10 Sep Will the Niners Skin ‘Da Bears’ at Soldier Field?
This is the matchup that we all wanted when the Niners traveled to Soldier Field to face ‘Da Bears’ in week 8 of 2021, on Halloween Day: the #3 overall pick in the 2021 draft QB Trey Lance, vs the very next QB selected at #11 overall. Justin Fields.
We might’ve gotten that matchup, in the second half, if Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t hit Deebo Samuel deep down the middle just before halftime. Kyle Shanahan had Lance warming up to come in, just prior to that first effective play by the 49ers offense of the entire first half. This also where the alleged “This is simple sh*t. Can you do it?” quote came from.
When the 49ers used two first-round picks & a third-round pick to move up from #12 to #3 in the 2021 draft, these were the two QBs that I coveted most.
Justin Fields was my 1A, due to him playing in back to back National Championship games, representing the Ohio State University & the BIG10 conference.
I always knew that my 1B, Trey Lance, had the higher ceiling, but I also knew that he was a very raw project. I never thought that the Niners could or would afford to pay Jimmy G $27M to be a bridge QB for Lance in 2021. I also never expected that Jimmy G would be willing to take a $20 mil pay cut in 2022 to be Trey’s backup QB in 2022. (I had Trevor Lawrence 3rd, Zach Wilson 4th & Mac Jones 5th – for the record)
This has the makings of an epic duel between two young up-and-coming QBs to begin their second seasons in the NFL.
The bad news is that Fields has big advantage in experience. He started 10 games (played in a total of 12 games) in 2021, whereas Lance only started 2 games & played in less than 3 total games worth of minutes in 2021.
The good news is that Lance has most of the rest of the advantages. Let’s break it down!
Lance had roughly 600 passing yards, 4 TDs & 2 INTs, with a 97.3 passer rating in his 2.5 games (not counting the pass TD at Lions, or the rush TD vs Packers)
Fields had 1,870 passing yards, 7 TDs & 10 INTs, with a 73.2 passer rating in his 12 games played.
Not only did Lance have better passing & rushing stats on average, but he had a 117 passer rating vs SEA & a 116 passer rating vs HOU. Fields never had higher than a 100 passer rating in 12 games.
Kyle Shanahan is one the best play callers & play designers in the NFL. Matt Eberflus is a defensive-minded rookie head coach. Maybe one day this is a closer matchup, but for now, it’s Kyle Shanahan without a doubt.
Lance has much better weapons, if Kittle can play (groin pull) & probably even if Kittle can’t play. Fields has a WR unit consisting of Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Darnell Mooney & former-49ers WR Dante Pettis. Although Kmet is a really good TE, that is simply no match against Deebo, Aiyuk, Jennings & Gray. Let’s take a closer look!
Deebo was one of the best offensive weapons in all of football for the 2021 season, but he held in while he & his agent Tory Dandy negotiated his 3 year $71.5-73.5M contract extension. Deebo didn’t begin practicing until August 1st. As far as I could tell, he never got fully back into game shape & never got fully synchronized with Lance. I have very little doubt that that Deebo will get back to his 2021 form & maybe even a little but better, but that may not happen right away. Brandon Aiyuk is a tale of 2 WRs. He worked out with Lance, doing drills all offseason, so that when OTAs, training camp & preseason began, BA had a huge leg up on every other WR on the team. Jimmie Ward said that he was never able to cover BA, not even once, in their many 1-on-1 drills together. Aiyuk should have an amazing game 1, and all the way through the entire season & the playoffs.
Kittle is the best TE in football. The best blocking TE & one of the best receiving TEs, despite never having a great QB (pretty far great most off the time) throwing to him. He is currently day-to=day with groin pull. If he can’t play this Sunday, that would negatively affect both the 49ers run game & passing game greatly. Hopefully, Charlie Woerner can replicate Kittle’s run-blocking. None of the 49ers TEs can come close to Kittle in the passing game, so maybe we will see more 3 WR & 4 WR formations.
Elijah Mitchell is a very good RB1, who should get over 5 yards per carry. Expect to see a lot of the 49ers very deep RB room (JWJ, TDP & Mason). Juice is the best FB in football & a secret receiving weapon out of the backfield. The key will be to establish the run & use play-action off of that. Jauan Jennings is a big bruiser & the 49ers best run-blocking WR. He was WR3 in 2021, but he had a lot of drops. Sadly, he had a lot of drops this offseason/preseason as well, which could cost him the WR3 role. Ray-Ray McCloud (ofdust) KR/PR/WR was the 49ers second-best WR this offseason. He has had an issue with fumbling, but he’s electric with the ball in his hands. He makes guys miss in space & Kyle is a genius at getting his weapons the ball in space. Danny Gray (Danny Deuces / Danny Phantom / The Grayhound) is a very exciting rookie WR from SMU. He has 4.33 speed, but he’s not just a track guy trying to play football. Danny is a complete WR who happens to have legit track speed. If he’s even, then he’s leavin’!
