Four Downs: Keys to beating the Steelers

September 16th, 2009 - 5:31 pm

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Take care of the football
Is there any doubt why the Bears lost Sunday’s game to the Packers? Jay Cutler threw for 93 more yards than Aaron Rodgers, but he had 4 more interceptions. The Bears as an offense racked up 126 more net yards than the Packers, but still lost the game. Turnovers are a critical part of winning football games, which is why Lovie Smith has been preaching it since he arrived in Chicago five years ago. We know Cutler can be reckless with the football, but so can his counterpart this week, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger threw three less interceptions than Cutler last year, tied for fourth-most in the league. He also fumbled the ball 14 times and lost 7 of them. He can be just as prone to turning over the ball as Cutler can and it’s important for the Bears’ defense to attack him. After all, as badly as the Bears played and for as many turnovers as they had, the Packers played worse and the Bears still had a chance to win the game.
Ben Roethlisberger is prone to turning the ball over.
2. Put pressure on Roethlisberger
This one is a continuation of Down 1. The Bears harassed Rodgers all game this past week and he did not look comfortable at all, missing on several deep passes to wide open receivers. The Bears could have similar success again this week as Roethlisberger is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league. He was sacked 46 times last year, second-most in the league. In 2007, he was sacked 47 times, again, the second-most in the league. And in 2006, he was sacked 46 times, fourth-most in the league. Already this season, Roethlisberger has been sacked 4 times (currently tied for second), and has thrown 2 interceptions (tied for fourth). He is not a mobile quarterback and he holds onto the ball too long. If the Bears are to have a shot at knocking off the defending champions, the surest path to doing so is getting after Roethlisberger and forcing interceptions or causing hurried, incomplete passes, and sacking him to end drives.

3. Establish the run game
When glancing at the box score, one might think the Bears did all they could to run the football against the Packers as Matt Forte carried the ball 25 times. But that was a misleading statistic because the team did not establish the run early enough in the game. It was almost as if Ron Turner and Lovie Smith were kids on Christmas morning who opened up their present — new quarterback Jay Cutler — and wanted to play with him right away. The best way to have success in the ground game is to pound away at a defense with consistency. Sure, against a dominant run defense like Pittsburgh’s, I wouldn’t expect more than a yard or two or three per carry early in the game. But eventually, if they keep feeding the ball to Forte, something will open up later in the game that will catch the defense in a moment of letdown. It’s important to run the ball to set up the pass, not the other way around. There’s nothing wrong with short-to-intermediate passes and they often work just as well as running plays when the ground game just isn’t producing.

4. Get Forte and Olsen more involved in the passing game
The Steelers had the No. 2 run defense in the league last year. If the worst should happen — Forte can’t find any open running lanes, as was the case last week against the Packers — the Bears need to move to Plan B, which is to get the ball in his hands in the passing game. Forte had zero catches against the Packers, and that just can’t happen with a team that lacks sufficient playmakers on the outside. Cutler brashly said in the off-season that Forte’s reception total from last year will likely go down, but after scrambling so often in Week 1, he’ll learn that Forte will become one of his best friends in the passing game as he looks to him on checkdowns. It would be an understatement that the Bears’ offensive line struggled against the Packers’ 3-4 defense. And if they had that much trouble with a unit that was just learning the system, imagine the problems they’ll face with a team that has pretty much perfected the scheme. The Steelers like to send a lot of blitzes, so the short passing game will become a necessity this week. Greg Olsen’s involvement in the passing game is a trickier situation. He, essentially, is the No. 1 target on the team, which means defenses will be double-teaming him in the same manner that they do against teams with bona fide No. 1 wide receivers. That explains why he didn’t have a reception until late in the game against the Packers. He’s not going to have a Pro Bowl season if he has defenders smothering him all season. But Cutler will need to find him more often over the middle on short passes to avoid the defensive pressure. And Ron Turner will have to help make that happen.

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