As the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) prepare for their home opener against the Chicago Bears (0-1), it will be a game in which the 49ers will be facing a team desperate for a win. The Bears who had a heart-breaking overtime loss at the hands of the Buffalo Bills (1-0), will now look to play the role of spoiler as the 49ers officially break-in Levi’s Stadium. However the question remains, who will come out on top? Despite the Bears having a more potent offense, I believe the 49ers are more balanced in all three phases, leaning me to believe they will win.
The game of football starts up front and winning that line of scrimmage. Last week saw the Bills shred the Bears defense for 193 rushing yards. A team that struggled at the point of attack, it will be up to Bears DT Jay Ratliff and DT Stephen Paea to do a better job this time around. Not to mention, that issue was likely a point of emphasis all week in the film-room, look for DC Mel Tucker to stack the box this time around as he faces a better running team in the 49ers.
A 49ers rushing attack that is led by a two-headed monster with Niners all-time leading rusher RB Frank Gore and promising rookie second-round pick (No. 57) RB Carlos Hyde, you can be sure they will get their fair share of touches as they racked up 116 yards on 23 carries against the Dallas Cowboys (0-1). Gore was used last week in tighter formations in 22 personnel while Hyde was used in spread formations. Look for that to continue while both benefit rushing to the left side as I predict the 49ers to rush for well over 140 yards on 30 carries and one touchdown.
With the 49ers rushing game keeping the Bears offense off the field, look for QB Colin Kaepernick to have another stellar performance. It all starts with the run and if the 49ers can run the ball successfully, look for Kaepernick to then benefit off the play-action pass.
Kaepernick looks more comfortable than most off the play-action, and with new toys to work with in WR Stevie Johnson, WR Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick (No. 106) WR Bruce Ellington, it should be an added bonus as Kaepernick should have a big game. A wide receiver unit that quickly turned a weakness into a strength, do not be surprised if you see Kaepernick throw up some deep balls to Lloyd or WR Anquan Boldin as they have proven to get open time and time again. It won’t be easy however as the Bears secondary is no laughing matter.
Led by two-time Pro Bowl cornerbacks CB Charles Tillman and CB Tim Jennings, it will be up to the 49ers receivers to win their one-on-one battles. And with the Bears using a Tampa 2 defense, look for TE Vernon Davis to benefit, as Kaepernick should find him down the seam for big gains while routinely beating the safeties in deep-thirds. Davis excels when faced against mediocre safeties, so look for him to have another big game as he should rack up a stat line similar to four catches for 65 yards and one touchdown.
With Kaepernick finding Davis down the middle, that should open up the passing game underneath. And that’s where Kap’s at his best. The 49ers have arguably the best 1-2 punch in terms of possession receivers and WR Michael Crabtree and Boldin should have no problems finding the soft spots in zone coverage. If this is the case, Crabtree should benefit as I predict him to have a stat line around six catches for 80 yards and one touchdown.
But all of this is possible if 49ers T Joe Staley can contain Bears All-Pro DE Jared Allen. In two meetings, Allen excelled as he recorded seven tackles, 2.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles. And while that’s a small sample size, the fact that Allen had sacks in both of those games is no fluke.
One of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL, Allen continues to be an absolute monster in the pass-rush as he has 128.5 career-sacks including 45.5 in the last three years. A true speed-rusher that loves to strip/sack the quarterback, Staley will need to hold up as he protects QB Colin Kaepernick’s blind side
If Kaepernick can remain upright look for him to have a big day as I predict him to have a fantasy stat line similar to 19 of 27 for 225 yards and two touchdowns, all while rushing three times for 40 yards.
With the 49ers taking care of business on the offensive side of the ball, it will be the defense that ultimately sets the tone. As I stated earlier, the Bears have a very potent offense. Led by Pro Bowl RB Matt Forte, he is by far the engine that makes that offense go. A player that is already showing mid-season form as he ran all over the Bills with 169 total yards from scrimmage, the 49ers will need to account for him on every snap, especially on that right side.
The Bears have RG Kyle Long and he alone can open up gaping holes on that right side of the line. The Pro Bowl guard will likely be matched up against DE Ray McDonald (when lined up as the three-technique) so you can see where the mismatch lies. If McDonald can occupy Long at the point of attack, that should allow OLB Ahmad Brooks and ILB Patrick Willis to flow to the ball naturally as they hit their gaps.
A tough task for both McDonald and Brooks as they need to set the edge while not allowing Forte to get open in the flats (especially on check-downs), it will be up to those two players to contain Forte on the left side. McDonald had trouble with Cowboys RT Doug Free last week as he tried to shed and will definitely need to do better in Week 2.
