On the surface of it a game between the 3-8 Chicago Bears and 1-10 San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field isn’t one that many people outside of fans of those two teams that will be watching. However, this game is one of the more interesting ‘dead rubber’ games between two non-playoff teams that you are likely to come across. The headline is two young QBs both trying to make an impression on their teams as the season comes to an end but there is added intrigue across the board for a game taking place in a stadium that has seen a number of close games this year.
The biggest headline entering Sunday will be that Jimmy Garoppolo is starting his first game for the 49ers. Garoppolo has so far thrown only two passes for the team who traded a second round pick for him but on those two passes he is 2-2 for 18 yards and a TD. As a fourth year QB he is still somewhat of an unknown having started just 2 games as the back-up in New England. That hasn’t stopped the 49ers deciding to put their eggs in his basket, at least for the short term, as opposed to taking a chance on a rookie QB in the upcoming draft.
In those two starts Garoppolo went 42 of 59 for 496 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions when facing what was considered to be two decent defences in the Cardinals and Dolphins. The difference in that circumstance to now is that Garoppolo had been on the New England system for two years and knew for a fair amount of time he was likely to start in those two games. This time he has been with San Francisco for just a month and only found out he was starting in the middle of the week. This all means I am not expecting fireworks from the young QB but I am expecting some level of competence above what we have seen from Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard so far this year.
Having Garoppolo under centre will hopefully mean that Chicago have to respect the pass more than many teams have done against the 49ers this year allowing Carlos Hyde to get the ground game flowing. Hyde, who was reportedly going to be cut before the year, has had a mixed season and will therefore also be using the next few games with a new QB to show what just what he can bring to the table for the 49ers, or another NFL team. Chicago is smack bang in the middle of defences against the run this season so while it won’t be easy for Hyde he should find yard easier to come by than he did against Seattle last week.
On the receiving side of things there is not really anyone to shout about for the 49ers who have a mixed bag of receivers. Marquise Goodwin is the big play guy and Carlos Hyde will offer plenty of check down opportunities but good QBs make bad receiving groups useful and that’s one of the things I am looking for from Garoppolo this week.
From a Chicago point of view they still have Mitchell Trubisky trying to show people that he is their QB of the future. He hasn’t had a great year in 2017 and generally the team has been more successful keeping the ball out of his hands. When he has had to take the game by the scruff of the neck he has had mixed results with a solid performance against Green Bay and a disastrous one last time out in Philly. The question here is in the future do we have a Blake Bortles type player, who the team has to limit as much as possible, or a Jared Goff type player whose first year struggles appear to have been scheme and coaching related.
Trubisky’s big test will be next season when, hopefully, he will be the guy taking the majority of snaps in training camp and with the first team in the preseason. For now though he needs to have a solid game against a team who has struggled on defence against both the run and pass amid a ton of injuries. His lack of known pass catchers won’t help him greatly so he will have to be efficient and precise with the ball.
If Trubisky can be competent early then Jordan Howard should be able to find the space to have a big game against a team that ranks 30th against the run this season. Howard, like Hyde, has suffered from playing with a QB that teams do not think can beat them and therefore has dealt with a ton of run heavy defensive set ups.
This game might seem like a damp squib but the two QBs are players who could shape the future of the NFC if they can grow into their systems. There is every chance that this match-up of these two teams and QBs could be a preview of a future NFC playoff game and maybe even a NFC championship game.
This guest piece was written by Ben Rolfe. Ben is a New England Patriots fan and can be found on Twitter at @BenRolfe15.
Photo copyright: Charles Rex Arbogast – AP