The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49’ers are set to open up the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Sunday night, and while a lot of the focus this week has been on players like Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, there are plenty of other factors that are going to go into the game if the Bears want to be successful.
Without further adieu, here are our Three Keys to Victory for the Bears.
Contain Hyde and Gore (and Kaepernick)
The 49’ers are a team that has decent weapons with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, but the real straw that stirs the drink on offense is their running game. With veteran Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde, the 49’ers are capable of running the ball effectively, and that area was the Bears’ Achilles heel last season.
This time around, the Bears do have players capable of stopping the run. Lamarr Houston established himself as a solid run-stopper during his time with the Oakland Raiders, and Jeremiah Ratliff had an excellent first game of the season for the Bears despite the loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Those two will be crucial, but equally important will be the linebacking corps. With Lance Briggs, Shea McClellin, and Jon Bostic coming on and off the field, the Bears have to make good reads in that area, or else the 49’ers are going to use their arsenal of running weapons (including quarterback Colin Kaepernick) to run roughshod over the Bears.
Establish Balanced Attack Early
The Bears ended up getting really pass heavy on their play calls at times during the game against the Bills, but that is to be expected to some extent. With a bevy of talented weapons and a head coach known for molding the passing game, the Bears are generally going to be a pass-first team, but they have to avoid becoming too one-dimensional on that side of things.
To do that, Matt Forte is going to need to get some serious work early. Whether it’s designed runs to the outside (Jordan Mills has to find his form as a run blocker for this to work) or trying to get through gaps in the middle of the line (Kyle Long will be critical here), Forte needs to show that he can carry the ball for decent gains, and that should open up the offense for the rest of the team.
This will be especially critical because of the injury concerns facing the Bears at wide receiver. With players banged up all over the place, the Bears have to be able to run the ball, or else Forte and Martellus Bennett are going to be easily swallowed up in the ferocious 49’ers defense.
Improved Pass Rush a Must
In the Bears’ loss against the Bills, the only defensive end that was able to really get any traction in the game was Willie Young. In the team’s nickel package, Young lines up at the end position, with Lamarr Houston kicking inside to the tackle spot, and Young was doing a great job of getting around the edge and disrupting EJ Manuel’s rhythm.
In this game, the Bears will not only need Young to continue to get around the edge effectively, but they will also need Jared Allen and Houston to pitch in during base package plays as well. Allen said all week long that he felt great in the Week 1 loss, but his performance left something to be desired.
Both he and Houston are going to need to be in top form in order to force Kaepernick’s hand in the pocket, and if they can, it could be a long day for the 49’ers’ offense.