The number 1 key to Chicago Bears beating San Francisco 49ers might surprise youRyan Heckmanon September 8, 2022 at 11:00 am

When the Chicago Bears open their season on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, all eyes will be on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Trey Lance.

Many people will be watching to see if the Bears can muster enough points with the below-average supporting cast surrounding Fields. Meanwhile, the 49ers boast one of the best defenses in football and are coming off an NFC Championship appearance last year.

The big difference between that team and this year’s 49ers team, though, is under center of course. Handing the reigns to Lance could mean a totally different feel for the 49ers, and could come with some growing pains.

In the small sample size we’ve seen from Lance, one of his tendencies is to hold the ball for too long. Last season, his time to throw was roughly 3.5 seconds. Now, to be fair, this is also one of Justin Fields’ top criticisms from a year ago, so this very first game of the season should be telling.

However, for the sake of argument, Lance also has far less starting experience than Fields. This is still going to be considered more of a rookie year for Lance than it will be for Fields. With only two starts under his belt, Lance is making his third career start as a pro on Sunday.

With that said, it doesn’t take a lot of digging around to find what 49ers fans and media are most concerned about going into this season: the interior offensive line. Just do a simple search and you’ll find that this is the major worry amongst 49ers faithful.

The Chicago Bears’ number one key to beating the San Francisco 49ers lies within their defensive front.

San Francisco has two incredible tackles in Mike McGlinchey and Trent Williams. Anyone who knows football understands that these two are rock solid, with Williams being the best tackle in the game. So, Robert Quinn, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Trevis Gipson will be in for a tall task in rushing the passer against those two.

But, taking a look at the inside, that’s where the Bears can take advantage.

The 49ers will have one of two veterans at center in either Jake Brendel or Daniel Brunskill. Brendel has only three career starts, while Brunskill finished last year giving up five sacks with a PFF grade of 61.4.

At guard, the 49ers will be starting second-year pro Aaron Banks and a rookie fourth-round pick in Spencer Burford. Neither one of them are solidified pros, and Banks played just five snaps a year ago.

On the flip side, the Bears’ interior defensive line should be a strength of this team.

For example, new starting defensive lineman Justin Jones finished last season with 10 quarterback pressures in 11 games. Angelo Blackson ended the year with 14 quarterback pressures with just eight starts in 2021.

Newly-signed defensive tackle Armon Watts enjoyed a huge 2021 season, and finished with 21 quarterback pressures and 5.0 sacks with just nine starts in Minnesota.

By contrast, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vita Vea had 15 quarterback pressures, starting in 16 games last season, just to put things in perspective.

Last season, even though the Bears weren’t a very competitive team, they finished fourth in sacks with 49 — and that includes just 6.0 from the injured Khalil Mack.

Under Matt Eberflus, the Bears want to establish a clear defensive identity that includes taking the football away and getting after the quarterback. In order to beat San Francisco, they’ll have to use their advantage on the interior in getting after Lance and also keeping the run game at bay.

We could talk all day about Kyle Shanahan’s ability to establish the run, no matter who’s taking the hand-offs. But, if the Bears are going to win on Sunday, it’s going to come down to the interior big men. That battle will decide the game. If Chicago can win on the interior and force Lance to be uncomfortable all afternoon, then they very well could come out with a surprising win.

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