After a month and a half of training camp and preseason, the Chicago Bears are making final preparations for the regular season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. These are two teams at very different stages in terms of expectations. The 49ers are coming off of a loss in the NFC Championship game and just three years removed from losing Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco won their last meeting 33-22 in Week 8 of last season.
They are, however breaking in a new quarterback after relegating Jimmy Garoppolo to backup this summer.
The Bears have the more experienced starting passer in Justin Fields. But just about everything else is in flux beyond him and his top three weapons — tight end Cole Kmet, running back David Montogomery, and wide receiver Darnell Mooney. A reshuffled offensive line still features Cody Whitehair at guard and Sam Mustipher at center (for now).
But this year’s Bears squad figures to feature at least two new faces on the offensive line and possibly up to three this season — before we even get to offseason signee Lucas Patrick — including our first item to keep an eye on in the Bears opener on Sunday.
5 Things to Watch for in Chicago Bears Regular Season Opener
Braxton Jones vs Nick Bosa
Rookie left tackle Braxton Jones has met every challenge head-on a passed every test to this point. On Sunday, that could look very different and still be true. Jones will be taking on one of the NFL’s best EDGE rushers in Nick Bosa who, among other traits, boasts incredible playing strength and motor.
Jones has not been put into the fire as he will against the San Francisco 49ers. The Bears faced the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks in the first two weeks of the preseason. Neither team boasts an especially strong rush. They did face the Cleveland Browns in the finale. But starters Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett both sat out.
Bosa recorded 15.5 sacks last season (two against the Bears) and led the league in tackles for loss with 21 while also notching 32 hits on the quarterback and forcing four fumbles.
The 6-foot-5 Jones can only face who lines up against him and has performed well ever since he arrived at Halas Hall. Expect the Bears to give the fifth-round pick some additional help against the two-time Pro Bowler, either with chip blocks or by going away from his side.
10 year NFL QB Chris Simms tells us what his confidence level is in Justin Fields coming into the season. I’d give the exact same number 1-10. Do you agree Chicago? #DaBears #Bears pic.twitter.com/HWebzJOshe
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) September 4, 2022
Bears WR/TEs vs SF DBs
Neither of these units is particularly strong. But the Bears pass-catchers underwent some serious retooling this summer. Darnell Mooney is coming off of a strong second year and his first 1000-yard season. His established connection with Justin Fields should serve them well as they grow together in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s attack.
Beyond him, however, are a lot of question marks. Equanimeous St. Brown seems set to be a surprising second option after using his 6-foot-5 frame well this summer. He also has previous experience with Getsy. There is a big group of options behind the two of them, though.
N’Keal Harry, Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe, and Byron Pringle have all been hurt leaving Dante Pettis to return from his injury and, possibly, provide another option. But none of them have been able to stay on the field this summer and have undoubtedly missed out on building that rapport with Fields.
The 49ers’ secondary will also look different from last season. But they expect to be better on the corners with Charvarius Ward but they are expected to be without Jimmy Ward at safety, perhaps opening them up to some deep shots off of play action. San Francisco’s secondary did rank 26th as a unit last season.
3. Robert Quinn vs Trent Williams
Unlike Jones when he faces Bosa, the Bears can match strength with strength by putting Robert Quinn up against standout Niners left tackle Trent Williams. The 49ers did a lot of revamping on their offensive line with three new starters who have three starts combined.
But Quinn and Williams are two of the more consistent performers at their respective positions. They do so in very different ways. While Quinn’s ability to get to the quarterback utilizes some moves and techniques that border on ill-advised for most rushers.
Williams is not only the prototype, but he is also the archetype even as he enters his 12th NFL season. The 34-year-old is coming off of his ninth Pro Bowl selection and first All-Pro selection of his career. The 49ers were a middle-of-the-road blocking unit overall last season.
Maybe the Bears try to get Quinn on the other side against Mike McGlinchey who missed half of last season with an injury. But he will do battle with Williams for most of the afternoon in what could be a battle between future Hall-of-Famers. Which side will come out on top?
4. Bears Secondary vs Deebo Samuel/Brandon Aiyuk/George Kittle
This summer has been all about impressive rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. Both players have turned heads in training camp with their energy and noses for the ball and big plays. Those are traits that will play well in this city and should make them viable starters for a long time, health permitting.
They join Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson to give the Bears a potentially potent secondary. But they are unproven still at this level. Meanwhile, Jackson and Johnson are both trying to show why they fit in this new scheme leaving a ton of question marks for when the real thing begins.
On the other side in Week 1 they will face one of the NFL’s most versatile weapons in Deebo Samuel. The 2021 All-Pro and Pro Bowler led the league with 18.2 yards per reception. He is equally as lethal when being utilized out of the backfield. San Fran also has 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk who possesses many of the same traits.
Bears safeties and linebackers will also have their hands full with tight end George Kittle. So, despite the inexperienced Trey Lance taking over under center for the Niners, they have weapons at every level. it will be critical for the secondary to be disciplined against a 49ers scheme that frequently gets guys open.
Bears Can Get Win in Opener
There aren’t a lot of expectations for the Bears this season, including in this game against a perennial playoff contender. But the Bears do have an element of surprise given how much we still do not know about how they will approach the scheme in-game. Combine that with how inexperienced quarterbacks can be rattled and there is a realistic path to a 1-0 start, a mark the Bears will surely be focused on each and every week this season.