Bears Vs. Steelers: Notes, Scribbles, and Things Jotted Down

Justin K. Aller

The Bears finished off the Steelers 40-23 to advance to 3-0 on the young season; we're going through our notes from last night's contest.

  • So I'm just going to throw this out there right at the start (because I'm watching the latter part of the fourth quarter this morning) - the NBC crew put together the point differentials of the remaining undefeated teams, and the Bears are on the bottom of the list even after this game. The Seahawks lead in point differential at +59. The Bears are now still at the bottom at +21 - entering the game, they were at +4. The +21 at least ties them with the Dolphins, but still.
  • Maybe the Bears have some weird obsession with having to execute in the fourth quarter. Giving up a 24-3 lead to the Steelers by them scoring three touchdowns to close to 27-24 will make a team do that. But the Bears finally summoned up some of that first-quarter offense and challenged to overturn an incomplete pass into a touchdown by Earl Bennett.
  • And if you don't believe Marc Trestman appreciates good defense, then go re-watch his celebration after Julius Peppers' fumble recovery for a touchdown to make it 40-24.
  • While you're there, never mind Troy Polamalu's perfect shooting-the-gap to block the extra point by Robbie Gould.
  • Speaking of challenges, I didn't have a problem with waiting until the third down play to challenge (or not challenging the first-down play). Yes, getting the touchdown on first down is ideal, but, after first down the Bears still had two chances to get the touchdown, missed on second down and almost punched it in on third down before challenging, missing, and picking it up on fourth. And say the touchdown is scored cleanly on second or third down. Then you've got the challenge (and the timeout) for a later point in the game.
  • I also can't say I had a problem with lining up on fourth down attempting to bait the offside and picking up the delay of game. The Delay made Robbie Gould's field goal attempt from a 27 yarder to a 32-yarder. Gould's career numbers from those distances: Between 20 and 29 yards, 65-65. Between 30 and 39 yards, 73-80 after last night. The point is, Gould's reliable as ever from those distances.
  • The Bears picked up three sacks on the day. One of them was Lance Briggs' forced fumble on Roethlisberger which Peppers snagged out of the air and ran back. The other two were D.J. Williams coming in and laying a hammer on Roethlisberger. And Roethlisberger can take a hit - if you're sending him stumbling back four yards like Frankenstein's Monster hitting his head on an overhanging I-beam, you're doing something right.
  • What's not being done right is a hammering of the defensive line, which I thought had a better game despite not getting much in the sack column, but still not good enough by any stretch. The one thing I'd say - when you get opportunities to take a quarterback down, you have to do it, period. Nate Collins, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin each registered a quarterback hit, and there's not a doubt that defensive line play needs to improve and sacks need to come in bunches from this unit.
  • The offensive stats don't paint a very appealing picture of the Bears' play against the Steelers. On either side. Don't get too caught up in that - after the Bears went up 27-10, the offense didn't put much at risk until they had to and just kind of shut it down. Unfortunately, it feels like the defense kind of shut it down too, but Ben Roethlisberger went about his business of fighting off sacks, looking downfield, keeping plays alive, and making two picture-perfect throws with two fantastic catches by Antonio Brown. I have to eat my crow here - I said in the pre-game stream that Brown hasn't taken a step towards being a number 1 weapon. Those are some number-one-weapon plays he made in the end zone.
  • So how you you stop those plays? Really, the only thing is to make sure they don't get off the ground. The bad thing about no defensive-line pressure is no reason for Roethlisberger to rush his throws. He made perfect throws against great coverage on the first touchdown and decent coverage on the second, and Brown just hauled them in. Credit where credit's due.
  • So how did the Steelers' offensive targets keep getting so wide open down the field? Kind of a by-product of the blitz, but ideally the blitzing linebackers give the quarterback even less time to find guys rushing into those open pockets. Mel Tucker's variant on the Cover-2 is a bit more aggressive than the Lovie drop-7-rush-4 formula, but some of those big conversions came when the Bears only rushed four. Honestly, I can't say that I don't like Tucker's scheme and the way he calls it, but I really want to see some better execution, because the back seven is playing really well given what the defensive line's given them over three games.
  • Ideally, I'd like the Bears not to shut it down offensively - I don't know if that's a "fan" thing or if that's a "football" thing, probably column A/column B. The best way to not allow a team to get back into a game is to not let them have the ball, and the offense was getting plays that worked - Alshon Jeffery was huge on the opening drive, and Matt Forte was having a decent game when he wasn't being tended to on the training table.
  • But memo to Anthony Walters - plays like "roughing the kicker" will bring teams back into games like that by unnecessarily keeping drives alive. Great effort, but that's a huge risk to take being ahead by that much at that point in the game. Just like Trestman's challenges - risk/reward.
