The Bears and Steelers will meet for the 26th time Sunday night at Heinz Field. The Bears hold a 17-7-1 edge in the series. Before their run in the 1970's, the Steelers were more often than not the NFL's dormant team. In their first 39 years in existence, the Steelers had just six winning seasons. During that time the Bears won ten straight from 1934-58.
The Bears enter Heinz Field 2-0, while the Steelers' offense has struggled in division losses to Tennessee and Cincinnati. The Bears defeated the Bengals in week one. A Steelers loss would be their first 0-3 start since 2000.
Here is a look at the Bears second visit to Heinz field.
Will the Steelers offense Wake Up?
Through their first two games, Pittsburgh's offense ranks 31st in the NFL. Only the inept Jacksonville Jaguars. They are near the bottom in virtually every offense statistic and haven't shown much sign of efficiency through two games. The pressure has been put on Ben Roethlisberger with the running game generating only 76 yards through the first two games. Roethlisberger is on pace for career lows in multiple statistics including QBR, QB rating, times sacked and yards per attempt.
The running game has been anemic. Once known as a running team, the Steelers have been generally more of a passing offense under Mike Tomlin. This year, with second round pick Le'veon Bell sidelined with a foot injury the Steelers haven't been able to run the ball.
Their offensive line has been a disaster. In addition to not being able to sustain a running game, the Steelers seven sacks allowed is tied for the seventh worst in the NFL. That's on pace for 56 for the season. The most Roethlisberger has been sacked in one season is 50.
Can the Bears Get Their Pass Rush Going
With the Steelers not able to get their running game going, they will likely be forced to pass more often. Through the first two games, Pittsburgh has had 70 pass attempts and just 31 rushing attempts. Uncharacteristically, the Bears have just two sacks through their first two games. The Steelers have just one from their defense.
Marc Trestman blamed the weather last week. He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying:
"“It’s tough to rush the passer in wet weather...For both sides. It’s tough to get a pass rush with a soggy field and a wet field. It’s an advantage throwing the football. On a rainy day (versus) no rain, really the advantage goes to the offense. Because we can sit back there and protect. And it’s really hard to configure a pass rush to get close.”
The weather in Pittsburgh is forecast for 40's and a ten percent chance of rain. Trestman also alluded the the fact that Julius Peppers was sick last week. Getting him going will be crucial to getting the Bears pass rush going.
Corey Wooten had the Bears lone sack last week and Shea McClellin and Stephen Paea split the sack against the Bengals.
Against the Steelers weak offensive line, the Bears pass rush should get healthy in week three.
Who Will Win the Battle of the Franchise Quarterbacks
Roethlisberger and Cutler were the 11th picks in the draft in 2004 and 2006. They were drafted to be franchise Quarterbacks. Their careers have had varying degrees of success. Roethlisberger has been to three superbowls and won two, while Cutler has just one playoff appearance and one win.
Through two weeks this season though Cutler has been the better QB. The obvious thing is that the Bears are 2-0 and the Steelers are 0-2. Beyond that, Cutler has led the Bears to two come from behind victories. That ties his amount from the last two seasons combined.
Cutler is on pace for a multitude of career highs. His QBR and QB Rating are the highest they've ever been. He is also on pace for career high in completions and completion percentage. His yards per game would be the second highest of his career.
Going against the Steelers defense sets up nice for the Bears evolving passing game. In addition to only recording one sack through the first two games and the Steelers have yet to intercept a pass. They have been stingy in yards allowed. The Steelers rank seventh in the NFL with 198.5 YPG.
Can Roethlisberger and the anemic Steeler offense get better against the Bears defense? Although the Bears have not been as stingy or getting to the passer as much as they did under Lovie Smith, their defense has still been opportunistic.
The Steelers might be able to move the ball against the Bears through the air. The Bears defense is giving up 252 yards passing per game, 16th in the NFL.
Taking care of the ball will be a key for Roethlisberger as the Bears defense continues to be one of the most opportunistic in the NFL.
Can the Bears Defense Continue to be Opportunistic
The Bears have forced four fumbles and recovered three, have three interceptions, and an interception return for a touchdown. All of those rank in the top five in the league. The Bears defense had an astounding 44 turnovers and nine touchdowns on defense last season. That adds up to almost four points per game just from the defense. That doesn't even count giving the offense the ball in good field position.
Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker has shown a willingness to keep the pressure and aggressiveness on defense with Marc Trestman leading an improved offense.
How Will the Bears Play on the Road Under Trestman
After the win over Minnesota last week, Trestman indicated all the Bears did was win two home games. Winning on the road game often make or break a season. The Bears travel to Pittsburgh to face a wounded and seemingly vulnerable Steelers team.
In the six seasons under Tomlin (plus opening day this week) the Steelers are 36-13 at Heinz Field. In his five seasons in Montreal, Trestman's Alouettes had 23-22 record on the road. The Bears have been up down on the road recently. Either way, this is a true test on what should be a raucous Heinz Field.
Cutler's ability to call audibles and for the offense to hear the audibles will prove critical, especially on third down. The Bears are fourth in the NFL through two weeks in third down conversion percentage. The Steelers 30th.
Getting off to a good start and taking the crowd out of the game will help the Bears as well. The Bears have played well in the first quarter but then backtracked in the second. Getting in another hole and expecting a rally on the road is a lot to rely on to win.
If the Bears are truly a contender for the NFC North and are going to be a contender to represent the NFC in the Superbowl, winning on the road is a must. This is far from a must win, but a good performance will show the Bears could be a contender in their first year in the Trestman era. They will need to have consistency through all 16 games and not fold like last season.