Bears vs. 49ers preview: Who has the advantage in Week 8

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The Chicago Bears (3-4) will host the San Francisco 49ers (2-4) on Sunday, where both teams are looking to break losing streaks to get back on track.

When it comes to determining who wins football games, there are a number of factors that contribute to a victory. Solid quarterback play, winning the line of scrimmage, protecting the football and taking it away, controlling important situations and overcoming or taking advantage of an injury situation.

In our weekly preview series, Alyssa Barbieri from Bears Wire and Kyle Madson from Niners Wire went deep into the matchup to determine who has the advantage at the five key factors for winning football games in the NFL.

QB play

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Bears Wire: While Justin Fields hasn’t been impressing on the stat sheet and has had his share of rookie struggles, he’s been developing at a rate the Bears have been comfortable with. Typically, they don’t ask him to do too much, leaning on the run game and asking Fields to make plays when needed. But it’s clear Fields is still learning on the job, and he’s not being helped by a suspect offensive line, weapons that need to be more consistent and a gameplan that doesn’t suit his strengths. He’s the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL, and it’s easy to worry whether it’ll impact him down the line. The Bears need to do a good job protecting him against a great 49ers pass rush, otherwise things could get ugly. But right now, it’s all about Fields’ development until season’s end…when hopefully Matt Nagy will be on the way out.

Niners Wire: The 49ers’ abnormal quarterback situation hasn’t panned out the way they planned in part because of a pretty steep regression for Jimmy Garoppolo from 2019 to 2021. He looks indecisive, is not effective throwing down the field or outside the numbers, and San Francisco’s entire offense has been out-of-sync inconsistent as a result. Garoppolo this season is completing just 64.8 percent of his throws and averaging only 7.6 yards per attempt. One logical solution would be to insert rookie No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance under center, but head coach Kyle Shanahan has stuck with the idea that Garoppolo gives the 49ers the best chance to win. That mindset will mean Garoppolo continues starting. However, Lance is back from a knee sprain that kept him from suiting up in Week 7, and the 49ers’ offense needs a little help so we could see Lance snag a handful snaps to throw a curveball at Chicago’s defense since that was supposed to be the plan going into this year.

Advantage: 49ers

Line of scrimmage

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Bears Wire: The Bears defensive line remains a solid unit through the first seven weeks, and they’ll be getting a boost with the return of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who has been nursing a groin injury that sidelined him last week. Chicago is also getting back outside linebacker Robert Quinn from the reserve/COVID-19 list, which is happening just in time considering outside linebacker Khalil Mack will miss his first game since 2018 as he battles an ailing foot. The Bears are tied for the most sacks through seven weeks with 20, where Mack and Quinn have combined for 11.5. Meanwhile, Chicago’s offensive line remains an up-and-down unit. They’re either good enough or downright terrible. Fields remains the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the offensive line needs to do a better job protecting their rookie quarterback and give him some time to open things up.

Niners Wire: This is one area the 49ers could have a distinct advantage. For all their flaws as a team, their defensive front is still pretty talented. With Nick Bosa back from a torn ACL that knocked him out in Week 2 last season, and Arik Armstead generating pressure on the interior, the Bears shoddy offensive line will have their hands full up and down the front. There’s a big question mark on the other side the ball for San Francisco since left tackle Trent Williams is officially questionable with an ankle sprain. He didn’t practice at all in Week 7 and missed the 49ers’ game vs. the Colts. He also didn’t practice until Friday this week. Rookie fifth-round pick Jaylon Moore acquitted himself well in Williams’ stead and not having to face Khalil Mack would be a big relief for the first-year tackle if he does play. No Mack will certainly make life easier on the 49ers’ offensive line, but right guard Daniel Brunskill and right tackle Mike McGlinchey are both struggling to start the year and could be the target of pressures and games up front from Chicago even if Williams is starting on the other side.

Advantage: 49ers

Turnovers

AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

Bears Wire: While the Bears had done a good job protecting the football on offense and taking the football away on defense, things imploded last week against the Bucs as the offense had five turnovers and the defense had zero takeaways. Chicago went from a +2 to -2 turnover differential in just one week. The Bears defense has mustered seven takeaways this season, with their last coming in Week 5. On offense, Chicago doubled their total number of turnovers through the first six games with five turnovers against Tampa Bay, and they’ve turned it over 10 times this season. The Bears are going to need to protect the football, limit the mistakes and perhaps steal a takeaway if they hope to win.

