LAKE FOREST – The NFL season is here.
The Bears and the 49ers will open the season Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. This will be the first game for new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and the first game under new general manager Ryan Poles. It also will be the first look at the pairing between offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterback Justin Fields.
The game kicks off at noon Sunday on Fox. Here are five things to watch in the Week 1 matchup.
1. Trey Lance vs. Justin Fields
The 49ers are handing the reins over to second-year quarterback Trey Lance. After sitting on the bench for much of last season, Lance moved into the starting role. The 49ers couldn’t find a trade partner for Jimmy Garoppolo, so he will serve as the backup.
Ahead of the 2021 draft, the 49ers traded three first-round draft picks for the right to move up to No. 3 overall and select Lance. In doing so, they passed on Fields, whom the Bears took 11th overall. This will be Fields’ first matchup against any of the four quarterbacks who were selected in the first round of 2021.
To Fields, the 2021 draft is ancient history.
“I don’t think anything personal,” Fields said of the draft. “And I’m glad to be here, so I’m glad that they passed on me. Just ready to play this weekend.”
2. The Bears’ new offense
Getsy’s offense is one of the greatest curiosities surrounding the Bears. What exactly is this attack going to look like? Fans caught a glimpse of it in the final preseason game against Cleveland, when Fields threw three touchdown passes and looked unstoppable.
Getsy said this week that he’s more concerned with how the offense looks and feels than with how many points they put up. What does running back David Montgomery look like in the new run-blocking scheme? How will Getsy utilize Fields’ running abilities? Just how good is the connection between Fields and Darnell Mooney?
Sunday will begin to answer some of those questions, albeit against a tough 49ers defense.
3. Braxton Jones vs. Nick Bosa
Bears rookie fifth-round draft pick Braxton Jones is expected to start at left tackle. He will have a tall task ahead of him facing 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa.
Fields tempered expectations for that matchup. No tackle wins 100% of his matchups throughout a game. A rookie from FCS Southern Utah could have his hands full with a two-time Pro Bowler in Bosa.
“I hope none of you all expect him to win every rep vs. Nick Bosa in a game,” Fields said. “So it’s like, I mean he knows [he’s] not going to win every rep. At the end of the day, you just got to move on and focus on the next play. So we’re gonna try to help him out as much as possible.”
The Bears likely will keep tight end help near Bosa as much as possible.
4. Bears rookie defensive backs
Top draft picks Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker will make their NFL debuts at cornerback and safety, respectively. They are two key additions to Eberflus’ defense. The Bears hope Gordon is a lock-down cornerback who can play both outside and in the slot. They hope Brisker can provide a varied skill set at safety, both in the box and in coverage.
The 49ers certainly will try to target the rookie defensive backs. Anytime a rookie is in the starting lineup at those positions, offenses want to test them. With receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers almost certainly will.
5. ‘Flus’ in charge
This will be Eberflus’ first game as head coach. He has taken on the role of being the team’s CEO, of sorts. Big-picture decisions will be on his shoulders, but the minutiae of play-calling will fall on his coordinators. What will that look like, and particularly, what will it look like when adversity strikes? The coaching staff had some practice during the preseason, but now the games matter.
On the field, how will the players embrace Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle? Eberflus wants an emphasis on takeaways, and his Colts defense always were good in that area. Can his Bears defense replicate it? It’s one thing to talk about hustle, intensity, takeaways and smarts, but it’s another to embody them on the football field.