As the 2018 NFL season is wrapping up, I think it’s definitely safe to say that it did not go the way 49ers’ fans had envisioned back in August. However, the last few weeks have been different. There is an infectious energy coming out of Santa Clara with QB Nick Mullens under center. Mullens has the 49ers on a two-game winning streak (Broncos, Seahawks)! I know a lot of people were upset beating division-rival Seahawks cost them the 1st-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, I can guarantee you not one of the players in the 49ers’ locker room care about that one bit. These guys are trying to prove to coaches and management why they should be back next year, not why someone else should be invited to take their job!

With all that being said, the 49ers host the newly-crowned NFC North Champions Chicago Bears in week 16. The Bears have the NFL’s #1-overall ranked defense coached by former-49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, so it’ll be a tough test for Mullens and the 49ers’ offense.Let’s take a look at both sides of the match-up.

49ers’ Rushing Attack vs Bears’ Linebackers & Edge Rushers:

The Bears used their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to improve the middle of their defense dramatically by picking LB Roquan Smith out of Georgia. Smith has largely lived up to the hype, and has been on fire all season. Per Pro Football Focus, he is their 8th-ranked 1st-round pick of 2018 with an overall grade of 63.5.

However, the linebacker remodel didn’t end there, as Chicago also added Joel Iyiegbuniwe (79.4) in the fourth round out of Western Kentucky, who has played almost just as well as their first-rounder! 

The Bears have veteran LB Danny Trevathan (69.8) showing the rook how it’s done.

However, the real star of the vaunted Bears’ defense is former-Raider Khalil Mack (90.3), who they acquired this season via trade. Per Pro Football Reference, this season Mack has totaled 34 solo tackles (9 for loss), 15 QB hits, 12.5 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles! Those numbers are just insane for one player to accomplish.

The Bears also have former-1st-rounder Leonard Floyd (67.5) and former-49er Aaron Lynch (73.6) coming off the edge, who have both been solid this season.

The 49ers running game, which has been impressive this season, will face a huge test this week going up against these Monsters of the Midway. RBs Matt Breida and Jeff Wilson will be facing their toughest test in the last three weeks (probably even all season), which is really saying something considering they just faced the Seahawks’ and Broncos’ stout run-defenses in the last two weeks.

Against the Seahawks last week, Breida rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries (2.9 YPC) and Wilson rushed for 46 yards on 7 carries (6.6 YPC). While individually these numbers do not stand out, the pair work really well together as a two-headed rushing attack. More importantly, they helped to get the job done and get the W for the first time in five years against Seattle.

The 49ers need another week of hard running by both of their backs, and more importantly another week of solid blocking by their offensive line in order to have any success. As good as QB Nick Mullens has been, he can’t do it all on his own without any help from his running-game — especially this week against the #1-ranked defense.

49ers’ Passing Attack vs Bears’ Cornerbacks & Safeties:

49ers QB Nick Mullens has been extremely impressive this season after being thrust into the starting lineup when CJ Beathard left with an injury. Since week 12, Mullens has the second-most passing yards in the NFL with 310.5 per game, only behind Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (315.0). The UDFA out of Southern Miss. has totaled 1,242 yards in the last four weeks! Last week, Mullens set the all-time record for most passing yards against the Seattle Seahawks in a single season with 689!

Now, do I think Mullens has a chance at battling Garoppolo for the starting gig next season? No. However, he has proved that he does in fact belong in the NFL. Whether that is as the 49ers’ #2, or competing for a starting position elsewhere in the league, Mullens has shown he is capable of running Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which is notoriously tough.

The Chicago Bears feature starting cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (78.4) and Kyle Fuller (87.7), who have snagged 3 and 7 interceptions respectively this season (which together is more turnovers than the 49ers have as an entire team all year).

Starting safeties Adrian Amos (76.5) and Eddie Jackson (93.2), who has been especially impressive this year. Jackson has hauled in 6 interceptions this year — taking two of them back to the house, and is the #1-ranked safety by PFF.

The 49ers passing game has improved over the last few weeks, particularly with rookie WR Dante Pettis finding his stride. Over the last 4 games, Pettis has totaled 21 receptions for 350 yards (16.6 YPC) and 4 TDs. He seems to be really coming into his own with Mullens under center, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do against this Bears’ passing-defense.