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4 things to watch: Bears-Niners

Posted Dec 2, 2017

Senior writer Larry Mayer identifies four storylines to watch Sunday when the Bears host the 49ers, including how Mitchell Trubisky and the offense will respond after struggling last week in Philadelphia.

The Bears will look to snap a four-game losing streak Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the contest:

(1) How will rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears offense respond after struggling in last Sunday's loss to the Eagles?

Mitchell Trubisky
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky rolls out of the pocket against Detroit.

The rookie first-round draft pick posted a season-low 38.3 passer rating while quarterbacking an offense that failed to pick up a first down in the first half and never advanced into the red zone in a 31-3 blowout loss to the NFL's best team. Trubisky and the rest of the offense will look to rebound Sunday against a 49ers squad that has the NFL's second-worst record at 1-10.

"They've got a good defense," Trubisky said. "We have to come ready to play. We're really just focused on us this week. We just have to go back to what we do. We have to run the ball, we have to control the line of scrimmage, we have to be better on third down, we have to put points on the board early and we just have to be more efficient. We can't have any negative plays, we can't have penalties that move ourselves back, and we just have to come out on all cylinders and play with confidence."

(2) How will the Bears defense fare against new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?

The Arlington Heights native returns home to make his first start for San Francisco about a month after being acquired in a trade with the Patriots in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Garoppolo replaced an injured C.J. Beathard late in the 49ers' 24-13 loss to the Seahawks last Sunday and completed 2 of 2 passes for 19 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to Louis Murphy on the game's final play.

"He's a good quarterback," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "He's got a really good release. He's got good pocket presence. He carries himself well, makes good decisions, can make the throws. They gave up a high pick for him. A lot of people were rumored to be wanting him last year in the offseason and you can see why."

As Tom Brady's backup in New England, Garoppolo spent three-and-a-half seasons learning from one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. He appeared in six games with two starts last season, completing 43 of 63 passes for 502 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 113.3 passer rating. Garoppolo has thrown 65 passes in the NFL without being picked off.

(3) Will the Bears running game bounce back after a historically poor outing last week?

The rushing attack, which remains the bread-and-butter of the Bears offense, got manhandled by the NFL's No. 1-ranked run defense last Sunday in Philadelphia, mustering just six yards on 14 carries. The Bears had minus-five yards on the ground until Trubisky scrambled for 11 yards late in the game. Jordan Howard was held to six yards on seven attempts.

"The way this offense is built and the way this team is built, we're not going to win running the football the way we did last week," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

The Bears will need a much better performance on the ground Sunday to snap their four-game losing streak. They'll face a 49ers run defense that ranks 30th in the NFL, allowing an average of 129.5 yards per game. The Bears hope to revert to the form they displayed two weeks ago against the Lions at Soldier Field when Howard rushed for 125 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries and rookie Tarik Cohen added 44 yards and one TD on nine attempts.

(4) How will a rash of injuries at safety affect the Bears on Sunday?

There's no truth to the rumor that the Bears were thinking about reuniting former greats Gary Fencik and Doug Plank in their secondary this week. The only healthy safety on the roster who played in last week's loss to the Eagles is safety Eddie Jackson. The rookie fourth-round pick will start Sunday against the 49ers, but that's about the only certainty at the position.

The Bears have been decimated by injuries at safety. Adrian Amos, who has started the last eight games, is listed as doubtful on the injury report with a hamstring injury he suffered in Philadelphia. Backups Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson are both questionable with ankle injuries that prevented them from practicing Friday. As a result, the Bears activated Deiondre' Hall off injured reserve Saturday and may also rely on veteran Chris Prosinski, who rejoined the team this week but has yet to play in an NFL game this season.