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Bears vs. 49ers — What to Watch 4

Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney faces a tough matchup against a 49ers pass defense that ranks fifth in the NFL but has struggled with pass-interference penalties — a league-leading 11 for 250 yards.

Wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) leads the Bears with 27 receptions for 345 yards (12.8 avg.). He has one touchdown.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) leads the Bears with 27 receptions for 345 yards (12.8 avg.). He has one touchdown.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photos

Key matchup

Second-year wide receiver Darnell Mooney figures to be key to the breakout game for rookie quarterback Justin Fields that Bears fans are waiting for. Mooney has eclipsed Allen Robinson as the Bears’ No. 1 target — he leads the team with 27 receptions, 345 yards and 12.8 yards per catch. His receptions of 64 and 32 yards against the Lions are the Bears’ only pass plays of 30 or more yards. (Every other NFL team has four or more.)

The 49ers are ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards allowed (seventh in yards per play), but they’re not invulnerable. If you include a league-leading 250 yards on 11 pass-interference penalties, they drop to 12th in passing defense. They had three DPIs for 97 yards in a 30-18 loss to the Colts last week.

Veteran Josh Norman could be on the spot. The former Pro Bowl cornerback is ranked 68th among NFL cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus (tied with the Bears’ Jaylon Johnson). He has five penalties this season — four for pass interference and one for holding.

The Bears figure to attack the 49ers’ 23rd-ranked run defense with their sixth-ranked rush offense. But the opportunity for Fields to parlay that into passing-game success could be there if the Bears are aggressive enough to test the 49ers’ secondary.

Trending

The Bears rank in the bottom three in nine of the 11 offensive categories in the NFL’s weekly statistics package — 32nd and last in six of them (yards, yards per play, passing yards, passing yards per play, sacks allowed and third-down conversions), 31st in one (interceptions) and 30th in two (points and first downs).

They also are last in touchdown passes (three) and 31st in passer rating (68.1).

The Bears rank sixth in rushing (131 yards per game) and 11th in rushing yards per attempt (4.5).

Player to watch

Fields is coming off a miserable game in which he threw three interceptions, fumbled three times (losing two) and was sacked four times. His passer rating of 44.3 was the second-lowest of his five NFL starts — eclipsed only by the 41.2 rating against the Browns when he was sacked nine times and threw only 20 passes.

His teammates didn’t help him, with a missed blitz pickup by rookie running back Khalil Herbert and a bad drop by tight end Cole Kmet on the Bears’ first two series setting a bad tone. Either way, Fields’ supporting cast is going to have to give him a better chance to succeed against a 49ers defense that can run hot or cold — sixth in yards but 21st in points.

X-factor

The Bears’ weekly routine was altered this week with coach Matt Nagy quarantined after testing positive for the coronavirus. It will be interesting to see how they respond if Nagy is unable to coach on Sunday, with special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor the acting head coach.