By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (0-1) face the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) on the road Sunday night. Here are some keys to the game for Chicago.
Multiple turnovers against the 49ers in their new building is a recipe for defeat. Ball security and valuing the ball are paramount every week, but losing possessions against the 49ers is trouble waiting to happen. Dallas found that out early in Week 1 and turned it over four times in the first half. Ball control is critical this week for the Bears.
For the first time in 18 games, the 49ers last week allowed a back to reach 100 yards rushing. Missing Pro Bowl linebackers Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman creates an equal opportunity for the Bears, like the Cowboys, to crank up the running game. The short passing game is also important, the goal to occupy the middle of the field with tight end Martellus Bennett, who presents a matchup problem for the banged-up 49ers. Bennett is a valuable target this week running the deep seam, crosses and in the red zone. The Bears can move the ball. They had 29 first downs against the Bills and did a terrific job of moving the sticks. Attacking Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme requires patience. He’s a disciple of Green Bay’s Dom Capers, so fire zone blitzes are in the scheme.
There’s no bigger key in the game defensively than discipline. It will no doubt be challenged by the innovative, complex scheme of 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who authors a power run game from conventional and pistol formations that Lance Briggs calls the best in football. It can’t be a game of thinking; it must be a game of reacting. Making the right reads, getting off blocks and making tackles won’t be as simple as getting into position. Defenders have to wrap up and finish.
The Bears must match the 49ers’ physicality too. What receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree lack in speed, they make up for in toughness. Boldin, for one, will bully defensive backs to gain separation. They also are outstanding blockers. Running backs Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde are no-nonsense grinders, tough downhill runners. The biggest matchup issue is tight end Vernon Davis, who is fast and physical. He needs to be defended by a safety with speed or a big corner. Disciplined rush lanes are critical in defending Colin Kaepernick, who’s an elusive long strider with quick feet and 4.5 speed. He owns a big arm but at times can lose his accuracy, especially throwing to his left.
I would anticipate the kick coverage units setting the tone immediately. From the first hit to the final whistle, the game will be physical. It’s just how it’s going to be, special teams included. 49ers punter Andy Lee is arguably the best in the league. A three-timer Pro Bowler, Lee landed three of his four punts inside the 20 against Dallas, finishing with a 45.7 net average and zero return yards. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson has made 84 percent of the kicks in his career, but he missed a 37-yarder in Dallas.
Not much is known about the 49ers’ return game. No kicks were returned in Week 1, and rookie Bruce Ellington had one 13-yard punt return. Coordinator Brad Seely’s coverage units are solid, and the re-signing of Kassim Osgood this week gives them one of the premier coverage guys in the NFL.
Dwayne Harris of Dallas averaged 29 yards on his kick returns last week against the 49ers. The Bears still don’t know much about their return game. Only one of six kickoffs was returned by Senorise Perry against Buffalo.
Bears players know they beat themselves in Week 1 so the common theme in situations like this is to not let the disappointment of one loss be the reason you lose the next game. The mindset in Santa Clara against the 49ers will mean as much as anything in coming out of there with a win.
If for whatever reason things start to unravel early, it can be an “oh no” scenario. This is going to be a difficult game for many reasons, but fighting through the adversity that will inevitably come is necessary. The 49ers don’t have all of their top weapons due to injury and suspension. And they too are trying to find their way after a rough preseason.
The Bears have to be patient, strike when the opportunity presents itself, hang tough in the fourth quarter and fight for a tough road win. Mindset is the key.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.