By Sam McPherson
After two final-second losses in the last three weeks, the San Francisco 49ers may find themselves confident in traveling to the Windy City this Sunday as they take on the Chicago Bears. The Bears are the other NFC team that doesn’t have at least four wins after 12 weeks of the 2016 NFL season. San Francisco has lost 10 straight games for the first time in franchise history, but this game against the one-time Monsters of the Midway presents an opportunity for the 49ers where the team actually may be favored to win the match-up.
San Francisco lost on the final play of the game last weekend on the road in Miami, just two weeks after losing on the final play against the Arizona Cardinals on the road. In between, the 49ers played three quarters of competitive football with the New England Patriots at Levi’s Stadium before watching the Pats pull away in the fourth quarter. These three positive efforts should keep the San Francisco players confident as they prepare to play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Bears Season Record
Chicago is just 2-9 this season, five games behind the first-place Detroit Lions in the NFC North. The Bears’ two wins came at home: A three-point win over Detroit in Week 4 and a 10-point win over Minnesota in Week 8. But, since their bye week, Chicago is 0-3 and losing players to injury and suspensions. Five of the Bears’ losses have come by single digits, including the last two straight by six points each. In Week 11, Chicago lost to Tennessee, 27-21, playing with their third starting quarterback of the season.
Bears On Offense
QB Matt Barkley, a former fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles out of USC, made his first NFL start against the Titans last week, and he played pretty well. After watching both Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer go down with potential season-ending injuries, the Bears offense played well with Barkley at the helm. Rookie running back Jordan Howard has been a nice surprise for the offense, too, running for 766 yards this season on just 149 carries. Even though Barkley threw two interceptions in the Tennessee game, the Chicago offense ran up 411 yards of total offense, its second-best total of the season.
The downside is that the suspension of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for performance-enhancing drugs limits Barkley’s receiving corps. Tight end Zach Miller is the team’s active leader in receptions (47), yards (486) and touchdowns (4) now, although veteran WR Eddie Royal is still a capable target. The Bears have high hopes for young wideouts Cameron Meredith (35 catches, 449 yards) and Kevin White (19 catches, 187 yards), however.
Bears On Defense
Chicago has a decent defense in 2016, although it’s been put in tough spots due to the offense’s erratic play with three different QBs. However, the Bears defense also suffered a suspension: Leading tackler Jerrell Freeman also is serving a PED suspension right now, leaving the linebacking corps thin in Chicago. Three of the remaining top-four tacklers on the team play in the secondary, so it’s clear right away that the Bears’ front seven isn’t getting the job done on a regular basis.
With only eight forced turnovers this season, Chicago’s defense hasn’t been able to get off the field enough in 2016. The Bears have just one takeaway in the last four games, in fact. Three times this season, Chicago has held opposing offenses to under 300 yards, and the Bears still lost one of those games by 15 points, because they couldn’t force any turnovers (Week 2 against Philadelphia).
Bears Players To Watch
With Matt Barkley, Jordan Howard and Zach Miller firmly entrenched in their roles on offense, it will be a player like Cameron Meredith that makes a difference for Chicago in Week 13. He has big-play potential, based on his play in Weeks 5 and 6 combined when Meredith caught 20 passes for 243 yards. However, since then, he’s all but disappeared from the Bears offense, managing just nine catches in the last five games. The 49ers need to make sure they don’t let Meredith go off on them.
Journeyman linebacker Willie Young leads the team with 6.5 sacks, but he has just 30 tackles in 11 games this year. If San Francisco can keep him from getting to QB Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers offense has a good chance at being able to throw downfield against an abused and tired Chicago secondary.
This is a favorable match-up for San Francisco, and that’s just what the 49ers need after close losses in the last month. Facing an inexperienced QB with a rookie RB and a depleted WR corps can only help the S.F. defense play the best it can, and the 49ers offense can take advantage of a defense missing its best player, too. That doesn’t mean this game will be an easy one for San Francisco, of course, because the 49ers have their own problems. But San Francisco should be able to beat Chicago in this game. Look for the 49ers to get their second win of the season by a 27-21 score on Sunday.