Here’s the short version:
The Bears probably will beat the 49ers this Sunday.
Chicago’s defense is too good. The final score should be 23-16. End of analysis.
Here’s the long version:
Nick Mullens gives the 49ers a legitimate chance. He’s on fire. Leads the league in passing yards since Week 13. His teammates feel confident in him because he exudes nothing but confidence in himself. He gives the 49ers hope. And hope makes them play hard, even though they’re 4-10.
The 49ers absolutely can beat the Bears if they follow my five instructions offered in a well-meaning spirit, as they did last week and won.
Here’s what the 49ers have to do to:
1. Protect Mullens better.
Mullens’ skeptics say he’s a product of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, which supposedly makes life so easy for quarterbacks. To which I say, how well did C.J. Beathard do with Shanahan’s offense?
The Mullens skeptics also overlook just how much punishment Mullens has endured while still making throws and averaging 292.3 passing yards per game.
According to the NFL’s official stats, Mullens has taken 43 hits the past four games. That’s a ton of hits. Last week, the Seahawks landed multiple full-frontal bullseye body shots on Mullens and he got up every time.
Mullens won’t make it through Sunday if he takes those shots from the Bears. That team is violent, and Mullens is small.
The Bears defense has 45 sacks this season. Their Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Akiem Hicks, will face 49ers left guard Laken Tomlinson, who has allowed three sacks the past two games.
And there’s Khalil Mack, the All-Pro defensive end the Raiders so graciously gifted the Bears before the season. He will face 49ers rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
McGlinchey doesn’t bend well — he’s 6’8”. He’s vulnerable against edge rushers who dip low, drop their inside shoulder and skate around the corner like Olympic speed skaters. Consider Mack a speed skater deluxe.
McGlinchey and the rest of the offensive linemen will have to play out of their minds all game. If the Bears sack Mullens three times in the first quarter, game over.
2. Mullens must play faster than he ever has.
Two weeks ago, the Bears defense faced Jared Goff, and made him look like some guy who wandered on the field from the stands.
He seemed terrified in the pocket. Threw wild passes before his receivers even turned their heads. Tossed four interceptions and posted a microscopic quarterback rating of 19.1. And Goff is a very good quarterback.
Last week, the Bears faced all-time-great quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t do much better than Goff. Rodgers spent most of the game fleeing pressure and throwing the ball out of bounds. His quarterback rating was 68.9.
Now, it’s Mullens’ turn to face the Bears.
They will force him to throw quicker than he ever has on a consistent basis. Won’t let him sit back, survey the coverage and eat a Subway sandwich while the patterns develop.
Mullens needs to speed up the internal clock that tells him when to pass.
And Kyle Shanahan needs to help him. Needs to call quicker passes. No seven-step-drop play action while Dante Pettis runs an 18-yard in route over the middle. That kind of play takes too long. It invites the Bears to thrash Mullens and win the game.