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49ers Improved Run Defense to Be Tested against Chicago Bears

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tired of seeing the same results, the San Francisco 49ers "tweaked a couple of things" to improve their rush defense.

The numbers indicate the changes have worked.

In the past three games, the 49ers defense has kept opponents under the 100-yard mark on two occasions, including last week's 95 yards allowed to the Miami Dolphins.

"It's because everybody is working together," linebacker Gerald Hodges said after a Thursday practice at the University of Central Florida. "The coaches are a big part with what they've been emphasizing. The D-line, they're really making an emphasis on the run-stopping, and the linebackers and DBs are making an emphasis on tackling. When we were able to do that, we kind of got things turned around."

San Francisco has allowed 115.3 rushing yards per game in the past three contests. It's a stark contrast to the league-worst 171.8 yards allowed per game and eight opponents who have produced 100-yard rushing games against the 49ers in 2016.

"As the season has gone on, like we always talk about, we've tried to put guys in position to make more plays and do what we think that they do the best," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said this week as the team prepares to face the Chicago Bears on the road in Week 13.

Chicago's rushing attack ranks 21st in the NFL, averaging 98.5 yards per game on the ground. Led by rookie Jordan Howard (149 carries, 766 rushing yards and two touchdowns), the Bears (2-9) have experienced an injury-plagued season much like the 49ers (1-10).

Howard has been a bright spot.

Stopping the rookie will be a team effort, according to Hodges. The fourth-year pro ranks fourth on the team with 53 tackles and leads the 49ers with two interceptions.

"Howard runs the ball pretty hard, but we've got tough guys over here," the linebacker said. "If we attack the way we've been attacking, I feel as though we can neutralize him."

San Francisco's other notable changes to the rush defense include changing the alignment of its defensive linemen, adding a safety closer to the line of scrimmage and incorporating different personnel.

Enter defensive lineman Chris Jones.

In his first game with the 49ers, the midseason waive-wire acquisition started on the defensive line for injured veteran Quinton Dial. Jones recorded two tackles in his 27 defensive snaps.

"To get a player of that caliber when we lost (defensive lineman Arik) Armstead," Kelly began, "It was kind of a surprise to us, but we were really pleasantly surprised with what he had done, and he's earned playing time."

Dial has been limited in a non-contact uniform this week in Florida with knee and neck injuries.

It could be a challenge for Dial to be active considering Sunday's game in Chicago could be a mix of rain and snow. Weather forecasts show a high of 38 degrees, a low of 33 degrees and an 80-percent chance of precipitation.

Bad weather -- along with Chicago relying on an inexperienced starting quarterback in Matt Barkley -- likely means more rushing attempts from the Bears. Hodges and Co. are preparing for a heavy workload on Sunday.

"I love the snow. I love the cold," Hodges said. "But when you start mixing rain and cold, that's when it's tough. But we're all men. We'll go out there and play. We know what we signed up to do, and we'll go out there ready to play whether it's rain, sleet or snow."

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