A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the San Francisco 49ers.
1. Protect the football
It’s no secret why the Bears lost their Week 1 matchup with the Bills. Jay Cutler‘s two interceptions and Brandon Marshall‘s lost fumble killed three drives and swung momentum back to the Bills. The fact that the Bears defense only allowed 20 points through four quarters is encouraging — as sad as that sounds. The defensive scoring is better than last year, although the run defense still struggled. But any time you lose a turnover battle, you’re setting yourself up in a deep hole, and that gave the Bills added chances to bury the Bears. The 49ers, who are a much better team, will surely capitalize if they take the ball away from the Bears and I don’t see any hope of victory at that point.
2. Get Forte more involved
The Bears were never in any serious peril of losing to the Bills, even up to and through most of overtime. It wasn’t until Fred Jackson’s 38-yard run to the Bears 1-yard-line in the extra period when the game was essentially over. As such, there was no reason for the Bears to throw the football 49 times and let Matt Forte carry the ball just 17 times. Forte was, for what it was worth, heavily involved in the passing game as he caught 8 passes and finished with a team-high 87 receiving yards. But the Bears need to control the clock and the tempo more by letting Forte get more in a groove running the football. There will be fewer chances for turnovers as well as fewer chances for the 49ers offense to get on the field.
3. Be more physical
The Bears played soft on Sunday. And they were softer than a wet paper towel last season. They just can’t keep playing like that if they want any kind of mental edge. Teams go into games with the Bears knowing they can push around the defense, and they get away with it. I’m not saying I want the Bears to resort to thuggery and get personal foul penalties that negatively affect the game. But I want to see some more attitude. Play through the whistle. Get physical with the wide receivers within the five-yard buffer. And for heaven’s sake … make some tackles! Forget about laying the wood on opposing ball carriers. Just wrap up and drive the guy to the ground. They’ll be feeling that as the game wears on.
4. Keep moving the chains
The Bears finished with 29 first downs in Week 1, second only to the New Orleans Saints. By comparison, the Bills finished 28th in the league with only 15 first downs. And the Bills won the game. How is that possible? Well, turnovers shortened the field for the Bills’ offense and big plays reduced the number of first downs the Bills needed to get. This key has a twofold effect: first, the Bears need to run the ball more, continue picking up first downs and keep the chains moving. This controls the clock and the tempo and limits the Niners’ scoring opportunities on the field. The second effect of this key is that the Bears need to force the 49ers to move the chains. Obviously, it’d be better if the Bears defense got off the field altogether, but if the Niners are going to score, make them at least work for it. The last thing the Bears want is for the Niners offense to pick up big chunks of yardage and score quickly. Make them have to move the chains and work for their points.