Five Things We Learned: Bears-Steelers
September, 23, 2013
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJulius Peppers scored his first touchdown as a Bear on Sunday, returning a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown.PITTSBURGH -- Here are Five Things We Learned in the Chicago Bears' 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers:
1. Jay Cutler converted on third down: Cutler's final numbers were pedestrian, but he delivered in the fourth quarter when the Steelers had cut the Bears' lead to just four points. With the Bears leading 27-23 with roughly 10 and a half minutes to play, Cutler began to move the offense down the field as he converted on three critical third-down plays. On the first third down, Cutler ran for 13 yards and lowered the boom on a Pittsburgh safety at the point of contact to ensure he moved the chains. Cutler then connected with Brandon Marshall for a 41-yard catch on third and 12, his longest completion of the night. Cutler finished off the drive, and the Steelers for that matter, when he hit Earl Bennett in the back corner of the end zone for a 17-yard score on third-and-5. Cutler and the offense in general had their share of problems at Heinz Field against a feisty Steelers defense. But for the third straight week, Cutler was at his best when it mattered most.
2. The other Bennett is a playmaker: Earl Bennett accepted a pay cut a couple of weeks ago because he and his agent understood his worth in the current marketplace and made the difficult, and correct, decision. Bennett can earn back the $1 million he lost if he reaches a certain number of receptions. After missing the majority of the preseason due to a concussion, Bennett entered the regular season as the No. 3 wide receiver, but probably the fifth option on offense behind Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. For the fifth option, the Bears felt Bennett's salary was high, which is why they made the move. It had nothing to do with his performance when healthy. Bennett's 17-yard touchdown is highlight-reel material. He has great hands, excellent body control and can make plays. For a No. 3 slot wide receiver, the Bears could do a ton worse than Bennett. And probably not a whole lot better.
3. Stability is emerging at MLB: Three games into the regular season and D.J. Williams resembled the player who started 115 regular-season games for the Denver Broncos. Williams was around the ball the entire night against the Steelers, finishing with four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, according to the official NFL stats distributed after the game in the press box. Linebacker has been a real strength for the Bears. Lance Briggs and James Anderson hit the ground running in Week 1, and while it took Williams a little longer to shake off the rust after a serious preseason calf injury, he is now making the athletic, impact plays the Bears envisioned he would when they signed him in free agency to replace Brian Urlacher. Most would agree the Bears made the right call to start Williams and keep rookie Jon Bostic on special teams for the short term.
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesD.J. Williams made a big impact against the Steelers with two sacks, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble.
4. Julius Peppers made an impact: Peppers is still without a sack, but he was better on Sunday night. The veteran defensive end got close to making a few plays in the backfield but was unable to wrap up and finish. However, he did finish in the fourth quarter when he returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown, his fourth career defensive score and first since 2009. After watching Peppers on Sunday night, there is reason for optimism that he can be a factor moving forward. Unfortunately, it appears Henry Melton will not be in a position to help the Bears in 2013 after he sustained a serious left knee injury that required the Pro Bower to leave the locker room on crutches. The good news is that reserve defensive tackle Nate Collins has been extremely productive and should help ease the loss of Melton. But with one impact player down, the Bears need Peppers more than ever to step up on the defensive line. The Bears sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times in Week 3, however, all three sacks were recorded by linebackers. That needs to change.
5. Don't worry, Pittsburgh: Let's not mince words: Pittsburgh's offensive line is awful, especially after center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a season-ending knee injury. But fear not Steelers nation, an offensive line can be fixed in one offseason. Look at the Bears. Their offensive line was a running joke in Chicago for years until general manager Phil Emery addressed the problem in the offseason when he signed veteran free agents Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson and drafted Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. The Bears' offensive line is now considered a strength, not a weakness. I'm not saying every team will be as fortunate as the Bears were to hit on their free agents and draft picks, but at least the situation isn't hopeless for Pittsburgh.