Seeking their first win of the season, the Bears return home to host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will the running game be more productive than it was last weekend?
Bears running back Jordan Howard
To upset a Super Bowl contender like the Steelers, the Bears are going to have to generate more rushing yards than the 20 they mustered on 16 carries in last Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers. It was their lowest output on the ground in 34 games under coach John Fox, whose vision of the Bears offense is as a run-oriented attack.
“It was one guy on each play,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said of the struggles in Tampa. “It wasn’t one guy playing poor. We’re going to face overpopulated boxes, we know that. There’s going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time and we have to execute better and it comes down to that.”
After rushing for a Bears rookie-record 1,313 yards last season, Jordan Howard has been limited to 59 yards on 22 carries in two games this season. More troubling is that his yards-per-carry average is down from 5.2 last year to 2.7 so far this season. Despite the slow start, Loggains sees the same player, saying: “He’s running hard. We’ve got to do a better job up front and help him. When you get him to the second level, he’s a good back. He’s going to break tackles. It’s tough for people to tackle him for four quarters.”
(2) Will quarterback Mike Glennon rebound from last week’s outing?
Glennon threw for 301 yards with one touchdown and a 76.2 passer rating against the Buccaneers. But he committed turnovers on each of the Bears’ first three possessions with two interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown—and a fumble that enabled Tampa Bay to race to a commanding 26-0 halftime lead.
Loggains was pleased with how Glennon performed on third down but acknowledged that the three turnovers put the Bears in a deep hole. “In this league you can’t beat yourself,” Loggains said, “and to win games you have to find a way not to lose them first, so we’re going to keep emphasizing taking care of the football and playing smart.”
Glennon opened last Sunday’s game by completing his first six passes for 54 yards, leading the Bears to the Tampa Bay 22. But his seventh throw was intercepted, ending a promising drive. It was the type of mistake the quarterback must learn to eliminate.
“Ultimately you’re always looking for ways to improve and when things don’t go well then you’re ultimately going to look in the mirror and figure out what I can do better,” Glennon said. “There are definitely things I can do better from that game, but there are also things I did well that I’ll continue to build on.”
(3) How well will the Bears be able to contain the Steelers’ balanced offense?
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads a Pittsburgh offense that can attack through the air with receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant as well as on the ground with running back Le’Veon Bell. It all starts with Roethlisberger, however.
“Even though his size doesn’t give you the impression that he’s mobile, he’s definitely mobile and likes to extend plays like that guy down there in Green Bay,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara. “We just have to plaster and just be ready and get our conditioning up because those receivers can run and we know Ben is going to be able to extend the play.”
In his 13th season with the Steelers, Roethlisberger boasts a ton of experience. He has won two Super Bowls, been voted to five Pro Bowls and boasts a career passer rating of 94.1.
“He’s played at a high level for a long time,” Fox said. “He can make all the throws. He’s not exactly a scat back type of guy in the pocket. But he does have good pocket awareness and he can slide up and he’s big and strong enough that he’s a hard get-down on the sack. His pocket awareness is unique in that he’s not overtly mobile that way, but he does avoid pressure and he extends plays.”
(4) Will the Bears stop shooting themselves in the foot?
From turnovers to penalties, the Bears have hurt themselves with a lot of self-inflicted mistakes in their first two games. Their four turnovers against the Buccaneers last Sunday enabled the Buccaneers to turn the contest into a rout before halftime. “It never helps when you give them short fields four times in the first half,” Fox said. “Let’s make that clear. That’s not a formula for success for anybody. So that’s something we have to fix. We can’t be flopping it on the ground that many times in 60 minutes, let alone 30.”
The defense also made costly mistakes, committing three holding penalties on failed third-down plays that resulted in automatic first downs instead of punts. “I think the common theme that’s been going on in our season as a secondary or just as a defense is that we keep beating ourselves,” Amukamara said. “We’re just trying to clean stuff up this week and just go out and try to play flawless.”
Another critical miscue last Sunday came when rookie Tarik Cohen unwisely tried to field a bouncing punt while surrounded by two Buccaneers players. He lost control of the ball and Tampa Bay recovered the loose ball at the Bears’ 13-yard line. Cohen and the rest of his teammates know that they must play smarter football, especially when they seemingly have a small margin of error against elite opponents like the Steelers.