The San Francisco 49ers could be making the season opener easier for the Bears, who will no doubt need it.
Great speculation building about who would start the opener for San Francisco against the Bears at quarterback has been addressed. Coach Kyle Shanahan at this week's OTA told 49ers reporters the team still plans to trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after he underwent shoulder surgery.
"Yeah, nothing's changed since the surgery, we knew where we were at before that, and then he got the surgery, so everything went on hold," Shanahan was reported as saying by All 49ers writer Jose Luis Sanchez III. "I expect him at some time, most likely to be traded, but who knows?
"It's not a guarantee and it's been exactly on hold when that happened. And when he is healthy, we'll see what happens."
When a quarterback is "most likely to be traded," they're not starting the opener even if the 49ers do have problems finding a trading partner. It's possible they could because there is one name at least as big in the trade market already in Baker Mayfield.
There are only so many teams around looking in the summer before training camps to obtain higher-priced quarterbacks via trade because of salary cap ramifications, and also because at that point they'd have very little time to learn a new offense.
Cutting Garoppolo seems an unlikely option since one place a veteran free agent might look is Seattle. Essentially, the 49ers would be giving a quality quarterback to a division rival.
So all the plans are in motion for the new Bears defense to face second-year quarterback Trey Lance in his third NFL start and seventh overall appearance.
Facing a young, unproven quarterback is always preferable even if they have the ability to both run and pass like Lance. Garoppolo obviously is limited when it comes to wheels.
Lance started against and lost to Arizona on the road, 17-10, in Week 5 last year. He struggled to 15 of 29 passing for 192 yards with an interception and repeatedly ran out of the pocket rather than throw. He gained 89 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Lance didn't throw another pass in a game until Jan. 2 when he started against the Houston Texans and led a 23-7 win at home. He threw for two TDs and an interception while going 16 of 23 for 249 yards. He ran for 31 yards on eight attempts.
The only other real extensive action he saw was in a 28-21 loss to Seattle when he replaced injured Garoppolo and went 9 for 18 with two TDs and 41 yards rushing on seven attempts in a 28-21 loss at home.
The Bears defense could use an edge like facing a complete neophyte at quarterback in the opener at Soldier Field.
Lance's most dangerous weapon at this point in his development would likely be his legs, and even here the Bears could be a poor matchup for the former North Dakota State passer.
The Bears are using a zone-based, cover-2 style defense again this year, much like the one Lovie Smith used as their head coach from 2004-2012. It's an advantage against scrambling quarterbacks.
Nick Morrow's description of why he likes the new defense he's in with the Bears explains why it's tough for a scrambler like Lance.
"Some of the spot drop stuff is fun, like getting to your landmark and having eyes on the quarterback," Morrow said.
The Bears will have their eyes on the QB while they're in their zone and it removes the advantage a scrambler has when they can take off with a defender chasing a man in coverage. They can see the scrambler and come after him.
The Bears, during their cover-2 era under Smith, always enjoyed good success against scramblers because of their speed and the fact they had eyes on the quarterback.
Several times they faced one of the best running quarterbacks of all time, Michael Vick, and games against them were unpleasant to say the least.
The Bears of that era went 4-0 in games Vick started against them. His team lost to them in his first extensive action, a 31-3 defeat in relief of injured Chris Chandler.
Overall, he ran for 39 times for 189 yards against them in eight total appearances and really only burned them on the ground once. It came while with the Eagles when he came in a game for a couple of plays and took a designed run up the middle 34 yards. Vick fumbled the ball seven times against the Bears and was sacked 16 times. He had a 74.5 passer rating against them.
Eberflus' own Colts defense enjoyed some stronger performances against mobile quarterbacks, dealing defeats to Kyler Murray and Josh Allen last year in road games. They also beat the 49ers on the road, but with Garoppolo at quarterback and not Lance.
Whether the Bears will have their defense up to a good competitive level for the opener in 108 days after a total roster upheaval is the great unknown.
If Erberflus' past is an indication, they will. The Colts finished 11th on defense in his first year after they were 30th in 2017 when former Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had been their head coach.