The San Francisco 49ers 2014 regular season began under a cloud of negativity. Various off field problems weighed heavily on the organizations shoulders. Injuries had claimed various key players. The new look offense had sputtered in the preseason and critics and fans seemed to worry about this as if exhibition games weren’t completely meaningless. Luckily for the 49ers, their initial contest happened to come against an old foe who was now a mere shell of its former self. In Dallas, the 49ers would get an up close look at genuine dysfunction. About the time Tony Romo was completing another pass to a wide open San Francisco defender, the 49ers next opponent, the Chicago Bears, were 800 miles north dropping their season opener at home to a lightly regarded Buffalo Bills team. Suddenly, the 49ers situation didn’t seem so dire.
As was widely predicted the Cowboys were exactly what the 49ers needed to jump start their 2014 campaign. This was truly a soft opening. A 5th exhibition game. The 49ers looked impressive in easily dispatching the Cowboys, particularly on offense during the first half, cutting through the Dallas D like a hot knife through untalented butter. It was 21-3 11 minutes into the game and eventually 28-3 at the half, rendering the second half as trivial as the mid August games that were supposed to be a red flag.
On the defensive side of the ball most of the concerns that were raised by the absence of star linebackers Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman were swept under the rug by a few horribly timed Tony Romo interceptions. Outside of those very poor choices by Romo, the Cowboys were able to move the ball on the 49ers. Dallas registered 382 total yards. DeMarco Murray averaged 5.4 yards a carry. These are areas the Niners defense is going to need to improve on ahead of Sunday night’s Levi’s Stadium debut.
The Bears, while clearly better than Dallas, share a lot of similarities with the Cowboys. Chicago has a very talented running back in Matt Forte. They have a quarterback in Jay Cutler who is capable of putting up massive passing numbers but is also prone to disastrous mistakes. The one position group that Dallas has a clear advantage over Chicago in is the offensive line. Dallas has invested top draft picks in their O-line over the last few years and the Cowboys are considered to have one of the best lines in the NFL. The Cowboys offensive line was largely able to neutralize the 49ers front seven. The Niners were unable to sustain a consistent pass rush and were pushed around all afternoon in the running game. The battle in the trenches should be less of a challenge this week as the Bears line is not as talented nor nearly as healthy as the Cowboys’. LG Matt Slauson and C Roberto Garza were both injured in last weeks game and will be absent Sunday night. OLB Corey Lemonier had to deal with Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, one of the better LT’s in the NFL. He is also the most athletic LT in the game and the perfect foil for the youngster Lemonier’s mostly one dimensional speed rush moves. Lemonier should be able to bounce back in week 2. In other injury news, both of the Bears wide outs, Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, barely practiced this week, are listed as questionable and will be game time decisions. For the 49ers, even in the worst case scenario that both receiver’s end up playing, they won’t nearly be 100%. Not facing the NFL’s best wide out combo at full strength is a large break.
The 49ers offense should be able to build off of last week’s stellar performance against a below average Bears defense. The Bears have been a defensive-centric organization for basically their entire existence, but things have changed. The Bears have allowed 20 or more points in the last 18 games. This includes games versus the Rams, Browns and the Vikings twice, among other offensively challenged squads. Last week Anthony Dixon (Anthony Dixon!!!) ran for 60 yards on 5 carries. I really have no idea how that’s even possible. Most of these yards came out of the read option, which the Bears struggle mightily with. The 49ers probably won’t be pulling out the read option too many times, as exposing Colin Kaepernick to unnecessary hits in week two isn’t the smartest strategy. Still, it’s a solid plan b to fall back on and something to sprinkle in for Greg Roman. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, the Bears run defense ranks last in every major rushing category. This plays right into the hands of Jim Harbaugh’s core offensive philosophies and could ensure a huge evening for Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.
When the 2014 schedule was released, the beginning of the season looked especially tough. Having dispatched with Dallas, the 49ers now set their sights on Chicago. This is perfect timing to play the banged up Bears. NFL teams aren’t usually this decimated by injury this early in the year. The Bears will most definitely present a challenge, but overcoming injuries to several offensive starters will be a difficult to overcome. The 49ers will christen a brand new stadium for the first time in their franchise history on Sunday night. After a tumultuous few months, it’s definitely arrow up.