5 things to watch in Bears’ Halloween matchup vs. 49ers

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The Chicago Bears will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, where both teams are looking for a win to break their respective losing streaks. This is certainly a winnable game for Chicago, but they also need to take advantage as they have with wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Las Vegas Raiders.

From overcoming the loss of Khalil Mack to finding success on offense, here are five things to watch in the Bears’ Week 8 matchup — and a final prediction!

Will Matt Nagy be coaching?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest headlines this week has been head coach Matt Nagy, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. He’s been away from Halas Hall all week, watching practice from an iPad. Nagy said he’d know Sunday whether or not he’s cleared to return to the team. Per NFL rules, Nagy needs two negative tests 24 hours apart in order to return. If Nagy isn’t cleared to coach, it’ll be special teams coordinator Chris Tabor serving as the acting head coach while Nagy watches the game on TV. With all of the discussion about how hot Nagy’s seat is right now, this is an opportunity to see what this Bears team looks like without Nagy coaching.

Can Bears overcome loss of Khalil Mack?

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

For the first time since 2018, outside linebacker Khalil Mack won’t suit up for the Bears. During that 2018 season, he missed two games, and this Sunday will mark his third missed game with Chicago. Overcoming the loss of someone like Mack is no easy feat, especially considering Mack is one of the top pass rushers in the league with 6.0 sacks this season. The good news is outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who has 5.5 sacks, is returning to the lineup after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. We’ll see if the Bears can find a way to overcome the loss of Mack against a 49ers offensive line that could be without left tackle Trent Williams.

Who gets the start at right tackle?

AP Photo/Wade Payne

The Bears were a mess at right tackle just one week ago after Elijah Wilkinson landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list right before their Week 7 game. That put Lachavious Simmons into the starting spot, where he struggled and was replaced by Alex Bars. This week, the right tackle spot is more favorable. Not only has Wilkinson been removed from the COVID list, but fifth-round rookie Larry Borom was activated off injured reserve and was taking reps at right tackle in practice. The Bears have 21 days to get him back to the lineup. But Borom has a good chance to suit up against the 49ers, where it’ll be Borom or Wilkinson at right tackle.

Can the Bears offense find a balanced attack?

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when it was the run game that was struggling a couple of years ago? Now, it’s the passing game. Chicago has one of the best run games in the NFL right now, whether it’s David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert or Damien Williams getting carries. There’s no concern about the Bears’ ability to find success on the ground. But there’s plenty of concern about whether Chicago can jumpstart its passing attack. The Bears are the only NFL team this season that’s yet to eclipse 200 net passing yards in a game — the first team since the 2008 Titans. For Chicago to find success through the air, it’s going to take everyone — quarterback, receivers, offensive line, play caller. Justin Fields said he feels like the offense’s breakout game is coming. Could it be Sunday against San Francisco?

Can the Bears protect Justin Fields?

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The Bears offense has struggled protecting Justin Fields. Some of that falls on Fields himself. But a lot of it falls on the offensive line, as Fields has been sacked a league-high 26 times this season — and he didn’t play Week 1 or the first half of Week 2. Don’t let the sack numbers fool you. Despite sacking the quarterback just 12 times this season, the 49ers pass rush has done a good job pressuring the quarterback. And that’s been Fields’ Achille’s heel this season. If the Bears can protect Fields against a 49ers pass rush that boasts Nick Bosa, they should be able to find success. If not, it’s going to be another long afternoon.

Prediction: Bears 20, 49ers 17

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Say what you will about the Bears this season — lord knows I’ve said plenty — but the one thing they’ve been able to do is beat the teams they should beat. And while this game appeared more difficult ahead of the season, this is another matchup that Chicago should win — if they can play the type of complementary football that led them to wins against the Bengals, Lions and Raiders.

With Matt Nagy unlikely to be coaching on the sidelines this week, we — and the McCaskeys — will get a good look at this team without Nagy. It’s clear there’s some sort of divide in the locker room, and it’ll be interesting to see how this team responds following a humiliating 35-point loss and without Nagy.

The Bears have found success on the ground all season, and they’re going to need another strong game from Khalil Herbert to get the offense into a rhythm. Chicago faces a tough challenge against a good 49ers pass rush, and the offensive line needs to step up if they have any hope to gain momentum in the passing game. The Bears defense could be without several key players, including Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, which puts the onus on some young guys to bring the pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and force him into mistakes.

Both of these teams are coming into this game desperate for a win. For a Week 8 matchup, this is a crucial game for both clubs. And for whatever reason, I’m taking the Bears to win. Although, it’s going to be a close one that should be decided by a field goal, which we know is Chicago’s specialty now.

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