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It doesn’t take a genius for Bears to win first road game

The Bears haven’t committed pre-snap penalty through two games but coach Marc Trestman expects thstbe put test Sunday against Steelers.

The Bears haven’t committed a pre-snap penalty through two games, but coach Marc Trestman expects that stat to be put to the test Sunday against the Steelers. | AP

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PITTSBURGH — As Bears coach Marc Trestman accurately noted this week, the word ‘‘genius’’ gets thrown around like footballs at a passing camp these days.

It arguably first applied to Trestman in 2002, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Raiders and, in his first road game of the season, flummoxed the Steelers with a no-huddle offense in a 30-17 victory at Heinz Field. Rich Gannon threw a franchise-record 64 passes and completed an NFL-record 43 of them for
403 yards.

The Raiders’ 464 total yards that day have been eclipsed by only one Steelers opponent in regulation in the 11-plus seasons since then. It was the last time the Steelers lost a home opener until this season. And it left Steelers coach Bill Cowher to lament that he wasn’t just beaten but outcoached.

‘‘We obviously did not expect or handle them coming out and throwing the way they did,’’ Cowher said at the time. ‘‘I did not think they would come out winging it. I thought they would try to run the football.’’

Trestman won’t have to be at his genius best to beat the Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field. But the Bears’ first road game will be a significant barometer of his ability to do what he clearly does best: instill a focus and resolve in players better than other coaches.

The Bears, who were among the top 10 in the NFL in false starts in eight of Lovie Smith’s nine seasons, have nary a pre-snap penalty in two games this season. Jay Cutler, who struggled to overcome adversity in his first four seasons with the Bears, has recovered from fourth-quarter interceptions to throw game-winning touchdown passes against the Bengals and Vikings. Brandon Marshall, who had key drops in the end zone against the Packers and Texans last season, has caught everything in sight in the clutch so far this season.

That progress — significant even considering the small sample size — will be put to the test against the Steelers in Trestman’s first road game with the Bears. It’s not only a matter of execution but of focus, the ability to maintain your concentration under duress in a hostile setting. It’s a measurement of success.

‘‘Absolutely,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘The guys are excited about playing in Pittsburgh. It’s a great environment for football, like ours. We’ll find out more about ourselves.

‘‘It’s going to be much more difficult to avoid pre-snap penalties this week. We’ll be playing in the noise. We’re going to be in a silent count most of the time. We’re going to have Dick LeBeau’s defense in different places at different times that [will be trying] to get our attention off focusing on the snap count. No doubt about it, it’ll be a good test for us.’’

Trestman is new in town, but Bears fans are all-too-familiar with what can happen Sunday night. The Bears flopped miserably in their opening road games the last two seasons, a 30-13 loss to the Saints in 2011 and a 23-10 loss to the Packers in 2012. Both of those seasons ended in disappointment.

It was a different story in 2010, when the Bears were facing an onslaught early in their road opener against the Cowboys. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz made adjustments, and the Bears recovered and won 27-20. They ended up 6-2 on the road that season and reached the NFC Championship Game. Funny how it works like that.

This is hardly a make-or-break game, but it might be a harbinger for the Bears, a chance to show two more qualities of a real contender: the ability to keep cool on the road and the mental toughness to counter the desperation of a proud but struggling team and win a game they’re expected to win.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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