Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here, and for our Chicago Bears, it marks the first official game of many in the Poles-Eberflus era. The Bears have been the subject of a bunch of media noise, mostly bad, over the past six months, but as we all know, offseason performance has no bearing on regular season performance.
Alongside their season debut, I will be debuting a weekly piece regarding a few Bears that could be in for big-time performances each week. I’ll try to shine a light on some of the lesser-known guys to spread the credit, but there will certainly be chalk names as well.
Though I am much higher on the Bears than most of the national media, there is no doubt that this week will be one of their tougher games this season. The San Francisco 49ers overcame a sluggish start last year to come within minutes of a Super Bowl appearance. Despite the question mark at quarterback, they are stacked from top to bottom, while the Bears have young but largely unproven guys across the roster. With that in mind, here are a few Bears I’d keep an eye on in the home opener.
As an athlete, is there anything better than playing your former team? Dante Pettis was a second-rounder that spent his first two seasons in San Francisco before being waived midway through the 2020 season, and he has a chance to make them pay for that decision.
Against spread concepts similar to those of Luke Getsy, the 49ers played two main coverages: Cover 33 Weak Match and Cover 66. Cover 33 Weak Match is Cover 3 out of a nickel package (hence the 33) with some sort of match coverage (either man match, where a zone can convert to man-to-man, or a zone match, where the defender simply matches the receiver’s release before dropping back into zone) on the weak, or non-tight end, side. Similarly, Cover 66 is Cover 6 (more commonly known as quarter-quarter-half) out of a nickel package. Both defenses are susceptible to high-low concepts along the boundary.
With Pettis’ route-running ability, I’d expect him to be the guy working the underneath areas alongside the boundary while a speedier receiver (i.e., Darnell Mooney/Ihmir Smith-Marsette/Byron Pringle) works over the top. That could open up some big yardage for Pettis.
The Bears likely won’t run spread concepts unless absolutely necessary, but look for Pettis to make timely catches on 3rd-and-long to keep the chains moving.
I was thoroughly impressed with David Montgomery against Cleveland for one reason: his body. It sounds weird, but my issue with Montgomery in the past has been his lack of breakaway speed and twitchiness, which would leave some yards on the field.
He looked like he thinned out against Cleveland and got significantly quicker, which could make for some big plays against the 49ers.
The Niners love A-gap firezones, meaning that they will show a linebacker in the A gap pre-snap (i.e., the gaps between the center and the guard) and then have him firezone, or drop back, into the middle hook areas.
One way to beat this is to run inside zone from a spread formation. With the linebackers crowded up at the line, you let your offensive linemen fire off the ball and hit those dropping linebackers before they can drop back, which opens up the middle of the field for a big play.
With Montgomery’s newfound quickness and decisiveness, if the Bears can blend this in with a more traditional running scheme from the I-Formation, he could be in for a big day.
I figured I’d group these guys all together since it’s hard to pick out one individual. The Niners, similar to Getsy, run that wide zone running scheme, meaning that runs could be coming anywhere on the perimeter. This could be through some sort of toss to the outside, speed sweep to a wide receiver, or just outside zone from shotgun.
In Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme, the front four will be shooting their gaps in the direction of the quarterback, leaving the linebackers responsible for the perimeter in addition to the interior gaps.
With the speed they possess, it’s certainly doable physically. It just comes down to preparation mentally, awareness, and discipline.
Lastly, to the passing defense. With second-year quarterback Trey Lance’s inaccuracies, the 49ers will likely keep things risk-averse in the passing game with throws to the sideline.
Additionally, the Bears will likely try to confuse Trey Lance with a unique blitz package, leaving their corners one-on-one on the outside.
Of all the cornerbacks on this roster, Kyler Gordon is the guy who must shine brightest. Since he’s a rookie making his first start, San Francisco will likely test him early. I’d expect a few pass breakups early on Sunday, and considering Lance’s inaccuracy, possibly an interception as well.