10 observations on Bears’ win over Steelers
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 23, 2013 12:20PM
Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman on the sideline during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Pittsburgh. The Bears won 40-23. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
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Updated: September 23, 2013 12:21PM
The upgrades of the Bears’ first season under Marc Trestman are developing so thoroughly and so quickly, it’s hard to identify the most significant one. But they all point to the same thing: With all due respect to Lovie Smith and his stellar won-loss record, the Bears are a better-coached football team in 2013.
To wit: Middle linebacker D.J. Williams had two sacks in the Bears’ 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field. When’s the last time Brian Urlacher had two sacks in one game? It’s hard to remember the last time the great Urlacher had one sack, the Bears were so reluctant to blitz him in the Cover 2 defense.
For the record, Urlacher’s last sack was against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in January of 2011 — two-plus seasons ago. The last time he had two in one game was in 2007, in a loss to the Vikings at the Metrodome. The last time Urlacher had two sacks in a Bears victory was way back in 2005 against the Vikings at Soldier Field.
At that point, Urlacher had six sacks in the Bears’ first five games of the 2005 season. But Smith or Ron Rivera or somebody suddenly turned off the spigot. Urlacher would have none in the next 31 games — in the prime of his great career and the prime of Lovie Smith’s Bears defenses. In fact, Urlacher would have just 10 sacks in his final 98 games as a Bear.
It doesn’t look like Mel Tucker is going to miss the opportunity to maximize what he’s got. After the Bears had success with the blitz against the Raiders in the preseason, a light bulb seemed to turn on in Tucker’s head and he seems determined to make the most of it. Williams has two sacks in his first three games. Lance Briggs also had one against the Steelers on Sunday night — the three sacks by their linebackers were as many in one game as the Bears had in the entire 2012 season, when Briggs and Nick Roach had 1 1/2 each. And none of them were as effective as Williams’ first sack of Ben Roethlisberger, which led to a fumble that James Anderson recovered and set the tone for a five-takeaway night for the Bears.
‘‘They disguised a lot tonight,’’ Roethlisberger said.
It’s still too early to get too excited, but the sample size is growing after an impressive road victory. Sunday’s game against the Lions at Ford Field will be the biggest test yet. The currently unbeaten Saints the following week at Soldier Field could be bigger than that. And then, the Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4. Unless the 3-0 start is a mirage, that will be the biggest test of all. Marc Trestman vs. Dom Capers. At this point, Bears fans are looking forward to that matchup with great anticipation instead of the usual trepidation.
And now, 10 observations from the Bears’ victory over the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh:
1. Henry Melton’s season-ending knee injury (a torn ACL) is a blow to the Bears’ already struggling pass rush, but not an insurmountable one. Nate Collins is the next man up. Collins arguably is better suited for nose tackle than Melton’s 3-technique position. But all Bears tackles are prepared to play both positions.
‘‘I think [Collins has] shown the ability to play both and that brings tremendous value,’’ Tucker said during training camp. ‘‘I think he’s seen most of his repetitions and work at the nose. But I would not be hesitant or feel any trepidation whatsoever at the 3 [technique].’’
While Melton will be difficult to replace, his injury figures to give high-motor undrafted rookie Zach Minter a chance to play. With the progress rookies Kyle Long and especially Jordan Mills have shown, you never know what a player like Minter might do when he’s given a chance to play in a defense that is making big plays.
2. The offensive upgrade stat of the week: In the last five drop-backs of the Bears’ first three games, Jay Cutler has a perfect 158.3 passer rating — he’s 12-of-14 for 208 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Cutler wasn’t great against the Steelers, but he was good when he had to be. In the fourth quarter Sunday night, Cutler had a key 13-yard scramble for a first down, threw a 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall on third-and-12 from the Bears 37 and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett that gave the Bears a 34-23 lead with 5:48 to play.
3. Cutler’s first drive might have been the most important of all. Playing on the road for the first time this season, the Bears needed a disciplined, steady, productive drive and Cutler came through. His production in the 13-play, 51-yard drive was modest — Cutler was 8-of-10 for 45 yards — but the drive produced four first downs, a field goal for a 3-0 lead and used up 6:58 to get the Bears settled in and prevent the Heinz Field crowd from taking over the game.
4. Here’s another ‘‘When’s the last time’’ moment — When’s the last time the Bears effectively used a pulling guard inside the 5-yard line to score a touchdown? Matt Slauson’s block cleared the way for Matt Forte’s five-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears a 10-0 lead. In nine previous carries from the opponent’s 5-yard line in his Bears career, Forte gained 16 total yards (1.8 yards per carry) with zero touchdowns. Hmmmm.
5. This is becoming a broken record, but it’s a statistic well worth updating: With two rookies on the right side of the offensive line and four linemen who were not here a year ago, the Bears had no false starts for the third consecutive game under Trestman and offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. The last time the Bears had three consecutive games without a false start was in 2001 under Dick Jauron. That’s 12 years and two head coaches ago.
6. As painful as Melton’s absence would be, it likely will give high-motor rookie Zach Minter a chance to play. Minter is an undrafted rookie, but the way Bears rookies have progressed so far — you never know what a player like Minter might do in a defense that is making big plays.
7. Jay Cutler is completing 68.1 percent of his passes through three games — his highest percentage at any point of his five-year Bears career. Cutler has a 94.2 rating, the second-highest of his Bears career after the first three games. He had a 109.7 rating after three games in 2010, when the Bears also were 3-0.
8. The Bears allowed 459 total yards and still won, thanks to a plus-5 turnover margin (five takeaways, no giveaways). In the previous 20 seasons, the Bears were 1-14 when they allowed 450 or more yards (1-6 under Lovie Smith). They’re 1-0 under Trestman. The last time the Bears allowed 450 or more yards and won on the road was in 1982, a 34-26 victory over the Rams at Anaheim Stadium in Mike Ditka’s first year as head coach. Walter Payton had 100 yards rushing (20-104, 1 TD) and receiving (5-102) in that game.
9. For what it’s worth, the Bears are the only team in the NFC North that has beaten a team that has beaten somebody else. The Packers (1-2) have beaten only the Redskins (0-3). The Lions (2-1) have beaten the Vikings (0-3) and the Redskins (0-3).
The Bears also are 2-0 against the AFC this season. The rest of the NFC is 1-11 vs. the AFC and the lone victory is dubious — the Seahawks’ rout of the hapless Jaguars at home.
10. Troy Polamalu’s blocked PAT was inconsequentional. But for the record it ended a streak of 279 PATs for Robbie Gould (including the playoffs). The last time Gould missed a point-after was his rookie season of 2005, also against the Steelers at Heinz Field, when he hooked one left of the upright.