The San Francisco 49ers need a win in Chicago against the Bears to keep their playoff hopes for the 2021 season alive. They’ll do so against a Bears team looking to end a two-game losing streak and who will be without its best pass rusher.
Here are my five questions to watch out for on Sunday.
1. Will it be a happy homecoming for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Garoppolo made his first start as a 49er at Soldier Field in 2017. He would complete 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards with one interception in a 15-14 victory.
The 49ers quarterback grew up in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights and there will be over 100 friends and family in attendance to cheer for him on Sunday.
The signal-caller will need all the support he can get. The closer San Francisco gets to being eliminated from the playoffs, the closer Garoppolo’s time as the starting quarterback of the 49ers comes to an end.
A loss on Sunday won’t eliminate the 49ers from playoff contention, but it will make the task nearly impossible.
2. Can the 49ers manage to play a clean game?
One of the big reasons the 49ers are 2-4 is their inability to play a clean game.
San Francisco leads the NFL in penalty yards per game with an average of 80.8. The number of pass interference penalties called against the 49ers, 11 to be exact, has been the most significant contributor to that total.
Through the first six games, the 49ers have given up an average of 41.7 yards per game on just pass interference penalties. If that wasn’t bad enough, six of those pass interference calls have come on third down and extended drives leading to five touchdowns. The 49ers’ defensive backs worked on specific drills during practices this week to try and get a handle on the problem.
While penalties have been a big problem, turnovers have been a killer for San Francisco. The 49ers have committed 10 turnovers on the season, fourth most in the NFL. Eight of their turnovers have come during the current four-game losing streak.
3. Can the 49ers take advantage of Justin Fields?
Speaking of turnovers, while the offense has struggled to hold on to the ball, the 49ers’ defense has struggled to take the ball away. San Francisco’s defense has forced only four takeaways through six games, the fourth-lowest total in the league.
Justin Fields may be just what the doctor ordered to turn this around. The rookie quarterback has thrown six interceptions and fumbled the ball another six times, losing two.
Fields’ issues this season haven’t been limited to turnovers. Fields has been sacked 20 times in his five starts. This could lead to a big day for Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and the rest of the 49ers defense.
Dee Ford has been listed as doubtful for this game which means Jordan Willis may be activated for the first time this year after missing the start of the season due to a suspension for performance enhancing drugs. Willis had a strong training camp and preseason.
4. If the 49ers get the run game going can they keep it going?
The 49ers have struggled all season to get their running game going, and even when it looks like they have it figured out early in games it disappears.
The loss on Sunday to Indianapolis was another example of this. On San Francisco’s first seven rushing attempts of the game, they gained 72 yards. They would gain only 39 on their next 17 attempts.
For the 49ers to have any chance to defeat Chicago, they will need to get their rushing attack on track for the entire game. The Bear’s defense is allowing 4.4 yards per rush attempt, and the 49ers don’t have enough weapons in the passing game for it to carry the team.
5. Can San Francisco stop the Bears running game?
While the 49ers’ offense doesn’t have to worry about Khalil Mack, the 49ers’ defense will have its own Khalil to worry about.
Rookie Khalil Herbert has been impressive over the last three weeks, averaging 4.9 yards per rushing attempt. The Virginia Tech product was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, same as Elijah Mitchell of the 49ers.
In addition to Herbert, the 49ers’ defense will have its hands full with keeping Justin Fields under wraps. San Francisco has faced four mobile quarterbacks this season, struggling with Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz while also doing an excellent job of limiting Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
49ers 23 Bears 15