Five 49ers to watch vs. Bears in Week 8 of 2021 NFL season

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Bosa must put heat on Bears' Fields for 49ers to snap skid originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It seems to be the same thing every week for the 49ers.

They have not won a game since Sept. 19, and the season is slipping away with four consecutive losses.

The 49ers do not have much time to turn it around, either.

Even though there are 11 games remaining in the season, the 49ers face the top teams in the NFC West in back-to-back games after their Week 8 matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

The 49ers need to prove to themselves they can win a game against one of the worst teams in the league before returning home to face the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams to open November.

In order for the 49ers to do something on Sunday, here are five individuals who must be on their games:

5, Coach Kyle Shanahan

It seems appropriate this week to include a member of the sideline in the “49ers to Watch” feature.

That’s because head coach Kyle Shanahan has come under more scrutiny than ever for the results of his offense and, specifically, his play-calling.

“I don't think I've got in a great rhythm,” Shanahan said following the 49ers’ 30-18 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. “I think we've done it on a couple drives, but we have not sustained that. No, I have not felt comfortable with it.”

When Shanahan gets on a roll, he finds success with one play that sets up success with another play. It is all connected. He anticipates the adjustments being made by the defense, and he reacts in a way that keeps the 49ers’ offense one step ahead of the opposition.

But when things are not going well, it appears all Shanahan is doing is outsmarting himself.

That is where the 49ers are right now.

Success in the run game should set up successes on other pages of the game plan — whether it’s a different style of run or play-action off of those runs.

Nowhere have the 49ers’ failures been more evident than on third downs. The 49ers’ 31.43 percent third-down efficiency ranks ahead of only Jacksonville and Chicago.

It’s on Shanahan to push the right buttons to figure this out.

4, WR Brandon Aiyuk

How many times can second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk make it on this list as a player to watch?

Frankly, there’s been nothing to see with Aiyuk in any of the team’s six games this season.

Last season, he played 12 games as a rookie and caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. 

In half the games this season (six), Aiyuk has just nine receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown. So what happened?

All indications are that Aiyuk did not come back this season with the same determination as his rookie season. He is still learning how to work like a professional. The suggestion is that he did not run his routes with urgency, nor is he on-point with his assignments, to get separation from defensive backs and earn the targets.

Shanahan has not specifically outlined the problem, but he did offer some clues this week.

“I don't think he's quite back to where he was last year. And I expected him to be better this year than last year,” Shanahan said. “I think he's still trying to get back to that point, which I think he's closer to that point right now than he was a couple of weeks ago because he has been working hard and trying to get there.”

We shall see.

3, CB Josh Norman

The book is out on the 49ers’ defensive backs, specifically 10-year veteran cornerback Josh Norman.

On deep balls down the field, the 49ers’ secondary goes into full-on panic mode. The result has been an NFL-worst 14 flags for pass interference. Of those, 11 have been accepted for 250 yards in penalties.

Norman has committed five penalties in his four games this season. He was flagged for pass interference four times and defensive holding once.

Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields has the arm to get the ball down the field, so he can be expected to take some chances on Sunday.

Norman, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams and the others in the 49ers’ defensive backfield must remain calm if a receiver gets a step on them down the field. Then, it’s a matter of turning, finding the ball and making a play.

2, QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week that he did not go into the 49ers’ Week 7 game against the Colts thinking that Jimmy Garoppolo was one bad game away from losing his job.

OK, so is he now?

Garoppolo makes the start, as rookie Trey Lance returned to limited practice this week following his left knee sprain on Oct. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The 49ers have lost four consecutive games. Of course, that is not all on Garoppolo.

He rallied the 49ers to a late lead against the Green Bay Packers that the team’s defense coughed up. Garoppolo left the 49ers’ game the following week with a calf injury at halftime of a 7-7 game. He was inactive for the game against the Cardinals. Then, he played poorly in a downpour against the Colts.

Garoppolo made his first start with the 49ers at Soldier Field. What does he have to do on Sunday to make sure it’s not the location of his last start with the organization?

1, DE Nick Bosa

Defensive end Nick Bosa has been the only player along the 49ers’ front four to supply consistent pass rush this season. And he will be expected to get heat on Fields to help team pressure off the team’s beleaguered defensive backfield.

Bosa leads the 49ers with five sacks in six games. He is making a remarkable return from a torn ACL that limited him to less than five quarters of action last season. He should have plenty of opportunities to add to his statistics on Sunday.

RELATED: Bosa says 49ers missing more than playmaking from injured stars

Fields, the No. 11 overall pick this year of the Bears, will make his sixth start as a rookie. His inexperience has shown.  Fields has attempted 131 passes. He has been sacked 22 times. He’s thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions, and he’s lost two fumbles.

The Bears’ offense has been atrocious this season. Fields said this week that he believes his team is ready for a breakout game. Bosa has the ability to single-handedly ruin those plans.

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