Niners Wire: Yikes! This is a key reason the 49ers have gotten out to a 2-4 start. They’ve committed at least one turnover in five of their six games, and at least two turnovers in four of their six contests. A four-giveaway performance against the Colts in the rain on Sunday Night Football led to three Colts touchdowns in a 30-18 loss for San Francisco. On the other side, they are terrible at generating takeaways. They got an interception in Week 1, a fumble recovery in Week 5, and then a couple fumble recoveries in Week 7. Their secondary did drop a couple interceptions against Colts QB Carson Wentz and had a couple chances vs. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, but this is not an opportunistic defense and that should be good news for Fields.

Advantage: Bears

Situational

AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

Bears Wire: The Bears continue to have one of the best red zone defenses in the NFL through the first seven weeks, whether it’s holding teams to a field goal or forcing a turnover on downs. Chicago is allowing teams to score a touchdown on just 51.85% of trips inside the red zone, which ranks eighth in the NFL. The Bears offense has struggled to score in general, and they’ve been so-so in the red zone this season. They’ve scored a touchdown on 58.82% of their trips inside the red zone (20th). Third down conversions remain a struggle for Chicago, as the offense has converted on just 31.25% of third downs (32nd). The defense has struggled to get off the field allowing teams to convert on third down 40.78% of the time (18th). The Bears are converting just 20% of fourth downs (30th) while the defense has the 12th-best fourth-down defense allowing 42.86% of conversions.

Niners Wire: There’s a little good and a little ugly for San Francisco when it comes to situational football. Offensively they’re the No. 1 red zone team in the NFL. They’ve converted 85 percent of their red zone jaunts into touchdowns. The problem is they’ve been there 14 times — ahead of only the Jets and Texans for fewest in the league and tied with the Steelers and the ghost of Ben Roethlisberger. Part of the reason the 49ers rarely get to the red zone is because their third-down offense is putrid. Their 31.4 percent conversion rate is 30th in the NFL and just barely hovering above the basement. On defense they have the opposite problem. They’re No. 8 in the league in third-down conversions allowed, but they’re 26th in red zone defense. It stands to reason their defense would benefit from longer drives by the offense, but for now neither unit is great across the board situationally.

Advantage: Draw

Injuries

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

Bears Wire: The Bears will be without outside linebacker Khalil Mack for the first time since 2018, and it’s a loss that’s going to be a big one. Chicago has the most sacks in the NFL through seven weeks, and Mack was a big part of that success. Mack is the only player ruled out, while running back David Montgomery remains on injured reserve (although Khalil Herbert has done a good job filling in) and tight end Jimmy Graham remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The good news is his running mate Robert Quinn, who is also among the top pass rushers this season, is returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was sidelined last week after reaggravating his groin, but he was a full participant on Friday, which bodes well for his return Sunday. Wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols were removed from the injury report on Friday and are cleared to go.

Niners Wire: The 49ers have avoided the rash of major injuries this year after struggling badly with them last year, but the injury bug is still plenty active in Santa Clara. Starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt is out with a knee contusion and will be replaced by fifth-round rookie Talanoa Hufanga who’s making his first NFL start. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw had season-ending knee surgery, and Maurice Hurst who is one of Kinlaw’s replacements won’t play because of a calf issue. Defensive end Dee Ford and starting linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair are both ‘doubtful’ because of concussions they suffered last week, and tight end George Kittle remains on injured reserve with a calf injury. Trent Williams may also be out because of an ankle sprain, leaving rookie OL Jaylon Moore to start at right tackle. Defensive end Samson Ebukam is also questionable. It would leave the 49ers exceedingly thin on the edges if he can’t go. Arden Key, who hasn’t been unproductive this year, would see more time if Ebukam is unavailable.

Advantage: Bears

Verdict: Advantage Draw

AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

Both teams come into this matchup desperate to break their respective losing streaks, and there’s good reasons to believe each side has a good chance to win. These teams have dominant defenses and struggling offenses, and ultimately it’s going to come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes and which team can capitalize on opportunities. The good news for the Bears is they’ve won the games they should win — Bengals, Lions, Raiders — so there’s a reason to believe they should take care of business again.

This is certainly a winnable game for the Bears,

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