PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears drops back to pass in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on September 22, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Updated: September 24, 2013 9:37PM
PITTSBURGH — The short, quick passes were the first sign. The better protection was next. And running back Matt Forte’s 55-yard run through would-be tacklers was another.
It seemed like high-scoring things were in store Sunday against the Steelers at Heinz Field. And all of it would be different than last year.
Blitzing linebackers and 3-4 defenses typically meant bad news and bad outputs for the Bears’ offense in 2012. Exotic looks led to exotic problems.
But this year will be different under coach Marc Trestman, right?
Looking at what happened in Pittsburgh, the answers are: Yes. No. And then an emphatic yes.
The Bears did enough offensively to pull out a 40-23 victory. A highlight-reel, toe-dragging 17-yard touchdown catch by receiver Earl Bennett — one that had to be challenged by Trestman and overturned — in the fourth quarter sealed it.
The Bears still had their defensive highlights. Defensive end Julius Peppers returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown for the final margin, and safety Major Wright had a pick-six of 38 yards.
But offensive progress against a 3-4 scheme was needed. The Bears were methodical and efficient early on, and it resulted in a 17-0 lead after the first quarter and a 24-10 lead at halftime. But there also was a period of defensive dominance by the Steelers that resembled some of the Bears’ poor performances against 3-4 teams last year.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall said the Steelers “started being the Steelers” and the “offense was sputtering a little bit.”
“We had to adjust our game plan, and we got the job done,” he said.
After the Steelers closed to four, a nine-play, 74-yard drive that took up nearly five minutes in the fourth quarter won it for the Bears. It included a 13-yard scramble by Jay Cutler on third-and-10, a crucial 41-yard catch by Brandon Marshall on third-and-12 and Cutler’s scoring strike to Bennett.
“[Cutler] did a very good job,” Trestman said. “This could have been a very frustrating night. He had some people in his face. He had to scramble.
“But we knew going in that it wasn’t going to be simple. It wasn’t going to be clean on every play. . . . It was a very good defensive game plan [by the Steelers].”
And having some success is further proof that better things are ahead for the Bears’ offense. After all, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers are cut from the same zone-blitzing cloth.
More significant, the Bears didn’t have their entire offensive game plan blown up by blitzing linebackers and a two-gap defense. When facing well-coached 3-4 teams such as the Packers, 49ers and Texans last season, the Bears’ offensive outputs were abysmal. And it wasn’t just Cutler.
The point is that some of the best teams in the league use the 3-4. If the Bears are going to contend for anything, being able to handle such schemes will be necessary.
And there were signs that Trestman’s Bears can hack it. Cutler was 20-for-30 for 159 yards and a 90.8 passer rating. He was sacked twice but didn’t throw an interception, and five players had receptions. Forte ran for 87 yards and had a five-yard touchdown on 16 carries.
The Bears have a new line (which Cutler praised again) and protection scheme, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to be overmatched by the men in the headsets, either.
“They do a great job,” Cutler said. “They had some blitzes that were different than things that we even saw. They got us a few times and made some proper corrections.
“You have a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator who has been doing this a long time. They’re good. They’re 0-3 but a hell of a team still. They’re going to give people fits, especially on defense.’’