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Bears defense allowing too many conversions, but Steelers weak there

Updated: October 20, 2013 7:47AM

The Bears’ most important defensive play this season came when they stuffed Adrian Peterson on third down Sunday, setting up a game-winning, last-second touchdown.

It belied a more troubling point: No team in this young season has been worse at stopping third-down conversions than the Bears.

You can look it up. The defense has allowed 14 of 27 third-down plays to be converted. The 51.9 percent rate is tied with the Rams for last in the league.

“I think we got off the field at the right times … ” coach Marc Trestman said Wednesday after practice at Halas Hall. “But we’ve shown signs, I mean, there are signals that we can be very good because we’ve done it at the most important times, which have been at the end of games.

“We’ve got to do a better job of converting and getting off the field during the course of the game, and continue to give the offense field position, as well.”

Enter perhaps the perfect panacea: the Steelers’ offense.

Sunday night’s opponent has converted 7 of 25 third downs; the 28 percent mark is third-worst, ahead of two other winless teams, the Redskins and the Browns.

Throw away two conversions on the last possession of Monday night’s loss in Cincinnati, when the Bengals were playing simply to protect a 10-point lead, and the Steelers have moved the sticks on just one of their last 17 third-down tries.

“Part of the reason why we haven’t converted third downs at an acceptable rate is because we’ve been in some long yardage situations,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

Against the Bengals, Pittsburgh needed, on average, 9.1 yards on third down.

“You don’t necessarily have to sit there and try to fix third downs,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “You’ve got to fix first and second down, so you’re not putting yourself in third-and-long situations so much.”

The Bears’ pass rush should benefit.

The Steelers have been sacked four times on third down — twice as many as the Bears’ defense has totaled all season.

“We just have to rush better,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We have to cover a little bit better and just have a general mind-set of getting off the field.

“It’s never easy to get there, but it’s definitely to the defense’s advantage on third-and-long, so we’re going to have to take advantage of those situations.”

The Bears will focus on third-down defense in practice today, part of what defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called a “huge emphasis” this week.

“We’d like to get off the field every single time if we could,” Tucker said. “When it gets to longer yardage, we feel like we have a better chance.”

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