The Chicago Bears loss to the Buffalo Bills last week was about as bad as it gets, but if they beat the 49ers on Sunday night, they’ll be right back where everyone expected them to be.
The Bears chances against the 49ers aren’t very good. San Francisco has been one of the two best teams in the NFC — maybe the NFL — for the last three years, ever since they hired Jim Harbaugh as their head coach.
Their running game is both explosive and powerful, two things the Bears haven’t done very well against since Mel Tucker took over. In fact, it’s something Tucker defenses have never done well against, only once has a Tucker-coached defense ranked in the top half of the league in stopping the run.
The 49ers are banged up on defense, which would give the Bears some hope, but they’re equally banged up on offense. The Bears figure to be without two starting offensive linemen and both Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall figure to be extremely limited if they even play.
Then, of course, you have to figure in how awful the Bears have been in San Francisco since the mid-80s and that the 49ers will be super psyched to open their new stadium.
All of this has led to the Bears being seven-point underdogs. But, anyone who regularly reads or listens to Bill Simmons knows that being an underdog in 2014 isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In 2013, the teams that were favorited almost always won. It was something that doesn’t happen very often, but every time it has, the underdogs have dominated the following year.
It’s not something to necessarily hang your hat on, but, hey, it isn’t as if the 49ers are that much better than the Bears on paper right now.
Let’s assume Marshall plays and Jeffery does not. The Bears still have Josh Morgan and Santonio Holmes, two guys who are at least capable of making a play once in a while. They’re still better than most of the second and third receivers Cutler has had in his Bears career. Hell, they might be better than the best receiver he had (Johnny Knox) before Marshall came to town. The Bears also still have Marty Bennett and, of course, Matt Forte.
They had starters going in and out of their lineup against the Bills, but they still moved the ball. The Bills defense was more difficult to pass against than the 49ers was in 2013. The Bills ranked fourth in yards allowed, had the second most interceptions and were third in opponent passer rating. The 49ers were seventh in yards, 10th in interceptions and fourth in passer rating.
The Bills lost their coordinator and Jairus Byrd, but the 49ers are without three stars from last year and could be without both of their starting cornerbacks on Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Bears chances to move the ball on Sunday is their offensive line.
The Bills are a team that had 57 sacks last season and three of their players had 10 or more. Yet, on 51 drop backs, the Bills managed just two sacks, both of which were considered coverage sacks.
The 49ers had 38 sacks last year, a respectable number, however, their best pass rusher — Aldon Smith — is suspended. They sacked Tony Romo three times in Week 1, but those were also coverage sacks. Romo had time to throw, ranking fourth in the league with an average of 2.91 seconds in the pocket according to Pro Football Focus.
The Bears took advantage of the Bills by using quick passes, often to Forte and they should be able to do so again against the 49ers.
I don’t think the Bears are going to be able to stop San Francisco, but there’s a chance that Colin Kaepernick struggles with his accuracy. As explosive as Kaepernick is, he has been known to have a hard time hitting his receivers from time-to-time and there’s always a chance that will happen on Sunday.
If the Bears win, it will be because they were able to outscore the 49ers. The 49ers still do a great job scheming, but they don’t have the talent they once did. This is a game that’s going to come down to scheme.
Defensively, Tucker has to be able to confuse Kaepernick and at least get the 49ers into a few third-and-long situations.
Offensively, Trestman has to get his players in space and give Jay Cutler easy throws. That will be a whole lot easier if they’re able to handle the 49ers up front the same way they did the Bills.
Obviously, the Bears also have to protect the ball. The 49ers took the ball away from the Cowboys four times, but the Cowboys — as we all know — have a tendency to be turnover prone, even more so than the Bears.
The Bears have a chance on Sunday. It might not be a very good one, but it does exist. A win would put them right back where most expected them to be.
If it truly is the year of the underdog, the Bears will prove it on Sunday.