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Ground game key for Bears to win

The Bears travel to San Francisco on Sunday to face the 49ers. The game is an important one to the 0-1 Bears who want to hold off starting 0-2. In order to break their poor history in San Francisco and get into the W column, they will need to rely on their ground game.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears had a poor showing against the Buffalo Bills in week one and there were a number of contributing factors on each side of the ball that led to the overtime loss.

The team faces a huge road test this week to avoid an 0-2 hole to open the season, when they travel out to San Francisco for the opening of the new Levi's Stadium on Sunday Night Football. The 49ers have been in the past three NFC Championship games and have been an NFL juggernaut since Jim Harbaugh took over. This game will not be easy, a fact compounded by the history of the Bears in San Francisco going back to the 1980s.

Perhaps the team will be excited about playing in the new stadium, especially given how awful they played in the old one.

The Bears are 0-8 in San Francisco going back to 1987. The team last won in Candlestick Park in 1985. Since then, its been a house of horrors for the Bears: 41-0 (1987), 26-0 ('89), 52-14 ('91), 44-15 ('95), 17-0 ('00), 49-7 ('03), 10-6 ('09) and 32-7 ('12). For whatever reason the Bears cannot put a good game together in the Bay to save their lives.

But if the team wants to turn their season around, there would be no better way to do that then by winning there on Sunday night.

For me, I believe it will be paramount that they ride Matt Forte and the ground game to victory.

Last week the Dallas Cowboys racked up 382 yards of offense against the 49ers, but this doesn't tell the whole story since the 49ers led the whole game and, after jumping out to a 28-3 halftime score, they played much safer defense in the second half and allowed the Cowboys to rack up yards as long as they didn't get back into the game.

Take a look at's handy offensive splits chart for the Cowboys. A couple of things to notice: the Cowboys ran the ball a lot more in the first half, in fact, 12 of their 23 carries came in the first quarter and after they held a 21-3 deficit they barely ran it again. Another point is that in the second half, already way behind they averaged more yards per play, gaining chunks of yards but they had a hole to big to overcome.

However, in that first half the Cowboys had success running the ball on the 49ers. They averaged 6.1 yards per carry. This says that either the 49ers were susceptible to the run or they were expecting pass-heavy attack. Either way, the Bears need to try to exploit this.

The Bears new-look defense hasn't inspired much hope yet, especially the linebackers who were routinely out of position and falling for option looks and misdirection plays against E.J. Manuel and the Bills last week. Manuel is at best a poor man's Colin Kaepernick and Kaepernick had to be salivating during film study of the Bears-Bills game last week.

Greg Roman, the 49ers offensive coordinator, is great at exploiting an opponents weakness, something the Bears are all too familiar with from the two teams' last meeting. Also, remember that in the 2012 NFL playoffs Roman had Kaepernick use the read option to run for 181 yards individually and 323 yards as a team over the Green Bay Packers. Then in week one of last season, with the Packers preparing for another run-heavy attack, the 49ers rush for just 90 team yards but Kaepernick passes for 412 yards. Roman will have the 49ers poised to attack the Bears whichever way he thinks is best.

For the Bears, they need to control the ball and keep their questionable defense and Kaepernick off the field.

Matt Forte had only 17 carries last week, and the team only ran the ball 18 times while attempting 49 passes. Against a defense as good as San Francisco's and with an inconsistent and mistake-prone QB like Jay Cutler, the Bears will be wise to run the ball early and often.

Looking at the box score from last week for the Cowboys and 49ers, it appears that the Cowboys had the most success running the ball behind their left guard (two rushes for 17 yards, 8.5 yards-per-carry) and over the left end (4 for 31, 7.75 YPC). They averaged 6 YPC behind the right tackle and 4 YPC behind the right guard.

The Bears would be wise to study these trends because without starting center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson the team could decide to run behind the right side tandem of Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. While Michael Ola and Brian de la Puente held their own last week, they are still back ups and their ability to pull hasn't been seen a whole lot yet.

Against Buffalo's stout defensive line last week Forte had his best averages running over the right end (2 carries, 14 yards, 7 YPC), the left end (5 for 30, 6 YPC), the right tackle (2 for 12, 6 YPC) and the left guard (3 for 17, 5.7 YPC).

The Bears could also be without Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall may not be playing at 100 percent, if at all. If that's the case it will be all the more important for the Bears to help Cutler out by leaning on Forte. Cutler throwing to Santonio Holmes (the only healthy WR on the active roster at this moment) and whomever they would activate from the practice squad doesn't inspire confidence. The Bears could use a lot of two- or even three-TE sets, with Eben Britton lining up as one of the TEs to get some extra push.

Fullback Tony Fiammetta is questionable so the Bears will need all the push they can get to open up running lanes.

The Bears face a tough road trip on Sunday and history is not on their side. If they want to reverse their San Francisco fortunes they will be wise to try to grind it out using Forte as the ox they strap the team's wagon to.