might win what we may be able to call “The Draft Pick Bowl”.
Jay Cutler landed on injured reserve this week so Matt Barkley will start in his absence. Barkley had a nice outing last Sunday against the Titans and nearly earned the Bears a win. If Barkley can play like he did against the Titans, Chicago just might win this game. Hopefully he can continue developing well and get this team some victories.
But Barkley did have some help losing the game on Sunday. His receivers dropped a lot of passes (10 total by all pass catchers). Had they caught those balls, they would have won the game. These guys have to hang onto the ball and make those critical catches. The Bears will lose any game that they don’t make these catches in. You could see it this past Sunday and that’s no way to help a young quarterback build confidence.
Without Alshon Jeffery, their number one wide receiver, who is suspended, the Bear have a lot of second and third string guys to catch the ball. This does not equal success. Hopefully this group will be able to play better than they did last Sunday and give Barkley a hand.
The tight end position was decent last week as the Bears got good play out of Daniel Brown. The loss of Zach Miller hurt but Brown stepped up and played very well. For blocking and catching, all of the tight ends had a good game. They could be real assets in the passing game for the Bears this Sunday. Look for Barkley to go to them early and often.
We won’t look at the stats for the Bear’s passing offense as they won’t really apply with a new quarterback. But the 49ers are allowing an average of 252.6 yards per game which is 15th in the NFL right now. The Bears had success passing the ball with Barkley last week and could (hopefully) have similar success against San Francisco 49ers defense.
Rushing the football against the 49ers could be the easiest thing the Bears do this Sunday. The 49ers are allowing teams to rush for 171.8 yards per game which is ranked dead last in the NFL. That’s a lot of yards allowed per game. The Bears aren’t gaining a huge number of yards but are averaging 98.5 yards per game which is good for 21st in the NFL. They don’t seem to put up a lot of yards but it seems they do well rushing the ball.
The star of the Bear’s rushing attack has been Jordan Howard. He is great running the ball but not that good at catching it. He has a league high seven drops and is not a “Matt Forte” style pass catcher. That is unfortunate. His backups, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey are solid but not super star starters.
The 49ers have been playing a little better against the run over the last couple of games but Chicago can still exploit it. Look for the Bears to have a strong running game and pile up the yards this Sunday. They need it to keep the pressure off Barkley and keep themselves in the game.
The offensive line may see Josh Sitton back this week and that would be great. For a patchwork unit, they haven’t been doing too bad. They didn’t allow a single sack last week which was great. Can they stop the 49ers from getting to Barkley and spring Howard for some long runs? Hopefully they can.
The Bears defense had a little bit of a rough outing last week, allowing 27 points. But if you watched the game closely, they didn’t do as bad as it looked on the scoreboard. It was just a few severe breakdowns that caused the scoring spree the Titans went on. The Bears should be able to tighten it up against the 49ers.
The defense line got its star player back last week as Eddie Goldman returned from an ankle injury. He played very well and made an instant impact. If he stays healthy, he can make a big difference. Akeem Hicks is also a difference maker and they help make the line solid. The Bears didn’t have Mitch Unrein last week and having him in the lineup helps make it better. He is definitely underrated.
Chicago’s pass defense is allowing teams an average of 239.8 yards per game through then air which puts them 12th in the league. Not too terrible. But the Bears weren’t able to generate a good pass rush last week (they had zero sacks) and must get to the quarterback more often. Remember that they will be going against Colin Kapernick this Sunday. If you have been watching the Bears for a while, you will remember what he did to them the last time they met (when he was the starter). Kapernick can hurt you with his legs and his arm. Chicago needs to keep him contained and not let him get away.
In a 3-4 defense, your top pass rushing talent is with your outside linebackers. With Pernell McPhee seemingly still recovering from a knee injury he has been a quite silent when it comes to sacks. Leonard Floyd was on the rise but went down with a concussion and has missed some time. He may be back for this game. Willie Young missed a practice so perhaps his status is a little questionable. That leaves very little left in rushing the passer with outside linebackers.
The 49ers are averaging 198.2 yards per game passing the ball which is 30th in the league. That isn’t going to win you too many games. If Chicago can at least put some decent pass pressure on Kapernick and get good play out of their secondary, they could easily stop the 49ers. At least through the air.
The ground game is where the 49ers can give the Bears problems. Right now they average 126.5 yards per game which is fourth in the NFL. The Bears’ defense is giving up 103.4 yards per game, good for 17th in the league. The Bears rush defense has been a little weak in their last two games and can’t let the 49ers get the best of them this Sunday. They must shut down the run in order to win.
The Bears’ linebackers have been rocked with injuries and a suspension over the last couple of games. Gone are Danny Trevethan (IR) and Jerrell Freeman (suspension). Floyd is iffy with a concussion and McPhee isn’t living up the hype. This writer thinks he is still hurt. The backups will come in this week and they must contribute. John Timu is going to have to step it up. The rookie Nick Kwiatkowski is going to have to grow up quickly. He has been playing well.
The Bears need these guys to play better as soon as possible.
But the depth at the linebacker position is strong. It’s the strongest on the team. If these guys play well, the defense will play well and the Bears will win.
Time and again, almost every week, we keep on saying that the secondary has been the cause of several of the serious “game losing” issues the Bears have had. They have helped contribute to the poor play and losses this team has had thanks to giving up big plays. They have had a lot of injuries and some depth issues but could be getting stronger for in time for this game.
It is possible that last year’s starter opposite Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller, could be back and playing in this game. That would be huge for the Bears. It would give them two quality starters and keep guys like Cre’Von LeBlanc off the field. Bryce Callahan could be the nickel back and everything would be great with the corners. This may be one of their better games this year and facing a pretty weak passing game will help.
Safety has been interesting for the Bears over the last couple of games. Deon Bush has been in the lineup and has been playing solid. Adrian Amos, on the other hand, has seemingly regressed since last year. The Bears have struggled with the safety positon for a while (even before John Fox and his crew got here) and are continue to have problems. They will need these guys to step up and keep the play from getting too far down the field. Hopefully they are up to the challenge.
Special teams were ok last week. Connor Barth was spot on in the windless windy city. Pat O’Donnell does struggle with his net average. Maybe some of that has to do with the coverage guys on punts. The kick return teams are nothing special and need an upgrade. If Eddie Royal could ever stay healthy and get some blocking, he could be a decent punt return specialist. He has been electric at times this season.
The coaching staff had probably had just about their best game of the season last week. A win would have cemented that though. They played to win and didn’t give up like they have so often this season. Can they carry that killer instinct into this game? We will find out. Hopefully the coaching staff has had a nice week of preparation for this game. We will soon find out what they have been able to do.
Depending on who you read or watch, this game appears to be even. Some people pick the Bears to win while others pick the 49ers to take this game. You can toss home field advantage out the window. That hasn’t meant much to the Bears over the past couple of seasons and with Soldier Field crowds getting ever thinner, the advantage of crowd noise is lost.
Good defense will win this game for the team that plays it. For both teams, it’s pretty much whoever shuts down the other team’s running game will be the winner. The quarterbacks aren’t that great although, believe it or not, Barkley may just have a little bit of an edge. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
It will be close but the Bears will have the edge in this game. Look for them to win a close one and finish with their third win of the season.
Prediction: Chicago 17 San Francisco 14