  • Speaking of risk/reward once again, Cutler was making some concerted effort to throw the ball away if he had to and live to fight another day. Maybe the concept of "the play doesn't have to be made on that exact down" is getting in.
  • You know, when you really get down to it, the Bears' picking up 5 turnovers with the defensive line pressure they aren't getting... It's actually pretty remarkable. Chris Conte's interception to seal the game was against desperation throws, but Williams' first sack turned the ball over, Major Wright's interception scored points, and the Briggs/Peppers team-up also scored points. Henry Melton did pick up a Felix Jones fumble before he left, so I guess we can't say the defensive line did nothing.
  • Brandon Marshall was definitely game-planned out of the game by the Steelers. And that's fine for a day - he still got a 41-yard reception but the rest of the offense was getting the ball out to other targets, including Forte, Earl Bennett, and Jeffery. But Marshall was still key on the Bears' first touchdown drive, as his excellent run-blocking took out two guys just enough to give Forte room to hit the first down.
  • Let's put it this way - Marshall and Jeffrey tied for targets with 8 to lead the Bears.
  • The other main concern was how the Bears' offensive line would handle the 3-4 Dick LeBeau scheme, and oddly enough, it was Matt Slauson that allowed the first sack, and not the kids on the right side. I thought there were times Kyle Long looked briefly physically overmatched, but overall not too bad, and Jordan Mills acquitted himself pretty well. Go replay at about 3:20 of the first quarter as Mills and Long tear down a patented blitz - they can work in this league. Shame that Les has to write about opponent sacks again this week and not sacks that the Bears pick up, unless he wants to break down middle linebacker blitzes.
  • D.J. Williams can play. Watching him this game, there's a reason that Jonathan Bostic is behind him on the depth chart yet. Does he play perfect coverage? No. Did he miss a few plays? Yeah, a couple of big ones. Did he have a good game? Damn straight he did. He's not going to be Brian Urlacher in his prime, but he plays well enough.
  • That being said, the middle of the field was open quite a bit, but while we'd take some more forced incompletions and closing off that part of the field, aside from the depth of some of those passes, that's where you'd rather have them as opposed to completions and getting out of bounds on the sidelines. Particularly when a team would like time to work with while coming back into the game.
  • The Bears had three penalties - the aforementioned "planned" delay of game, the aforementioned roughing the punter, and one illegal shift. Three penalties for 25 yards in your first road game? I think we'll take that. Just a hunch.
  • If you want something to keep you up at night, go check out the kick return and punt return stats, then realize Devin Hester had a 13.0 yards-per-kick return and no punt returns. He was his own enemy on one of the kick returns, but the Steelers' special teams units didn't give him anything to work with. Also, Eric Weems, why are you snatching a ball away from Hester coming up to it?
  • Michael Bush, thank you for not giving up on the play on fourth down and pushing in for the touchdown.
  • The back-7's been playing well, but Chris Conte bit on a strong pump-fake by Roethlisberger to get Brown open down the sideline on the right side to start the second quarter, and Conte still nearly came in to make a play.
  • Heath Miller's return added a dimension to worry about - three receptions for 35 yards isn't going to destroy a team, but for a guy coming back from a torn ACL, not bad. David Johnson's 51 yards from the tight end spot did more damage down the field, and Steeler tight ends added up for 92 yards to go with Brown's near-200 yard day.
  • Two sacks and no turnovers usually means good things on the offensive side.
  • There aren't too many times I'll say this, but generally, as much as we pan the daylights out of ESPN's QB(S)R, this was a game they got right. The standard passer metric marked Cutler with a 90.8 for his 20/30, 159-yard, 1 touchdown performance, and Roethlisberger with his 26/41 for 406 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions earned a 92.1. ESPN's metric gave Roethlisberger a 16.9 and Cutler earned an 86.3. The takeaway here isn't that ESPN's metric is good for covering passing games - rather, while Roethlisberger made some great plays in the passing game to bring his team back, had the better overall statistical game, and keep his team in the game, Cutler quietly played the game the score dictated, then when the Steelers got in sniffing distance, his throw to Bennett drove the dagger. ESPN's metric isn't so much a passing metric as it is a game-scoring metric, and you really can't say Cutler didn't play a good game.
  • Ideally I like my quarterbacks to slide, but Cutler can throw shoulder-shots into a safety like a ball-carrier pretty well.
  • Zoltan Mesko might be the best name in football.

Was it a perfect game? Hell no. But there was a lot to be encouraged about and quite a bit to fix up heading into the Bears' second divisional game and first against the Detroit Lions. That's all I've got; what's on your mind after the Bears' 3-0 start?

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