Top 10 people to watch in 49ers' Week 13 matchup against Bears
Center of attention
All eyes will be on the 49ers’ new quarterback on Sunday when he returns to the area in which he grew up to play against his hometown team.
Coach Kyle Shanahan had hoped to hold off as long as possible on Jimmy Garoppolo’s starting debut, but knee and hip injuries to C.J. Beathard forced Shanahan’s hand.
The spotlight will be on Garoppolo, but there are plenty other individuals worth watching Sunday when the 49ers (1-10) face the Chicago Bears (3-8) at Soldier Field.
10. Bears D-coordinator Vic Fangio
Fangio was a popular man during his three seasons in charge of Jim Harbaugh’s defenses with the 49ers. The 49ers passed over Fangio for the head-coaching job that went to Jim Tomsula.
Fangio was on Kyle Shanahan’s radar to return to the 49ers this season, but Bears coach John Fox would not let him out of his contract to move back to the Bay Area.
Fangio is known for his well-schooled, water-tight defenses, which will make things difficult on Shanahan to find vulnerabilities in the scheme.
9. 49ers LB Reuben Foster
Foster remained healthy and averaged 10 tackles a game in his three games in November. That was enough to earn him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month.
There’s a lot more for Foster to achieve, including making some game-changing plays to force turnovers or big stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Foster has seemed to thrive after moving to the weakside position, allowing veteran Brock Coyle to handle all of the responsibilities of communication from the middle linebacker spot.
8. 49ers right tackle who is TBA
The 49ers hope Trent Brown will be cleared to play after missing last week’s game with a shoulder injury. That decision will go right up until 90 minutes before the game, when the 49ers must submit a list of seven inactive players.
The team went through the week of practices are a little uncertain how they would be able to fare after backup Erik Magnuson was lost last week to a season-ending foot sprain.
Veteran Zane Beadles is not a fit at tackle, but he knows the assignments. Rookie Darrell Williams has the skill but is raw and still learning all the intracacies of playing the position in the NFL.
7. 49ers K Robbie Gould
Gould returns to Soldier Field, where he kicked as a member of the Bears for the first 11 seasons of his career. Gould, who ranks seventh on the all-time list in NFL field-goal accuracy, made 85.4 percent of his attempts while with the Bears.
Gould has been solid in his first season with the 49ers. He has made 21 of 23 field-goal attempts and 16 of 17 on extra-points.
In what could be a low-scoring game, Gould could find himself in some crucial situations on his old field.
6. 49ers SS Eric Reid
The Bears love to run the football, so it will be important for Reid to get close to the line of scrimmage as the eighth man in the box to prevent Chicago from stringing together first downs.
Reid has played well since his move back to strong safety with injuries to Jaquiski Tartt and Eric Reid. Reid lined up at linebacker briefly during the middle of the season.
It figures to be a big final five games of the season for Reid, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after playing this season on the fifth-year option.
5. Bears RB Jordan Howard
The second-year player from Indiana has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears after being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He rushed for 1,313 yards as a rookie.
The Bears make no secret of the fact they want to run the ball. Howard is averaging about 1 yard per attempt fewer than a year ago, but he is still quite effective with a 4.3-yard average and five touchdowns.
4. 49ers WR Trent Taylor
Garoppolo spent the first 3 ½ seasons of his career watching Tom Brady, who often gets the ball out of his hands quickly to his slot receivers. Taylor could benefit greatly from Garoppolo’s presence.
Taylor should have an opportunity to use his short-area quickness to get open quickly and be on the receiving end of a lot of Garoppolo’s “hot” throws to beat the pass rush.
Taylor has 26 catches for 239 yards and one touchdown. He also ranks ninth in the league with a 9.7-yard average on punt returns.
3. 49ers DL Solomon Thomas
The 49ers had Thomas ranked as their No. 2 prospect – over the opposing quarterback, who ended up going No. 2 after the Bears traded up one spot with the 49ers to secure him.
Thomas has been solid as a rookie with 28 tackles and two sacks in nine games. He showed a little rust after coming back last week from missing two games with a knee injury.
The 49ers are looking for him to be consistent against the run, then move inside and generate more of a pass rush on third downs.
2. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky
Trubisky makes his eighth consecutive start after taking over for Mike Glennon. As expected, it’s been an up-and-down season for the rookie. In his two starts in which the Bears won, Trubisky attempted just 16 and seven passes.
So the Bears will look to take as much pressure off Trubisky as possible to make things easier on him.
Shanahan have a good read on Trubisky, who was the only quarterback with whom he spent extended time before the draft.
1. 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo gave a brief glimpse of his skills a week ago in his end-of-game appearance when he ran for 4 yards, completed an 8-yard pass on a fourth-and-6 situation, then bought time to find Louis Murphy for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Garoppolo is still learning the system, but he knows enough of the game plan to be able to function on Sunday against his hometown team. He grew up about 25 miles from Soldier Field in the suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Garoppolo has a quick release, and he will have to use that asset to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks. In 11 games, 49ers quarterbacks were sacked 35 times.