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Four Downs: Keys to a 49ers Victory vs. Bears in Week 1

It's Week 1 of the regular season and the San Francisco 49ers can finally show off how they've improved since the close of the team's 2021 campaign. This Sunday, the 49ers are playing the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field for the season opener.

"It's always unknown how they're going to match it up with their players," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It's a new season, you really never know until Week 1 and you see how it evolves throughout the year."

The Bears look much different from when the 49ers played them 11 months ago. Chicago now has former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus as their head coach and brought in new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. Not only has their coaching staff seen new faces, their roster has also. Only 20 players have remained in Chicago from the 2021 season, allowing space for 33 new players to make up their 53-man roster.

No matter who San Francisco is matching up against, 49ers players are pumped up to finally play games that count and line up against anyone who isn't their teammate after a long and extensive training camp.

"I'm a big fan of getting into a game plan just because things become more specified, more detailed and I've had enough of running into Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "Now I get to run into some guys with a different jersey."

For this week's Four Downs, 49ers Team Reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish Insider Jesús Zárate have joined me to break down several storylines ahead of the team's season opener against the Bears.

1st Down: What's Been the 49ers Biggest Strength Heading into Week 1?

@LindseyLares: Offensive Weapons

The 49ers have no shortage of veteran offensive weapons, and that's something the team can feel really good about heading into Week 1. Deebo Samuel Sr., Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk and Elijah Mitchell—there are few teams that have so many playmakers on one side of the ball. This is an amazing situation for a first-time starting quarterback to walk into, and with that supporting cast, Trey Lance doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting on offense.

@JesusZarate87: Defense Forcing Turnovers

Throughout camp and preseason, the 49ers defense was able to constantly register interceptions. During the three preseason games the team played, they intercepted their opponents a total of six times. Clearly, that has been a big strength so far on defense. Obviously, the regular season is more challenging, but the 49ers defense has the talent to continue with the interceptions and to provoke turnovers in general.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Defensive Line

Bears quarterback Justin Fields' blind side will be protected by rookie left tackle Braxton Jones. The first-year lineman will be put to the test lining up against NextGen Stats' top-10 edge rusher Nick Bosa, who notched 15.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss (most in the NFL) and four forced fumbles in 2021. The depth of the defensive line will put their power on display against an offensive line that gave up more sacks than any other team in 2021.

2nd Down: What's the Team's Biggest Area of Concern Heading into Sunday's Contest?

@LindseyLares: Safety Position

The team's biggest area of concern may be at the safety position. With Jimmie Ward starting the season on IR, it's not totally clear which safety will be starting alongside Talanoa Hufanga. The 49ers have options with George Odum and Tarvarius Moore, but because head coach Kyle Shanahan didn't share details about intended starters, it does raise some questions about how the situation will play out.

@JesusZarate87: Offensive Line

The team's biggest area of concern could be the offensive line but the reason I say this is mostly because there are things we don't know yet. For example, we have seen guys like Spencer Burford and Aaron Banks do a good job during training camp and preseason but the bigger test is the regular season. They get the opportunity to show what they can do now that wins and losses matter. It's a young offensive line, and there will always be questions when you have players that still need to prove themselves and we don't know how they will perform in high pressure situations like the ones the regular season will bring, but at the same time those players have shown that they have the talent to take on whatever challenge they could face starting this Sunday.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Receptions

There is an 80 percent chance of rain in Chicago on Sunday for the 49ers season opener. The combination of wet conditions and second-round picks CB Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker could challenge Lance's connection with his receivers and may result in most yardage being picked up in the run game.

3rd Down: Underrated Stat That Will Be Key to 49ers Success?

@LindseyLares: Converting on Third Down

I don't know that it's underrated, but a stat that is key to the 49ers success is the team's third down conversion percentage. In the preseason finale, the 49ers went 6-of-15 in third down conversions, so it's not much of a surprise that the offense had a tough time sustaining drives. Of course there were other factors involved like minimal game planning and limited starters playing, but this stat is key to success on the offensive side of the ball.

@JesusZarate87: Penalties

A stat that is important to pay close attention to could be the number of penalties. I think that's an underrated stat because a lot of times we focus mostly on receptions, sacks and other numbers that obviously are extremely important but penalties can also make the difference between a win and a loss. In the preseason, San Francisco registered a total of 27 penalties that cost them 213 yards. It's good that it happened in the preseason because the team gets the chance to clean that up and reduce penalties starting Week 1 against the Bears.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Pass Breakups

On Sunday, the 49ers will have the opportunity to showcase their biggest offseason acquisition, Charvarius Ward, and the team's elevated secondary. If San Francisco's defensive backs are able to interfere with Fields' connection with Darnell Mooney and Bears newest wideout Byron Pringle, the 49ers defense should be successful against Chicago.

4th Down: What is Your Bold Prediction for the Season Opener Against the Bears?

@LindseyLares: My bold prediction is that the 49ers will score five touchdowns versus the Bears.

@JesusZarate87: My bold prediction when the 49ers visit the Bears is that they will register less than 5 penalties.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Trey Lance will score the first touchdown for the 49ers – either in a red zone QB keep or throwing for the team's first TD.

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