Top 5 storylines to watch in matchup between 1-10 49ers, 2-9 Bears
49ers back in Chicago
The 49ers have already made history with a franchise-long 10-game losing streak. After securing their ignominious spot with the organization’s worst stretch of defeats, the 49ers spent the week training in Orlando, Fla., before traveling north to Chicago.
The 49ers (1-10) will face the Chicago Bears (2-9). The Bears, like the 49ers, are one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Bears were not very good to begin with, and they have lost 16 players to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Jay Cutler. Here are five storylines for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.
5) Layover in Orlando
It’s difficult to say what, exactly, the 49ers could have gained from coach Chip Kelly’s decision to spend four days practicing this week at the University of Central Florida. Sure, the team saved a little bit of travel time. But it was not significant enough to make much of a difference.
Moreover, the weather in Orlando on Thursday was 85 degrees with high humidity. The conditions in Chicago are expected to be in the mid-30s with rain and snow showers. So the 49ers were preparing for the frigid conditions by practicing in the exact opposite weather.
4) Staley’s challenge
Bears outside linebacker Willie Young has three multi-sack games in his career, and two have come against 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, who admits Young got the better of him last year while recording 1 ½ sacks in their head-to-head matchup.
“It felt like seven (sacks),” Staley said. “He worked me last year. It was one of the worst games I played last year. He consistently beat me around the edge. I’m really looking forward to this game. I had a bad game against Clay Matthews in 2012 and was really looking forward to the opportunity to go against him again, and this is no different, regardless of our records.”
3) Tightening up the defense
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s game plan is obvious. The 49ers will tighten their splits on the defensive line, play a safety in the box and dare the Bears to try to beat them through the air with quarterback Matt Barkley, who will make his second career start.
The 49ers must concentrate their efforts on stopping rookie running back Jordan Howard, who has gained 766 yards with a gaudy 5.1-yard rushing average. The 49ers’ No. 32-ranked defense is coming off a strong showing against Miami’s Jay Ajayi, who managed just 45 yards on 18 carries. The 49ers can’t allow the Bears to beat them on the ground.
2) Hyde hopes to heat up
Running back Carlos Hyde should see a lot of action on Sunday, and that could help him remain warm in order to cope with the conditions at Soldier Field. Hyde leads the 49ers with 594 rushing yards. He has to finish the season strong in order to make a run at his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Hyde will face plenty of challenges to get going on Sunday.
“It’s freezing in Chicago, so we definitely got to get our minds right for that,” said Hyde, adding he never played in a cold-weather game while attending Ohio State. “I’m just thinking about the cold. I’ve never been to Chicago. I just know it’s real windy and if it’s cold, like they say it’s going to be cold, then . . . I can’t wait.”
1) Chip and Kap
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in his sixth NFL season, appears to be trending upward after three consecutive seasons of incremental decline. Coach Chip Kelly deserves credit for the design of an offense that is accentuating Kaepernick’s best qualities. Kaepernick appears to be developing every week, and this game is another opportunity for him to take a step forward.
If the 49ers’ offense continues to improve under Kelly and Kaepernick, it might be a good idea for both parties to try their best to keep the union together for the 2017 season. Kaepeernick’s San Jose house is on the market as part of an “investment decision,” he said. But his best offseason career move could be to remain with Kelly and build on the positive strides he has made this season.