The Bears and the San Francisco 49ers will meet at noon Sunday at Soldier Field, with both team badly in need of a victory. The Bears (3-4) were drubbed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week ago, while the 49ers (2-4) have lost four consecutive games.
For the 49ers, the situation is dire because their next two games come against the Cardinals and Rams. For the Bears, a win Sunday keeps them in the playoff picture with another winnable game on the horizon against Pittsburgh.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s game.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to Chicago
Sunday marks exactly four years since the 49ers traded a second-round draft pick to New England for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. About a month later, Garoppolo made his first start for the 49ers on Dec. 3, 2017, against the Bears at Soldier Field. It was a homecoming for the former Rolling Meadows quarterback.
Things could be coming full circle for him. His days as the San Francisco starting QB appear to be numbered. Sooner or later, Kyle Shanahan is going to turn things over to rookie Trey Lance for good. The 49ers have lost four straight games. The more the losses pile up, the more likely it becomes that Lance will take over.
2. Who plays right tackle for the Bears?
The right tackle position was a major issue for the Bears last week against Tampa Bay. Lachavious Simmons started the game there, but was benched for Alex Bars. The Bears received some good news this week when rookie tackle Larry Borom, who has been out since Week 1 with an ankle injury, returned to practice.
How quickly can Borom be ready to play? Is he ready for a starting spotlight? These are questions the Bears will have to answer. Borom is likely a step up from Simmons or Bars. Elijah Wilkinson has been activated from the COVID-19 reserve list, which give the Bears multiple options. It’s possible Wilkinson will start and the Bears could give Borom another week to prepare.
3. How does Justin Fields respond?
Last week’s loss to the Bucs was probably the toughest loss Justin Fields has faced in his football career, dating back to college, high school or earlier. The rookie said this week that he has a feeling things are going to turn around. He couldn’t explain it. It’s just a hunch.
It’s time to see how much that hunch translates into on-field success.
Obviously, Fields has to take care of the football. The Bears can’t turn it over five times and expect to win against anybody. Fields is a resilient 22-year-old. He’s not afraid to take a hit and he’s not afraid to own it when he doesn’t perform well.
Fields responded well after the loss to Cleveland a few weeks back, but they were gifted a get-right game against the Detroit Lions. The 49ers are a tougher challenge.
4. Run, run, run
Both these offenses want to establish the run first. This could turn into a low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game. The Bears are going to give rookie running back Khalil Herbert his touches and try to keep Fields out of third-and-long situations. The 49ers want to do the same thing with running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon.
Both these defenses currently rank in the bottom third of the league against the run, too, making for a nice ground game recipe. Teams have averaged 119 rushing yards per game against the 49ers. Even against the No. 1 run defense in the NFL last week, the Bears still picked up yards on the ground. They should have no problem doing so Sunday.
5. What type of pass rush can the Bears generate?
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack has been ruled out of Sunday’s game due to a foot injury. Meanwhile, fellow pass rusher Robert Quinn has returned to the active roster after a stint on COVID-19 reserve. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is questionable to play due to a groin injury, but he was a full participant in practice Friday.
The Bears created almost no pass rush last week against Tom Brady. They will need to manufacture some sort of pressure without Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in three years. That is going to be challenging. Quinn’s return softens the blow a bit, but somebody else has to step up opposite Quinn. Look for outside linebacker Trevis Gipson to see significant playing time.
Source: The Daily Chronicle