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Chicago Bears leery of 49ers despite 4-10 record

December 23, 2018

To hear Bears coaches discuss their opponent this week, no one would guess the 49ers are just 4-10, their second straight double-digit loss season under coach Kyle Shanahan.

That’s because, despite losing No. 1 RB Jerick McKinnon in the preseason, franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo three games into the season, parting ways with miscreant MLB Reuben Foster and enduring multiple injuries in the secondary, the 49ers have undeniable talent in all three phases.

“They have really good coaches and it starts with coach Shanahan,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “I have a lot of respect for him, the way he does things. He does some really good things on offense; he’s always been that way. They’ve been riddled with injuries, starting with their quarterback … and they’ve persevered. You see that the last two games now with them, most recently playing Seattle, a big-time playoff team that had a lot of great momentum. They battled with them and won the game (26-23 in overtime), and I think that just speaks volumes of who they are as a team. They’re fighters and they’re very resilient.”

The 49ers have a modest two-game win streak, and both games were at home, where they’re 4-3 this year. Matt Breida stepped in for McKinnon and has averaged 5.3 yards per carry, former No. 3 QB Nick Mullens is fourth in the NFL in yards per pass and throws for an average of 277 yards per game.

George Kittle is second among tight ends to Travis Kelce with 1,154 receiving yards with a 16.0-yard average per catch, and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl this year. Rookie WR Dante Pettis, who’s averaged 18.6 yards on 24 catches, has come on strong lately with four TD catches in the past four games. The presence of FB Kyle Juszczyk, who made his third straight Pro Bowl, gives the 49ers a different look than most defenses are accustomed to seeing.

“They have a good variety of running game,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Any time you have two backs and the fullback can go anywhere to be a blocker, that does create variety in the running game. And they do a good job of that. They’ll mix it up. They’ll run the same plays every week, but they’re running it out of different two-back looks, different actions, different motions.

“Having the fullback and being committed to it and doing the good job they do with their play-action game off of it, gives them very good variety and it tests your eye discipline on defense and your assignment and technique.”

On the other side of the ball, 6-foot-7, 300-pound DT DeForest Buckner has a legitimate claim of snub after being left off the Pro Bowl roster despite 11 sacks, third among all NFL interior linemen. When Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was the head coach at Oregon, he witnessed Buckner’s dominance firsthand and has been impressed with his continued development.

“He’s been the biggest guy on the block his whole life, and so he’s developed all the counters,” Helfrich said. “He can play high and still be right — he doesn’t do it very often, but he can, and use kind of the judo move against you and use your weight. If you’re off balance at all he’s going to win. Jerry Azzinaro, who coached him in college, is a tremendous football coach. Obviously he’s been coached very well now as well, and so he has a lot of great individual moves but counters to how he’s attacked and double-teamed.”

The 49ers discovered a treasure in PK Robbie Gould after he was discarded just before the 2016 season by the Bears following 11 record-setting years in Chicago. Gould has converted 88 of 91 FG attempts (96.3 percent) since then, including 78 of 81 (95.8 percent) with the 49ers. He went 5-for-5 against the Bears last December at Soldier Field in the 49ers’ 15-14 victory.

“Well, obviously this is a tough place to kick, and he did a great job here for a long time,” said Tabor, who spent three years (2008-10) with the Bears as former special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s assistant. “He’s having another great year, he’s only missed one (of 30) this season. We know what we’re going up against. Robbie is obviously going to be considered one of the greats of all time. I’m really proud of him.”

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