"The Bears are pathetic, but they aren't that pathetic." -if the model could speak, probably
San Francisco @ Chicago
San Francisco 16, Chicago 28
When San Francisco has the ball:
Before the 2021 draft, the 49ers gave up their 12th overall selection, their 2022 1st and 3rd round picks, and a 2023 first round pick to the Dolphins to move up to 3rd in the draft. With that pick, they selected Trey Lance, a dual threat quarterback out of North Dakota State.
In his rookie season, Lance backed up Jimmy Garoppolo, playing exclusively in games where Garoppolo could not play due to injury. To this observer, it was an oddity that Kyle Shanahan, an offensive genius with endless tricks up his sleeve, couldn't find ways to get Lance into game action. In total, Lance dropped back just 86 times his rookie season, making it difficult to draw any conclusions without the sample size nerds coming for my head. It's worth pointing out, however, that lack of experience was also the knock on Lance coming out -- he had just 306 dropbacks in his entire college career playing at an FCS school. His talent is undeniable, and I'm nowhere near qualified to evaluate quarterbacks, but it's fair to wonder how he'll do with such limited in-game experience. The good news for Lance is the pieces around him are well established -- outside of having Shanahan in his ear, he has a premier tackle duo of Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey protecting him. He has Deebo Samuel, a top tier wide receiver who can run between the tackles. Brandon Ayiuk is also a productive receiver, coming on strong after struggling immensely last season, and the hype in camp around Ayiuk suggests he's ready to take a step forward. And let's not forget George Kittle, one of the best tight ends in football. The question marks are around Kittle's health, who may not play due to a groin injury, and the interior of the offensive line. Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, and Spencer Burford are the projected starters. Banks is a 2nd round pick from 2021 who played 5 snaps all of last season, Brendel is a UDFA from 2016 who will man the center position who has 250 career snaps, and Burford was taken in the 4th round (134th overall) this year. The young guys could certainly develop into solid players, but it's again fair to point out the lack of experience. The other good news for Lance is the defense he's up against. The Bears feature one of the worst defensive lines in football, particularly after trading away Khalil Mack. That leaves Robert Quinn as the best player along the line, who had just a 69.9 PFF grade last season. 2020 5th round selection Trevis Gipson did look decent as a pass rusher in limited snaps last season, but his run defense was a different story, where he earned a 50.8 PFF grade. The linebacking core features Roquan Smith, a player who showed promise early on in his career, but has struggled the last two seasons. The secondary is equally unappealing, without a single "sure thing," they feature a number of young players who aren't yet proven in the league. Two rookies look to be starters, including Washington's Kyler Gordon (39th overall) and Jaquan Brisker (48th overall, Pen State). S Eddie Jackson is the lone veteran of the bunch -- now in his 6th season with the Bears, he hasn't played well outside of his sophomore season in 2018.
When Chicago has the ball:
What the Bears are doing to Justin Fields should be illegal. Fields's talent is as undeniable as Lance's, but he clearly struggled in his rookie season. To be fair, there were signs of progress, his pocket awareness in particular improved greatly, as Fields had to learn the hard way that you cannot afford to hold onto the ball too long in the NFL. But still, even as good as he can be, it's hard to imagine success given the pieces around him. The offensive line looks like a major weak point -- Chicago's hope is a couple of second year players (Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins) take a major step forward from their rookie season. Braxton Jones looks to have won the starting left tackle job -- he's a rookie out of Southern Utah who the Bears took in the 5th round (168th overall). With Allen Robinson now in Los Angeles, that leaves Darnell Mooney and TE Cole Kmet as the top options at receiver, with Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown as the complimentary pieces. David Montgomery will handle the bulk of the RB carries. He's a decent enough back, but failed to create yards on his own last year, finishing 51st of 64 qualifiers last season with 2.53 yards per attempt after contact. They'll be going up against a very good 49ers defensive line, that features Nick Bosa and DT Arik Armstead. They also have a ton of depth at the position where they can keep guys fresh by rotating in different productive players, which should include rookie Drake Jackson (61st overall, USC). Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw is arguably the best 1-2 punch at linebacker, making the 49ers front 7 a force. The secondary is where things get a bit shaky -- Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley are not bad players by any means, but both are beatable, and I'd give Mooney the advantage over both. The safety room has also been thinned out with Jimmie Ward landing on IR (hamstring).