How the Bears and Steelers match up
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 21, 2013 5:48PM
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
Rick Morrissey: Bears, 17-13
Rick Telander: Bears, 24-21
Dan McGrath: Bears, 27-20
Hub Arkush: Bears, 27-16
Adam L. Jahns: Bears, 24-13
Mark Potash: Steelers, 23-20
Patrick Finley: Steelers, 24-23
Updated: September 21, 2013 8:20PM
WEEK 3 BEARS AT STEELERS Time:
BEARS AT STEELERS
Time:7:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.
Line: Bears by 2. • Total: 40 1⁄2.
TV: Ch. 5 (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Matt Forte’s versatility will be put to the test against a Steelers 3-4 defense that is usually difficult to run against. Forte (38 carries, 140 yards, one TD) is a stronger outside runner, but the Bengals had success running inside against the Steelers with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Michael Bush might play a prominent role. The Steelers are 25th in run defense (120 ypg) but 10th in average (3.1 ypc). Perseverance is a key factor. Green-Ellis (22-75) and Bernard (8-38) combined for 30 carries and 113 yards against the Steelers, which helped the Bengals to a 35:34-24:26 advantage in time of possession.
IN THE AIR
It might be a hit-or-miss day for the Bears against a 3-4 defense they’re not used to seeing. The Bears’ revamped O-line has protected Jay Cutler well (one sack on an aborted screen pass, for which Cutler took the blame). If the Bears adjust well to the Steelers’ pass rush, Cutler will have opportunities for plays all over the field. If confusion reigns, this might look like previous first-road-game efforts at New Orleans (30-13 loss in 2011) and Green Bay (23-10 loss in 2012). The Steelers have no interceptions and only one sack in their first two games. They’ve allowed plays of 61, 26 and 25 yards to tight ends.
Bears rookie LT Jordan Mills played at Texas A&M and Mississippi State while at Louisiana Tech, but playing at Heinz Field in prime time might be a different story. After Bengals WR A.J. Green had 162 yards against the Bears, Steelers CB Ike Taylor held him to six catches for 41 yards last week. Brandon Marshall knows Taylor will be a tough matchup.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
The Steelers’ once-vaunted ground game ranks 31st in the NFL after two games (37.5 yards per game, 2.4 yards per carry). After Felix Jones was held to 37 yards on 10 carries against the Bengals, the Steelers are desperate for improvement in that area. But first-round draft pick Le’Veon Bell, who missed the first two games with a sprained foot, isn’t expected to play, though he did practice this week. The Bears are ranked 14th in run defense (93 ypg), but they kept Adrian Peterson (26 carries, 100 yards) in check last week. The Steelers have yet to score a rushing touchdown.
IN THE AIR
Ben Roethlisberger has felt the loss of WR Mike Wallace (eight TDs in 2012) and TE Heath Miller (eight TDs in 2012). Wallace signed with the Dolphins in free agency, but Miller, who is recovering from an ACL injury suffered late last season, is expected to play. Bears CB Charles Tillman didn’t practice this week because of a knee injury. He’s expected to play, but he might not be at full strength. The Bears have two sacks in two games but could win the battle against a Steelers offensive line still adjusting to the loss of Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1.
After two lackluster games, Bears DE Julius Peppers needs to make a big impact to ward off concerns that, at 33, he has taken a step down from his Pro Bowl level. The Steelers are in desperate need of a more productive running game, likely from Felix Jones or Isaac Redman. QB Ben Roethlisberger is unlikely to beat the Bears by himself.
Devin Hester leads the NFL with a 46.7-yard average on kickoff returns, but his forte is punt returns (an NFL-record 12 TDs), and he has one yard on two punt returns this season. The Steelers have two touchbacks on five kickoffs this season. The Steelers have capable returners in Antonio Brown (12.7-yard average on punt returns, 40-yard return against the Bengals) and Felix Jones (27-yard average on kickoff returns). The Bears’ coverage teams have been among the best in the NFL, though they allowed their first touchdown on a deep kickoff since 2003 last week.
After opening the season with two victories against 2012 playoff teams at Soldier Field, the Bears face perhaps a bigger challenge in their first road game under Marc Trestman. The Steelers had a string of 10 victories in home openers snapped against the Titans in Week 1, so they’re hardly invincible at Heinz Field. Still, with two rookies on the offensive line, avoiding pre-snap penalties and miscommunication will be a challenge for the Bears. The Steelers also will be desperate to avoid an 0-3 start. But they are what they are, so if the Bears can avoid beating themselves, they will have opportunities to make big plays.