At the beginning of the year, it was apparent the San Francisco 49ers would not necessarily be trying to win games. Instead, they were hoping to lay the foundation for a future winning team. However, almost all of the teams the 49ers have faced in 2017 are teams doing their best to win now. In week 13, the 49ers will get a much needed game against a team with a similarly trajectory. Both the 49ers and the Chicago Bears appear to be shaping their roster for future years around a young quarterback. A win against the Bears would show the 49ers are capable of beating teams on similar paths. There are three keys to victory for the 49ers.
Week 13 San Francisco 49ers Keys to Victory
Stop the Running Game
The strength of the Bears is their dynamic duo at running back. Jordan Howard had an incredible rookie season, rushing for over 1,300 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He is having another fantastic season as a sophomore. His backup, Tarik Cohen, is having a successful rookie season as well. Cohen has provided the Bears with an electric home run hitter to complement Howard.
If the 49ers are to beat the Bears, they must contain these running backs. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they do not have a great run defense. They currently rank 22nd in terms of rushing defense DVOA. Robert Saleh will have to curate a brilliant game plan in order to make the most of his below average run defense.
The recent returns of Solomon Thomas and Tank Carradine from injury give the 49ers much needed depth and talent along the defensive line and running gaps. Reuben Foster, playing will linebacker, will most likely be tasked with picking the running backs up out of the backfield. Since Foster has returned from his injury, he has played well, and was the highest graded player in the 49ers lone win. The 49ers will need a similar performance from Foster if they want their second win.
Ride Their Quarterback
2017 has been a harsh reality for Kyle Shanahan. This time last year, he was the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, and calling plays for the eventual MVP, quarterback Matt Ryan. This year, he has been calling plays for journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard. Hoyer did not play well, and was eventually replaced and jettisoned. Beathard has played with passion and heart, but not well, and is the 26th best graded quarterback in the NFL.
Luckily for the 49ers, they will be starting who they hope to be their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. After a crazy mid-season trade, it took roughly a month for Shanahan to feel comfortable giving the reigns to Garoppolo. Garoppolo saw some action against the Seattle Seahawks, throwing his first touchdown as a 49er. He will look to continue that trend in his first start with the 49ers.
Garoppolo possess quick decision making and a fast release. In his touchdown throw against the Seahawks, he quickly scanned two reads before scrambling out to his left. His throw to Louis Murphy was quickly and accurately past a linebacker and in the face of a safety. While it was one play in garbage time, this type of playmaking has been sorely lacked all year. If Garoppolo can make similar plays against the Bears, the 49ers will emerge victorious.
Force Rookie Mistakes
As much optimism that surrounds Jimmy Garoppolo, optimism also surrounds Mitchell Trubisky. There is a reason the Bears traded up to select him number two overall; they believe he could be their franchise quarterback. While Garoppolo had years to learn under Tom Brady, Trubisky has been thrust into action as a rookie. The 49ers need to make him look like a rookie in order to win.
The last Bears win saw Trubisky only attempt seven passes. While his attempts have gone up, this is a sign that he is still learning and cannot be relied upon. Again, Saleh will have to come up with a clever game plan to disguise coverages and try to trick Trubisky. Trubisky also takes a long time to throw the ball (2.86 seconds), leaving opportunities for the 49ers pass rush to find their mark.
A key element to tricking Trubisky will be the 49ers cornerbacks. There is not much depth on the roster at cornerback. However, they seem to have found two building blocks at the position. Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams were two of the highest graded players against the Seahawks. More inspired play by the young cornerbacks could result in a momentum shifting interception. If the 49ers can make force Trubisky to make some mistakes, the 49ers will be well on their way to their second win of the season.