Even though I billed this a QB duel, between Lance & Fields, they won’t actually play against against one another directly. Lance will face da Bears very solid D & Fields will face the Niners elite D..
NINERS D LINE
This D Line is by far the deepest in the NFL, but it might also have the best starting 4. Nick Bosa is one the best edge rushers in football & my pick for 2022 DPOY. This was his first full offseason working with 49ers D Line coaching guru, Kris Kocurek & the word is that he looks better than ever. Arik Armstead (AA), DT/DE, is very underrated & was a top-3 DT vs run in 2021. I expect him to shine with more help around him than he’s ever had, other than maybe in the first 8 games of the 2019.season. Javon Kinlaw, DT, is a mountain of man, who has been hampered by a chronic knee issue since college. Last season he had a clean out, where Dr. Neal Elattrache noticed than Javon’s ACL had been frayed, so he reconstructed the ACL as well. Reports are that Kinlaw has never felt better or played better. This is very bad news for opposing IOLs. Across from Bosa, the 49ers will have a rotation of very skilled DEs, led by Samson Ebukam who came on strong at the end of 2021 & in the playoffs. You may not see rookie Drake Jackson much early in the season, but he is my pick to the main guy to be the bookend DE across from Bosa, by the end of the season. Drake ‘Sackson’ has freakish bend & the athleticism of gymnast, despite being 6’4 & 270ish pounds. Charles Omenihu is another stud DE, who the 49ers acquired from the Texans in 2021. He can also play DT in their Nascar (4 DE) package, so expect to see him a lot. Jordan Willis might be the 49ers best run-stuffing DE, other than AA. Kemoko Turay, DE, has wicked spin move, but has battled the injury bug. If not, the 49ers probably wouldn’t have been able to sign him as a FA, or keep on their PS. Kevin Givens, DT, has steadily improved every season since being a UDFA in 2019. He seems to be poised for breakout season in 2022. Hassan Ridgeway, DT, has been very effective in limited usage. It’s probably best if they kept his snaps in the 30-40 range per game (around half or less).
Niners have best ILB trio in football, with: Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw & Azeez Al-Shaair. Fred Warner is the best coverage LB in football. He is also one of the best tacklers.
Azeez Al-Shaair filled in for Fred in 2021 & barely missed a beat. Dre Greenlaw missed most of 2021, but he made his presence felt immediately, upon his return. All three have blazing speed and abnormally good coverage ability, which is a big key in this predominantly passing league. The 49ers also have great LB depth with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Oren Burks & Curtis Robinson (IR) + Marcelino McCrary-Ball on the PS.
The Niners secondary is probably their weakest defensive group, but it’s far from weak. The leader is FS Jimmie Ward, but he’s out for at least the first 4 weeks of the season with a bad Hamstring pull. I don’t expect JImmie to be back until week 6 at the soonest & possibly as late as week 10 (grade 3 =miss 8-12 weeks form August 14th). Money Manny Moseley CB is the only other returning starting DB from 2021. He is very underrated & seems poised to have a breakout season in 2022. Charvarius “Mooney” Ward was one of the best man-cover CBs in 2021. However good he was with the Chiefs, Mooney should be better playing behind the Niners’ best front-seven in football. Samuel Womack (Wo) 2022 fifth-round draft pick Nickel CB out of Toledo, is replacing K’Waun Williams. As good K’Waun was for the 49ers, he had lost a step in 2021. Sammy Wo appears to be at least as good, if not already better & very likely to improve. He may be the biggest steal, for any team, in the 2022 draft! Talanoa Hufanga, SS, is an instinctive ball hawk & big hitter, who’s only knock is lack of top-end speed. He is replacing Jaquiski Tartt, so he has some big shoes to fill. Since Jimmie Ward is out, George Odum and/or Tarvarius Moore will fill in for him. Odum isn’t quite as fast, but he’s better tackler & an ironman. The concern with Odum is that he has very little experience playing FS. Tarvarius has blazing speed, but he sometimes takes bad angles & is coming off a torn Achilles from OTAs in 2021. He just doesn’t seem to be quite back up to speed yet. My guess is that we will see more of Odum. Since the 49ers only have 3 Safeties on their 53-man roster, they will likely also pull Tashaun Gipson, Taylor Hawkins, or Quantrezz Knight Nickel up from the PS on gamedays. Once they get Jimmie Ward back & this group learns how to play together, this could be one the best secondary groups in the league. For now, they have four new starters & both safeties have question marks, which could be trouble for a while.
