Tale of the Tape: Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers
Two of the NFL's most storied franchises do battle on Sunday Night Football, as the Marc Trestman-led Chicago Bears visit Heinz Field to face the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers. Chicago is coming off impressive victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, and enter hostile territory as a one-point favorite against the winless Steelers.
We break down this Week 3 matchup with our betting tale of the tape:
Trestman has quickly put his stamp on the Bears, building upon his reputation as a creative offensive mind by heavily involving running back Matt Forte in the passing game. Forte, who had just 44 receptions a season ago, already has 14 through the first two weeks - and on only 16 targets. Chicago finds itself near the middle of the pack in rushing and passing yards, but is in the top five in third-down conversions (13-for-26) and has made the most of its scoring chances, racking up five touchdowns in seven red zone trips.
The Steelers have been terrible on offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, clearly missing Miami-bound deep threat Mike Wallace and injured tight end Heath Miller, has thrown for a pedestrian 442 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Pittsburgh has been even worse on the ground, compiling just 75 rushing yards on 31 carries for a dreadful 2.4 yards-per-carry average. While Miller's return should bolster the passing game, the continued absence of rookie rusher Le'Veon Bell should mean more struggles in the rushing game.
The Bears' defense is no longer the vaunted unit of days gone by, but has done just enough to prevail in each of the first two weeks. Chicago was gashed through the air in the opener against Cincinnati but held the Bengals to just 63 rushing yards en route to a 24-21 win. Minnesota doubled that total in Week 2, but was limited to 227 yards through the air as the Bears prevailed 31-30. One area of concern is the difficulty the Bears are having at getting to opposing quarterbacks; Chicago has just two sacks through two games, ahead of only Minnesota, Arizona and Pittsburgh.
Speaking of the Steelers, their defense has been mostly solid through two games. They're ninth in the league in passing yards allowed (198.5 per game) and, while they've allowed the ninth-most rushing yards, they've come on 76 carries - second only to Philadelphia, which has played one more game. In other words, teams are trying to run all over the Steelers - and it isn't really working, as opposing clubs are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Pittsburgh has yet to yield a run longer than 14 yards.
Chicago has boasted one of the most potent kick-return units in the league through two games, returning seven kickoffs for 294 yards - good for an average of 42 per attempt. The punt-return game is a different story, as the Bears have managed just one return yard on two attempts. They have also been generous to opponents on kickoff attempts, surrendering Cordarelle Patterson's 105-yard return to open last weekend's narrow win over the Vikings. Chicago has punted just once this season.
The Steelers find themselves near the middle of the pack in kickoff return yardage, averaging 22 yards on six attempts. They've had a 40-yard punt return but their other two attempts have netted a total of minus-two yards. Pittsburgh has only had to defend two of its own kickoffs - and has done a marvelous job in doing so, allowing just 17 total yards. The Steelers have had to punt 10 times - tied with Baltimore for the second-most in the league - but has limited opponents to 85 return yards.
"They're not playing their front to rush the passer and defend the run on the way to the quarterback. They're rushing the passer to stop the run - and they're doing it with internal blitzes and people coming from different levels, which makes it harder to one-on-one block."
-- Bears head coach Marc Trestman
"When you hand it off 14 times in the first half for a three-yard average, I don't care what you call it, it has to be better. Those guys know it, our guys up front know it, our receivers know it. To have an efficient run game, we need to do a better job across the board."
-- Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley