On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will face off against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Kickoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. on the west coast, meaning we are so close to having football back in our lives, and DraftKings Sportsbook has the Niners as 7-point favorites.
To help us prepare for the dawning of a new season and the first matchup on the 49ers' slate, we reached out to Windy City Gridiron to give fans an early scouting report on the Chicago Bears. Big thanks to Patti Curl for the informative responses!
You can check out my answers to Patti's questions right here.
1.) Going into his second season as the Bears' starting QB, there's been a big shakeup in the organization for Justin Fields, which includes a new coaching staff/front office, the departure of Allen Robinson, and four new faces along the offensive line. Do you think Fields has been put into a better position to grow and succeed this year, or is it just more of the same?
People will tell you continuity is good for a young quarterback, and it's bad to have three different offenses in three different years. That's fine conventional wisdom, but there are exceptions to every rule. When something's not working as bad as the Bears' offense was not working last year, any change is good, and I'm optimistic the specific changes in this instance go beyond addition by subtraction.
Luke Getsy is bringing some things that should be well suited to Fields from Green Bay, but he's also bringing the perspective that an offense should be built with the player's strengths in mind and adapt based on what's working and what isn't. Nagy seemed to want to remake the 2017 Chiefs despite wildly different players and the fact that the Chiefs have already evolved since that glorious moment in Nagy's own career.
The O line will likely start worse than last year: Jason Peters played well from them, and James Daniels was probably better than current new-to-guard starter Tevin Jenkins. But it's young and in a good position to develop throughout the year and into the future. The receiving corps is a work in progress, but Mooney was the functional WR1 last year, Velus Jones Jr. brings some exciting playmaking potential, and Pringle, Harry, (former 49er) Pettis, and St. Brown are all retreads with adequate floors and potential to show more with a new opportunity. That transition may be rough but should ultimately be for the best.
Overall, it will probably be a rocky transition that I'm confident will be more than worth it in the end.
2.) It was a bumpy season for Roquan Smith, undoubtedly the defense's best player, that culminated with a trade request. He's now decided to play out his rookie contract and let the chips fall where they may. What are the odds that Smith plays for the Bears in 2023?
That's a tough one. The Bears and Smith are clearly not on the same page vis a vis his value. I can see a scenario where he takes a leap forward playing Leonard's role in Matt Eberflus' defense, and the Bears feel comfortable paying him the top LB contract, and everyone is happy. But even if he plays like a top LB, there's no guarantee the Bears in a semi-rebuild will be willing to prioritize paying that position.
I also think the likelihood he plays on the tag is low—more likely a tag and trade—unless the Bears really believe they are pushing for a title in 2023, it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend the capital and lose the potential trade value for a year of great linebacker play in a strive-for-wildcard type season. I'll say 2:1 odds he's on a different team.
3.) Darnell Mooney has been slotted to fill the number one receiver role in Robinson's absence. While not possessing prototypical size (173 lbs, 5'11"), he quietly managed to compile 81 receptions, 1,055 yards, and 4 touchdowns. What should Niners fans look out for when they see Mooney on the field?
They should look to see their shiny new cornerback get roasted by one of the most underrated route runners in the league. Seriously, Mooney is a solid all-around receiver and good route runner who has developed some nice chemistry with Justin Fields. I think he'll have a good season that improves on last year's numbers, but he won't keep the Bears from eyeing the first-round receivers in next year's draft.
4.) What's the best, most realistic outcome for Matt Eberflus' first season as the Bears' head coach? What do you need to see from him to give you hope for the future and bury the memory of Matt Nagy forever?
The best, most realistic outcome is to finish the season around .500 with a top 14 defense by football outsiders' metrics. The offense will show growth over the course of the year, and Justin Fields will prove he can elevate the players around him. It will be clear the team plays hard while having significantly fewer penalties than last season. At least one Bear will have him as a groomsman at his wedding, and there will be an end-of-season karaoke party where he brings down the house with a rousing rendition of Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69."
5.) Do fans of the Chicago Bears have nightmares about Deebo Samuel's 83-yard tunnel screen scamper on 3rd and 20 that completely swung the game and season's momentum in the 49ers' favor? Or are those just reserved for Aaron Rodgers and his disputed ownership of the team?
Deebo's scamper falls into the category of momentarily annoying on the Bears fan torture scale. I'd honestly forgotten about it until you brought it up. Aaron Rodgers is a recurrent daymare for Bears fans, but he probably haunts Packers fans more at this point as they become increasingly anxious about how he will next embarrass them in the news or when he will eventually leave their team to a future of Jordan Love and perpetual mediocrity that slowly leads to an appropriate level of irrelevance for a cheese-drenched flyover team.
Bears fan nightmares generally revolve around Jim McMahon injuries, double doinks, and prior coaches and or quarterbacks returning to the team to repeat the greatest hits of humiliating blunders.