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4 things to watch in Bears-49ers game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears will open the 2022 season Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to monitor in the game:

(1) How well will quarterback Justin Fields and the No. 1 offense perform?

The Bears have been pleased with the strides the second-year pro has made in learning the new offense. Fields has continued to demonstrate increased leadership, command of the huddle and grasp of the system. In the preseason finale in Cleveland, he displayed excellent footwork, timing and decision-making in completing 14 of 16 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns on five possessions.

"I just think he's ready to go," coach Matt Eberflus said Friday. "The coaches have done a great job of preparing him to be ready, and he's excited. 'Excited' means that you're ready, you're focused, you're prepared and you're ready to do it. That's where I think he is and that's where I know he is. He's done that on the practice field and we're all excited to watch our whole football team go out there."

Fields, of course, won't be out there alone. He'll depend on key contributors such as running back David Montgomery, receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet, among others, to help put points on the board. Last season the Bears ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game.

Fields played against the 49ers last year. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 175 yards with one touchdown, one interception and an 84.7 passer rating in a 33-22 loss. He also rushed for a career-high and team-leading 103 yards on 10 carries, including a highlight-reel 22-yard TD.

"They're a great defense," Fields said. "They kind of play off and soft and then swarm to the football when it's caught underneath. They do a good job with that."

(2) How will the Bears defense fare against 49ers quarterback Trey Lance?

Just like Fields, Lance is a promising young but inexperienced passer who was selected in the first round of last year's draft—third overall by San Francisco. Spending most of his rookie year backing up veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, Lance appeared in six games with two starts and threw for 603 yards with five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 97.3 passer rating.

"You have to project how they're going to use the young man and where they're going to use him in their offense," Eberflus said. "We certainly have an idea of what the offense looks like. But how they're going to use him, no one really knows. You're going to use your rules and have your calls and make sure you're sound, what you're doing."

The 49ers no doubt feel the same uncertainty about the Bears defense. Sunday will mark the debut of a new 4-3 scheme that's similar to the one that Eberflus coordinated the past four seasons with the Colts. Incorporating the "HITS" principle that Eberflus brought with him to Chicago, the Indianapolis defense focused on generating takeaways, swarming to the ball and playing with maximum effort.

The buy-in has come from the entire defense, which consists of several young, unproven players. "When you have those type of guys in the locker room and a good leader in 'Flus' and [coordinator] Alan [Williams] from the defensive side," said linebacker Roquan Smith, "it makes guys want to buy in like, 'OK, this is what it's going to take? OK, we're all for it. Let's go.'"

(3) Will the Bears offense be able to contain elite 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa?

San Francisco's defense is led by the talented fourth-year defensive end, a game-wrecker who set career highs last season with 15.5 sacks, 21 tackles-for-loss and four forced fumbles while starting all 17 games.

"Any time you play someone of the caliber as Mr. Bosa presents for you, you've got to have a plan," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "Regardless of who your right or left tackle are, you've got to make sure you've got a plan because he's someone that can change the game and you've got to do your best to make sure that you minimize that as much as you can."

While Bosa sometimes moves to other spots, he usually has lined up at the right end position, meaning that he'll match up against Bears rookie left tackle Braxton Jones, a fifth-round pick who has impressed coaches since the day he arrived.

"He's given us everything he's got every single day," Getsy said. "He's getting better every single day … He had a really good progression from way back in rookie minicamp all the way through the summer. And then when we got here in training camp, it's not real until you throw some pads on, and he responded, and then he got to practice against one of the best in the league (in Robert Quinn) every day and I think he's met every challenge that we threw at him."

(4) Will the Bears defense be able to slow down receiver Deebo Samuel?

The 49ers star is one of the NFL's most explosive players, something the Bears witnessed firsthand last year at Soldier Field when Samuel turned a screen pass into an 83-yard reception as part of a 171-yard performance. The 6-foot, 216-pounder is a receiver who's built like a running back and can play both positions equally well.

"Amazing player," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "He does it all and he can do it all. It'll be a tough challenge. He's good with the ball in his hands, whether he's catching a pass or they're handing it off to him. He's great getting on an edge and some people, maybe the casual fan, would go 'he's just a perimeter player,' but they run him up the middle also. He breaks tackles, so … it's going to be an extremely tough challenge for us."

As part of the "HITS" principle, Eberflus and Williams emphasize swarming to the ball. It's something the Bears defense will have to do Sunday against Samuel, who excels at gaining yards after contact.

"Very strong," Eberflus said. "Really good route runner. Multiple use guy. In the backfield, out of the backfield, lined up all over the place. He's dynamic. He deserves all the credit he gets. We're going to have our hands full with him."

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