Game Breakdown: Steelers at Bears (9.20.09)September 19th, 2009 - 5:00 pm
Bears offense vs. Steelers defense
Last week the Bears faced a Packers defense that is still learning how to play the 3-4. The Bears’ offense looked rattled, unsettled, discombobulated or any other word you choose to use to describe a unit that couldn’t get anything to work. Exit Packers, enter Steelers, a team that has pretty much perfected the 3-4 scheme. It’s not exactly time to panic, but the Bears’ offense will once again look trepid at times this Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champions. How do you neutralize a 3-4 defense? By reacting to the pressure and finding the soft spots in zone coverage. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes to send zone blitzes, and although it’s easier said than done, all blitzes leave open windows if the quarterback can find them quick enough. The Bears’ offensive line needs to play much better than it did in Week 1 against the Packers, otherwise Jay Cutler either will be crushed by blitzing linebackers or forced out of the pocket and more susceptible to making bad throws on the run. Orlando Pace, who has trouble with small, speedy players, and Chris Williams could be in for a long day. Steelers outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will be coming around the corner all game. For the Bears to have any chance, they have to try to establish the run early.
Bears defense vs. Steelers offense
When you watch the Steelers from afar, their offense looks a little scary. Ben Roethlisberger is a big, tough quarterback who can absorb hits from the defense and find the open receiver. He holds on to the football for a long time, so he leaves open the possibility of fumbling the football or having his passes altered while in throwing motion. At his disposal, he has Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, tough-as-nails veteran Hines Ward, and dependable tight end Heath Miller. If given time to throw, Roethlisberger will pick apart this Bears secondary. And we may find out right away how the loss of Brian Urlacher will affect the Bears’ defense because Hunter Hillenmeyer’s coverage skills down the middle of the field surely will be tested. Despite all their weapons, when you break the offense down, they are human. The running game was woeful last week against the Titans as Willie Parker finished with just 19 yards on 13 carries. The offensive line is not as solid as it once was and the Bears have the chance to pick up a few sacks and tackles for loss. Roethlisberger, like Cutler, will take his chances and throw interceptions. He’s also one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league. Despite all that, the Steelers still hold the edge.
The Steelers have some of the best special teams in the league, which means not even this phase can be indisputably given to the Bears like it normally is. Field position could come into play as Pittsburgh punter Daniel Sepulveda downed 4 punts inside the 20 last week. Brad Maynard, however, had a 46.0-yard net average in Week 1 — third best in the league — which is something he’s been good at for a long time. That essentially means punts aren’t returned very often or for too many yards against the Bears. That’s critical in a game of this magnitude where field position greatly matters. Both Robbie Gould and Jeff Reed connected on a pair of field goals last week. Gould’s long was from 47 while Reed’s was 33. The Bears get the slight edge in this matchup due to their dynamic kick returners, though.
I would have said the Bears are entering the lion’s den, but it’s a home game at Soldier Field. Instead, the lion is coming to Chicago. In today’s NFL, there’s no such thing as a can’t-win game, not even for the 0-16 Lions last year. So, the Bears do have a shot at knocking off the defending champs. But they’ll basically need a 180-degree reversal from last week’s performance in order to have a shot. Cutler’s four interceptions? Can’t happen. Failure to establish the run early in the game? Can’t happen. Mental — and physical — mistakes in the defensive backfield? Can’t happen. When you’re playing against one of the league’s finest, you have to cut down on the number of errors committed. The fourth phase will be on the Bears’ side and that does help to energize the defense. However, with the kind of bravado with which the Steelers play, the talent that they have on offense, and with one of the league’s best defenses, the Bears appear to be headed for an 0-2 record and a West-coast trip to Seattle.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 23, Chicago 17