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4 things to watch in Bears-Steelers game


The Bears (3-5) will look to snap a three-game losing streak Monday night when they visit the Steelers (4-3) in Pittsburgh. Here are four storylines to watch in the prime-time contest at Heinz Field:

(1) How will Justin Fields build off last Sunday's outing against the 49ers?

The rookie quarterback's sixth NFL start last weekend at Soldier Field was his best to date. Lauded by coaches for "decisiveness in his running," Fields' 103 yards rushing were the most by a Bears quarterback since Bobby Douglass' 127 yards in a 1972 game against the Raiders. Fields also passed for 175 yards, becoming the first Bears quarterback to rush for 100 yards and throw for 175 yards in a game.

The former Ohio State standout showed his dual-threat ability, generating highlight-reel touchdowns with a spectacular 22-yard run and a pinpoint 8-yard pass while rolling to his left to tight end Jesse James in the corner of the end zone.

The Bears will look for more signs of growth from their first-round pick Monday night in Pittsburgh. But it won't be easy against the Steelers, who are 22-4 versus rookie quarterbacks since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007. After watching tape of the Bears-49ers game, Pittsburgh no doubt will try to keep Fields in the pocket and not allow him to burn them with his legs. The Steelers defense has been stout this season, ranking seventh in the NFL in points, 11th in total yards (12th against the run and 13th versus the pass) and ninth in third-down efficiency.

(2) Will a slumping Bears defense revert to the form it displayed earlier in the season?

After holding a potent Raiders offense to one touchdown in a 20-9 victory Oct. 10, the Bears left Las Vegas with a two-game winning streak and a stingy defense that led the NFL with 18 sacks. But the unit has struggled ever since, permitting 11 TDs in consecutive losses to the Packers, Buccaneers and 49ers. The Bears have registered just one takeaway during their three-game skid and have failed to record a sack in their last two contests.

During his weekly press conference, defensive coordinator Sean Desai was candid and resolute in acknowledging the defense’s recent issues while also expressing confidence that errors will be corrected. His message seemingly has been received by his players.

"We haven't played up to our standard on defense the last few weeks," said safety DeAndre Houston-Carson. "The type of guys that we have on our team, everyone's anxious to get back out there and to play to get that taste out of our mouths. There's definitely been a heightened sense of urgency this week."

Limiting explosive plays is a top priority. Last Sunday the Bears permitted gains of at least 21 yards on seven of San Francisco's eight possessions before the 49ers ran out the final 1:12 with three kneel-downs. That included passes of 83 and 50 yards and runs of 39, 27 and 27 yards.

(3) Will the Bears get more production from their passing game?

Starting running back David Montgomery was activated off injured reserve Monday and will play against the Steelers after sitting out the last four games with a knee injury he sustained Oct. 3 in a win over the Lions. But the Bears rushing attack didn't miss a beat during his absence as rookie Khalil Herbert rushed for 344 yards in those four contests, the fourth most by an NFL running back.

The most problematic area on offense continues to be a passing game that has yet to produce a 200-yard performance this season and ranks last in the NFL, averaging 127.4 yards per game. The Bears have also permitted a league-high 30 sacks.

There were positive signs against the 49ers that a breakthrough performance could be imminent, though, as Fields completed a season-high 70.4 percent of his passes (19 of 27) and was particularly effective on third downs, sustaining drives. The Bears converted a season-high 8-of-15 third-down opportunities (53.3 percent).

While pleased with a running game that ranks fifth in the NFL, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor knows that an improved passing attack will produce more points for an offense that ranks 31st in the league in scoring at 15.4 points per game. Said Lazor: "Usually in this league, passing production leads to more points. Until we get the passing game to produce better, we're going to have a hard time."

(4) Will the Bears be able to contain Steelers stars Ben Roethlisberger and T.J. Watt?

In his 18th season as Steelers quarterback, Roethlisberger isn't the same player he was during his prime but is still very effective. In leading Pittsburgh to three straight wins over the Broncos, Seahawks and Browns, Big Ben has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 748 yards with four TDs, no interceptions and a 102.6 passer rating.

Roethlisberger's favorite target is third-year receiver Diontae Johnson, who has caught 40 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers running game is powered by rookie first-round pick Najee Harris, who ranks 11th in the NFL in rushing with 479 yards and three TDs on 128 carries.

Defensively, Watt remains one of the NFL's fiercest pass rushers. Since 2019, he leads the league with 38.0 sacks, 45 tackles-for-loss and 13 forced fumbles. This season he ranks second in the NFL with 8.5 sacks.

"He's a game-changer," said coach Matt Nagy. "He's special. He's all over the place. He's smart. He can beat you with different moves, speed to power, can bull rush you. He'll be all over the place, different spots on the D-line. And he goes after the football. When he tackles, he tackles the football. When you're in the pocket, you better have ball security because he's going after that football."

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