DA BEARS WEAPONS
Fields’ weapons are quite a bit less impressive. WR Darnell Mooney had a very nice rookie season in 2021, with over 1000 receiving yards & 4 TDs. WR Velus Jones Jr. was a 2022 third-round pick out of Tennessee. WR Byron Pringle is a speedy & tall WR who played well for the Chiefs in 2021. Donte Pettis 4.32 is familiar to Niner fans as one of the biggest busted WR picks by this regime. WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette was drafted in fifth round of the 2021 draft, who washed out from the Vikings when they traded for Jalen Reagor from the Eagles. WR Equanimeous St. Brown also washed out form the Lions. While very fast (none slower 4.50, 40-yard dash) da Bears WRs are far from very talented, except for Mooney & to a lesser extent Pringle. The rest are unproven at best. Cole Kmet is big TE at 6’6 & 262 pounds, which makes his 4.7, 40 time pretty impressive. He could be a big problem if matched up across from either of the 49ers safeties. David Montgomery is a very good RB, who averages over 900 rushing yards & 300 receiving yards, per season. If Mooney, Pringle, Kmet & maybe 1 of the other 3 WRs can play well, then Da Bears offense could be pretty good this Sunday. Lots of speed, to go with Fields’ wheels. Even without Kittle, the 49ers should have the advantage here.
DA BEARS DEFENSE
Their defense is simply not as good, or as deep, as the Niners defense. However, Da Bears still do have some stars.
DA BEARS DEFENSIVE LINE
DE Robert Quinn is not quite as good as Nick Bosa, but he’s definitely in the conversation, after recording more sacks in 2021 (18.5 vs 15.5). I really don’t know much about the rest of Da Bears defensive line. Big advantage for the good guys.
DA BEARS LINEBACKERS
Roquan Smith is an outstanding LB. He’s in the top tier, slightly behind Fred Warner. After that are guys I’ve never heard of. Big advantage for SF.
DA BEARS SECONDARY
Jaylon Johnson is very good-to-great CB. Eddie Jackson is a very good-to-great FS, who got injured early in the game in 2021, which might’ve allowed the 49ers to win. SS Jaquan Brisker was a second-round pick out of Penn State & looks to be a very good player already.. Kyle Fuller is a solid CB, who may be past his prime, but still very good. Big advantage for Da Bears here.
NINERS OFFENSIVE LINE
Trent Williams is not only the best LT in football, but he’s arguably the best offensive lineman in football. He made #14 in the NFL Top 100 list = the highest of any offensive lineman. Mike McGlinchey is a solid RT, but he tore his Quad early in the 2021 season. Many offensive linemen never play again after this injury. Many never play the same again. A small percentage get back to 100%, but that might not happen until after the 2022 season. The health of Big Mike’s knee (Quad attaches to the top of the kneecap) will worry me all season. Especially, since McG already had a setback, after barely playing in 1 preseason game that wasn’t even vs a starting DE.
This is encouraging, but I’m still very concerned about McG’s knee. C Jake Brendel seems to be pretty solid, so far. LG Aaron Banks is a second-year, second-round pick out of Notre Dame, but he feel more like a rookie since he didn’t play in any regular season games in 2021. Banks has looked pretty good, but his pass-blocking/anchoring needs improvement. Rookie RG Spencer Burford was looking like steal as the #134 overall pick in the 2022 draft, until he scuffled with some penalties & some bad plays in the 3rd preseason game at the Texans. I believe that he will do good to very well in 2022, but maybe not right away. Having three new faces on the IOL is less than ideal. Especially, when 2 of them are basically rookies. The good news is that the 49ers have options. UDFA G Jason Poe played very well in the preseason. C/G Daniel (Brunny) Brunskill was neck & neck with Brendel for the starting center job, until he pulled his Hammy. C/G Nick Zackelj has improved steadily (maybe the C of the future).
DA BEARS OFFENSIVE LINE
Even if McGlinchey doesn’t play, offensive line should be an advantage for the Niners, very big if McG plays.
The Niners made a big push last offseason to improve their special teams unit, which ranked 27th in 2021. They hired Brian Schneider to be S/T coordinator, who helped the Seahawks have a a top S/T unit for most the 2010s. There were 3 top S/T free agents in 2022. The 49ers got all 3. George Odum (S & ST) was an All-Pro in 2021. Oren Burks (LB & S/T) was Pro-Bowler. Ray-Ray McCloud (of dust) led the NFL in KR/PR yards in 2021. Another big addition was Malik Turner (WR & S/T) who is on the PS. Robbie good as Gould is one of the most accurate kickers inside of 50 yards & Mitch Wishnowski may not boom punts for tons of gross yards, but he does kick them very high, which usually leads to low net yards. Taybor Pepper is a top long snapper & very good follow on twitter. Not sure if SF’s S/T will be better than Da Bears’ S/T, but it will be much better in 2022 than it was in 2021.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
My prediction is that the Niners will beat the Da Bears. If Kittle & McGlinchey both do play, then it could be by a lot. If neither plays, then it could be a close game & anything can happen in a close game. Anything can happen in week 1. Especially, since the 49ers are playing at 10:00am PST & when most of the predictions have discounted the Da Bears chances. Hopefully, the 49ers haven’t been listening to that noise & will come out hungry! As always, I will post my final score prediction about an hour prior to kickoff, once we know exactly who will play & who won’t. Follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss it!