Three Bears necessities to a win over the 49ers


Three Bears necessities to a win over the 49ers

Golden out of the gate

Through their first 11 games, the 49ers have no touchdowns and have scored just 12 points in the first quarter this season. While the Bears have certainly been resilient, they've needed to be because they've scored first just three times all season. While they've won five of the last eight games, they've allowed first quarter touchdowns in each. Their home opponents each of the next two weeks are the league's only winless road teams. The Bears shouldn't give this Niners team (being outscored by an average of 35-14 away from home) any sign they can stick around, while improving their own 1-4 mark on the lakefront.

[MORE: Bears-49ers: And the winner is...]

Swarm Shaun Draughn (say that fast five times...)

347 yards. That's how much combined rushing damage the Broncos and the Packers have inflicted the past two games. But these Niners' top three running backs to start the season (Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis) are all injured. Enter Shaun Draughn, whose two-game Bears career ended after a special teams snafu last season in San Francisco. The Niners are his sixth team in his four-year career after being signed a month ago, and he's averaged just 3.4 yards a carry in his three games. Vic Fangio's latest fix-it project has to be completed this week and next versus Washington, because after that, they face the league's top two rushers who've already eclipsed 1,000 yards, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Dink, Dunk & Run

Stud receivers have burned this Niners defense all season, but with Marquess Wilson out and with (presumably) Eddie Royal and Kevin White joining him on the sidelines, you'd think Alshon Jeffery will be afforded extra attention. As Tony Soprano's "ManGenius" (Eric Mangini) dials up his blitzes, establishing the ground and short passing games might be the best way to possess and march. I have trouble thinking it won't be a good day for Martellus Bennett in his return from his rib injury, with targets aplenty.

**Be sure to join Dan Jiggetts, Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Chris the hour before kickoff on "Bears Pregame Live, brought to you  by Meijer" at 11 a.m. Sunday on Comcast SportsNet. When the second quarter ends, log on here at for "Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Bears Halftime Live," as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and discuss second half adjustments. And as soon as it goes final on Fox, flip back to CSN as the three ex-Bears and Chris bring you 90 minutes of analysis, reaction, live press conferences and locker room interviews on "Bears Postgame Live, presented by Nissan."**

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.