Chicago Bears: Felix Jones
CHICAGO BEARS (2-0) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-2)7:30 p.m. CT Sunday at Heinz Field on NBC
|For the past 10 years, Ben Roethlisberger has consistently been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, guiding the Steelers to four division titles, three AFC Championships and two Super Bowl victories. But Roethlisberger and the Steelers have fallen on hard times. Roethlisberger has completed only 58.6 percent of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 74.8 in back-to-back losses to begin the regular season. On the other hand, Jay Cutler has led the Bears to a pair of second-half comeback victories, throwing for five touchdowns and three interceptions while connecting on 67.6 percent of his passing attempts. Roethlisberger gets the nod in terms of lifetime achievements, but Cutler is the hotter quarterback heading into Sunday night.|| |
|After a relatively quiet Week 1, Bears tailback Matt Forte racked up 161 all-purpose yards against the Vikings, including 10 catches out of the backfield. One of the most productive all-purpose runners in Bears history and the first player in NFL history to compile 900 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons, Forte has touched the ball 53 times already in just two games. With Le'Veon Bell inactive the past two weeks, the Steelers have no running game to speak of. Pittsburgh has gained 75 total yards on the ground on 31 attempts.|
|Although the Bears added more weapons on offense in the offseason, Brandon Marshall continues to put up Pro Bowl numbers, catching 15 balls for 217 yards and two touchdowns through two games. Bears second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery wasn't much of a factor against Minnesota, but is still a reliable and talented No. 2 option. Slot receiver Earl Bennett has caught all three passes thrown his way from Cutler. The Steelers really miss Mike Wallace, who signed with Miami in free agency. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are solid receivers, but there is nothing special about the group.|
|The Bears' investment in Martellus Bennett paid off in Week 2. Bennett caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Last year's starting tight end, Kellen Davis, had 19 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns for the entire season. Bennett already has hauled in 10 balls for 125 yards and three scores. The Bears made a huge upgrade at the position in the offseason. The Steelers have one of the better tight ends in the NFL in Heath Miller, who led Pittsburgh with 71 receptions in 2012. But Miller is working his way back from offseason surgery, so it's difficult to predict how effective he potentially would be against the Bears on Sunday night.|
|Pass protection hasn't been much of an issue for the Bears up front. Cutler has been sacked only one time, a far cry from previous years. Much of the credit goes to the Bears' revamped offensive line that features four new starters from Week 17 of last season. The Bears are also averaging nearly 4 yards per rushing attempt. The Steelers lost their best offensive lineman in Week 1 when center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a season-ending knee injury. Roethlisberger has been sacked seven times, partly because Pittsburgh has found itself in numerous third-and-long situations. Pittsburgh can't run the ball.|
|The Steelers' three-man defensive line can present problems for opponents. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is extremely active, and Brett Keisel is always good at generating pressure off the other end spot. The Bears are simply not generating an acceptable pass rush, beginning with Pro Bowlers Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, who have a combined five tackles, two quarterback pressures and zero sacks.|
|Bears weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs continues to perform at a Pro Bowl level despite taking on the additional responsibility of calling the defensive signals in the wake of Brian Urlacher's retirement. Briggs has been all over the field the last two weeks, recording 19 tackles and two tackles-for-loss. Strong-side linebacker James Anderson is actually tied for the team-lead with 20 stops and has also broken up a team-best three passes. D.J. Williams is still working his way back into shape after missing the preseason. The Steelers have athletic and talented linebackers capable of rushing the passer out of Pittsburgh's 3-4 fronts. LOLB LaMarr Woodley and RILB Lawrence Timmons are accomplished veterans with the ability to get after the quarterback.|
|Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have forced four turnovers in just two games for the Bears' defense. The duo ranks as one of the best in the league, while safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte have been solid in the early going. The Steelers boast the talented safety combination of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, plus dependable veteran cornerback Ike Taylor. This one is tough to call, but the Bears have made more game-changing, impact plays in the secondary up to this point.|
|Devin Hester returned five kickoffs for a career-high 249 yards in Week 2 en route to being named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week. The Bears also surrendered a 105-yard kickoff return against the Vikings, and were whistled for a couple of silly penalties. Both teams have excellent kickers. The Steelers are also dangerous in the return game with Brown and Felix Jones.|
|Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a legendary defensive play-caller who should present the Bears' offense with multiple looks and exotic blitzes on Sunday night. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has taken his team to a pair of Super Bowls, wining one. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley is known for having strained relationships with co-workers. Marc Trestman's staff is off to a great start in Chicago, but it's tough to rate them higher than Pittsburgh's staff based on what that group has accomplished.|
|Expect the Steelers to put up a fight and cause the Bears to commit several mistakes on offense. But even though Heinz Field is a tough road test for the Bears, Trestman's team should be able to score more points. Even if Miller and Bell return for the Steelers, the Bears' defense should get back on track and survive a close one in the Steel City.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 21, Steelers 17|
Jeff Dickerson, 2013 W2W4 Matchups, Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Julius Peppers, Ryan Clark, Henry Melton, Tim Jennings, Brandon Marshall, Ben Roethlisberger, James Anderson, Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Marc Trestman, Felix Jones, Ike Taylor, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Heath Miller, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Dick LeBeau, Mike Tomlin
The Chicago Bears invested heavily in their ground game last offseason when they awarded lucrative contracts to Matt Forte (four years, $30.4 million, $17.1 million guaranteed) and Michael Bush (four years, $14 million, $7 million guaranteed), only to see both players have relatively modest seasons amid talk that neither was used enough.
Forte managed to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards (1,094) for the third time in his five-year NFL career, but his average yards-per-carry fell from 4.9 to 4.4, and he also set career-lows in receptions with 44 for 340 yards. However, Forte remains one of the top all-purpose backs in the league and should be one of the key offensive pieces moving forward under new Bears coach Marc Trestman.
Injuries seemed to limit Bush, who dealt with shoulder and rib issues during his first season in Chicago after a successful four-year stint with the Oakland Raiders. But even when Bush was healthy last season, he did little more than provide the Bears with an effective and powerful goal-line back.
Bush views himself as much more than simply a battering ram in the red zone, but he only carried the ball 114 times and caught nine passes in 13 games. In Bush's final year in Oakland, he ran the ball 256 times and had 37 receptions while starting nine of the Raiders' 16 regular season games. Everybody knew Bush came to Chicago to back up Forte, but Bush probably believed he would see more action in the Bears' backfield when he signed.
With Forte ($7.175) and Bush ($3.550) scheduled to eat up a combined $10.725 million in salary cap space in 2013, the Bears' only objective this offseason might be to upgrade at the No. 3 running back spot, although options do exist internally.
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