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What To Watch For
Just nine months after suffering a devastating knee injury that tore every 3-letter tendon in his knee, Heath Miller is slated to return to the field. The Steelers desperately need a spark on offense. The unit has been anemic in both the run game and the pass game and has been wholly ineffective on third downs. Many people have claimed that the Steelers need to throw the ball deep more, but as I detailed this week, their problem is not that they don't throw deep enough, it's that they don't use the middle of the field enough. The Beats have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. The Steelers will be hard-pressed to have success with their typical outside-the-numbers passing game. Therefore, it is imperative that the Steelers are able to have success over the middle of the field. Heath owns the middle of the field, and even if he isn't at full speed, he certainly has better hands than anyone else on the team.
2. Julius Peppers vs Mike Adams
The Steelers line has surrendered 7 sacks through two games and has looked generally ineffective at blocking anyone. The eyes will once again be on the tackles this week as second-year left tackle Mike Adams will have to go up against Julius Peppers, one of the best pass rushers of the past decade. Things don't get any easier for Adams who will have to take on Jared Allen next week. Peppers is by far the Bears best pass rusher and has the talent to totally take over a game. On the other side, Marcus Gilbert has been dreadful this season and rumor from Mark Kaboly of the Trib is that Gilbert is in danger of losing his starting job to Kelvin Beachum. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot as the game progresses and Gilbert is struggling.
3. Jay Cutler
Cutler might be the definition of a boom or bust quarterback. On any given Sunday, Cutler is equally capable of throwing three touchdowns or three interceptions. This season, he has almost exclusively targeted Brandon Marshall amongst the receivers with TE Martellus Bennett and RB Matt Forte providing a safety net. The Steelers will once again be without Cortez Allen, so William Gay will be starting opposite Ike Taylor. The Steelers are fortunate this week as the Bears passing game does not make much use of their secondary receivers so the Steelers won't be strapped when forced into nickel and dime defense situations. Cutler can be erratic and the Steelers need to prey on this. The defense has yet to generate a turnover this season and they will not beat this Bears team unless they are able to take the ball away from Cutler. Also, I would be remiss to talk about Jay Cutler without talking about his faces.
Smokin' Jay Cutler
4. Stop Matt Forte
This might be the most important factor for the Steelers defense. The Bears have run their offense through Forte this season. He is the team's leading rusher and has more targets in the passing game than any Bears player not named Brandon Marshall. All told, Forte has either carried or been thrown the ball on 55 of the Bears 126 offensive play this season. This means Forte has been targeted on 43.6% of the Bears offensive plays this season. If the Steelers are going to stop the Bears offense, they need to stop Forte, particularly in the passing game. Last week a blown assignment allowed Bengals RB Gio Bernard to score a touchdown on a check-down pass. The Steelers can't afford missed assignments on Forte, as he is a far superior back to Bernard.
5. Score some points
The fans are restless. The Steelers offense is off to one of their worst starts in the last 20 years. All hope is not lost, but the barometer for panic is rising. I said after Week 1 that it was too early to panic, but that if we went to London 0-3 then there would be cause for serious concern. The Steelers are 1 loss away from that point and facing a tough Bears team. The best way to ally the fears of the fanbase and to give this team some confidence for the rest of the season is to score. Score early, score often. The Steelers started slow in the first and second half against Cincinnati going 3-and-out on the first 3 drives of the first half and first two drives of the second. The team has been awful on third downs and the play-calling has been mind-bogglingly bad. The fanbase has whole-heartedly turned against Todd Haley and there is the potential for things to turn ugly at Heinz Field tonight if the Steelers don't come out of the gate quickly. Against Cincinnati the Steelers ran the ball on the first 4 plays of the game and on 5 of the first 6 (including two runs on 3rd and long). That type of play-calling, coupled with an end-around to Jerricho Cotchery and a screen pass to Isaac Redman are the types of things that simply can't happen in an offense like this that struggles to move the ball. The Steelers need to work into 3rd and short situations and not get stuck in 3rd and longs all night.