The 49ers are in desperate need of a win, and one of the best ways to do this will be to embarrass Bears quarterback Justin Fields in Week 8.
Despite their issues with pass-interference calls, made so evident by being flagged for four of them in Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts, the San Francisco 49ers need to force Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields to go deep a lot when these two teams square off from Soldier Field in Week 8.
Few offenses have been as bad as that of Chicago’s this season, including the Niners, as the 3-4 Bears rank third worst in points scored (101) and dead last in total yards (1,788). Yet if a 2-4 San Francisco squad wants to break a four-game losing streak, it’ll have to ensure Fields’ recent misery continues.
This shouldn’t be too hard to do.
For starters, Bears No. 1 running back David Montgomery is already shelved on injured reserve with a knee injury, meaning backup Khalil Herbert is shouldering the load to a respectable 4.8 yards per carry.
Any young quarterback’s best friend is play action, and it’s obvious the 49ers will want to stop Chicago’s ground game here. Yet doing so also plays right into how the Niners defense can force Fields into making plenty of mistakes on Sunday.
49ers can force Justin Fields to throw deep, opening up opportunities for turnovers
Yes, it’s a weakness-versus-weakness matchup. San Francisco has generated just one interception this season. But Fields has already tossed six, tied for eighth most this season, while his interception percentage of 4.6 is second highest to only the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson (5.0).
Let’s take Fields’ three-interception Week 7 outing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a case study. As shown in the Next Gen Stats chart below, nearly all of the rookie’s attempts were within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, with only five attempts going beyond that point:
Interestingly enough, two of those deep passes were picked off.
It’s not hard to see Fields’ preference for short-area passing, and that’s likely the game plan head coach Matt Nagy will want to draw up for him anyway.
In this sense, cutting off the flats and allowing linebackers like Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair to get in the way of those intermediate routes would go a long way towards forcing Fields to rely more on his apparent weakness: going deep.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fields’ passer rating on passes of 20-plus yards is just 29.5.
49ers pass-rush pressure on Justin Fields will be the name of the game
The 49ers should cheat towards the line of scrimmage on Sunday. That’s not hard to figure out. And considering PFF ranks Chicago’s pass-blocking efforts only 16th in the league through seven weeks, it’s logical the Niners pass-rushers should have some moderate success getting to Fields during the game.
Taking away those short options will be vital to ensuring Fields has to hold onto the ball for longer than that magical 2.5 seconds when the pass rush threatens to get home.
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Back to PFF, Fields’ passer rating when facing pressure is a lowly 21.2, and three of those six interceptions have come here, and he’s only completing 38.2 percent of his passes when pressured anyway.
If there’s one matchup to watch, it’ll be EDGE Nick Bosa up against Bears left tackle Jason Peters, who despite his Hall of Fame resumé, has already surrendered three sacks this season.
If San Francisco wants to ensure Fields’ struggles continue, Bosa will have to win a lot of these one-on-one matchups.
The 49ers and Bears kick off on Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. ET.