With the 49ers left-side being their weak link, the right side should bode well for them. A right side of the defensive line which is anchored by none other than All-Pro DE Justin Smith, the 49ers defense should have their way. Sure the Bears have LT Jermon Bushrod but he is no longer an elite tackle making this a mismatch worth noting. And with Cowboy getting off to a fast start as he recorded two sacks in the season opener, look for that type of presence to continue in the home opener.
In Cowboy’s last three meetings against Bushrod (Saints) he amassed 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hits. Whether getting bull-rushed with brute strength or manhandled with a swim/rip, Cowboy has Bushrod’s number so expect a big game from No. 94 as I predict him to have a stat line around six tackles and 1.5 sacks. If this is the case that should translate into a rough day for Forte, as his goons up front won’t be able to give him running lanes to run through while consistently getting hit near the line-of-scrimmage.
So what will the Bears do from here? Evade the running game altogether and use Forte coming out of the flat, split out wide, or in the slot. Forte is a multi-dimensional weapon and Bears HC Marc Trestman is a smart offensive mind, so if something doesn’t go according to plan, look for Forte to make his living in the passing game. If the 49ers can take away Forte’s quick slants, flat-routes, and curl-routes, while bringing him down on initial contact that will do wonders for the 49ers defense.
If the 49ers can contain the Bear’s running game while taking away Forte’s dual-threat ability as a receiver, they should be able to stop Forte dead in his tracks. A tough task for any defense, look for Forte to get his fantasy numbers as I predict he will have a stat line similar to 17 carries for 76 yards and one touchdown while adding five catches for 28 yards.
While Forte will be under a watchful eye, it will be the 49ers secondary that will need to show up. A banged up secondary as 49ers CB Chris Culliver (concussion) and CB Tramaine Brock (toe) are nursing injuries, it remains to be seen whether they will play on Sunday. However, should Culliver be ready to go, look for him to be matched up on Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall which means being tested deep.
The majority of Marshall’s routes under Bears OC Aaron Kromer’s scheme are strictly quick slants (2-route), dig (6-route), corner (7-route), post (8-route), and fades (9-route). Realizing this, don’t be surprised if you see Culliver play off-coverage in an effort to get a jump on the longer routes.
In redzone opportunities, Kromer loves to throw the fade and fly-routes so look for him to test Culliver early, as his No. 1 go-to-guy in redzone opportunities is Marshall. However, Marshall isn’t the only one that will need to be accounted for as some believe Jeffery may be the better receiver of the two.
The former South Carolina Gamecock should not be overlooked. A Pro Bowl wide-receiver in his own right, as Jeffery earned his first appearance last season after recording 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns, Jeffery is definitely a top 10 wide receiver in my book. And with Culliver having ties with Jeffery dating back to their college days, you can be sure he is giving both Brock and CB Perrish Cox pointers on how to attack the former Gamecock. But the question remains, will that be enough?
One way the Bears love to get Jeffery involved is by using bunch formations in 10-personnel (1 running back, 4 wide-receivers). When Jeffery is lined up at flanker he will usually step-back for a bubble-screen allowing his two other wide-receivers on his side of the field to throw blocks downfield. Brock and/or Cox will need to account for this as they do this often, especially in short-yardage situations.
And if that’s not working, then look for the Bears to incorporate Marshall on short dig-routes. Kromer has no fear throwing on 3rd-and-1 and he will do so by using Marshall’s big frame to basically “post-up” the smaller defensive backs off the play-action pass. If the 49ers sniff this play out pre-snap look for the linebackers to back off in coverage while quickly shutting down those passing lanes.
With the 49ers facing their toughest offensive battle yet, look for them to bottle up Forte for the most part while making the Bears one-dimensional. A home opener at brand new Levi’s Stadium, it will be the 49ers who come out blazing as I predict them to win 31-20.
NinerFans.com 1-0 (Over/Under)
With the total points set at 48, I would take the over. This game will likely be controlled by San Francisco early on as they take a commanding seven point lead, if they can contain the Bears wide receivers. If this happens look for them to play keep away (time of possession) as they hold off the Bears for the next three quarters.
NinerFans.com 1-0 (line)
With the 49ers favored by 7 points, take the over. I know it’s a lot of points to eat but I believe this one will be controlled by San Francisco through all four quarters despite possibly being close early on.
Fantasy Football (0-3)
As you know we select three players each game who we think will score touchdowns (quarterbacks omitted). So without further ado, our three players for this week’s game are:
RB Matt Forte
WR Michael Crabtree
RB Frank Gore
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