The NFL is a pass-first league now, but when the Bears defense lines up against the host 49ers Sunday night, all the numbers point to one thing:
The Niners should be able pound the ball on the ground and run through the Chicago defense. The regular-season debut of Levi’s Stadium could feature an old-fashioned 49ers running attack.
In their loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the Bears gave up 176 yards and a touchdown on 28 designed runs, a whopping 6.3 yards per carry.
And though the Bears once were the defensive titans of the NFL, those days are long gone. Last season, the Bears ranked last in the NFL in rushing defense for the first time in their long history, and they’ll be trying to stop a San Francisco offense that ran the ball 52.2 percent of the time in 2013, which was No. 1 in the league.
Though 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw the ball well in a Week 1 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday night’s outcome might depend on how well Chicago can defend the run, not Kaepernick’s wide receivers.
“A lot of people don’t think we can stop the run,” Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs told the Chicago Tribune this week. But he said after watching tape of the loss to the Bills, “We were a couple of plays away from playing the type of defense we really want to play.”
The Bears were vulnerable in Week 1 to the read option, a scheme the Niners have used effectively since Kaepernick became the starting QB. The Bills gave up two long runs on the read option in the opener, including a 47-yarder, and Chicago safety Ryan Mundy told the Tribune that it’s critical that all 11 defenders are in sync against the option. Otherwise, very bad things happen.
“If one guy is out of place, there’s potential for a big play against us,” he said.
The 49ers ran the ball effectively in the victory over Dallas, with veteran Frank Gore getting 66 yards on 16 carries and rookie Carlos Hyde rushing for 50 yards and a TD on seven carries.
Gore is the starter, but head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman showed in the season opener that they’re comfortable with Hyde running the ball in key situations. On Sunday night against the Bears, expect the 49ers to again rotate the duo. Harbaugh told reporters Wednesday that coaches haven’t discussed which will be used in specific situations against Chicago.
“I think that’s part of game planning and that’s part of a plan and that’s also fluid in the game,” he said. “I think you can understand why we wouldn’t go into great detail there.”
No matter who carries the ball Sunday, the running backs likely will get the benefit of Alex Boone back in the lineup at right guard. Though Joe Looney played well in the opener vs. Dallas, Boone now is in his second week of practice after a long holdout and says he’s ready and eager to get back in the lineup to start opening holes. Right tackle Anthony Davis still seems unlikely to play at this point, but Boone could be a big boost to the line in Game 2.
Judging by stats and past performances, however, the Bears run defense may be in trouble no matter who plays right guard or carries the football.