Both the Steelers and the Bears head into Sunday\’s match-up at Soldier Field missing a key player on defense. The Steelers are without Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu who is out with a MCL knee sprain and the Bears lost Brian Urlacher for the season to a dislocated wrist. In addition to Urlacher, the Bears are also going to be without free agent strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Nick Roach and Jamar Williams look to split reps in the absence of Tinoisamoa while veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer looks to fill Urlacher\’s shoes.
For the injured Polamalu, the Steelers will start veteran Tyrone Carter in his place, while Ryan Mundy will also get some work in dime packages. The Steelers will look to close whatever holes that they are attackable in the passing game with the absence of Polamalu by disguising looks.
Both teams will likely have success throwing the ball down field and the team that can better establish a running game will clearly have an upper hand. The Steelers are coming off a dismal week 1 rushing performance that only managed 36 yards rushing. This week Willie Parker will likely give way to Rashard Mendenhall every third series or until either one gets a hot hand. The offensive line for the Steelers must do a better run blocking job against another established 4 man front defense. They need to get the running backs free to the second level of the defense so they can prey on the injury riddled linebacking core.
Through the air, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will once again attempt to take the underneath stuff to set up the Bears juggled secondary for a few deep strikes. Veteran Shaun McDonald will replace the injured Limas Sweed this week on the roster and could play a huge role in the game. McDonald has shown the ability to sit down in the soft zone of defenses and will give Roethlisberger a great option should the Bears concentrate on doubling up Santonio Holmes. Tight end Heath Miller as well could have a large role with a banged up linebacking core. Miller will probably be needed to chip more off of the line to help in pass protection, but should see his fair share of targets.
Defensively, the Steelers want to focus on stopping Bears running back Matt Forte first. Forte is dangerous as well in the passing game and will need to be spied on all game. A big game by Forte will increase the Bears chances of winning. The Steelers want to force quarterback Jay Cutler to beat them with his arm and decision making. Expect much more blitzing from the Dick LeBeau defense this week in order to better disguise the coverages. Cornerback Ike Taylor will likely be left on an island to handle wide receiver Devin Hester and Bears tight end Greg Olsen will try to find a mis-match on a Steelers linebacker as well. Forte, Hester and Olsen are the Bears biggest threats offensively and must be contained. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is expected to return from a high ankle sprain, but will likely rotate out with Keyaron Fox on certain downs and distances.
Special teams wise, both teams are pretty evenly matched. Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda will be counted on for directional punts with good hang times to help the coverage team corral Bears returner, Hester. Forcing Hester to make any fair catches in the game is golden for the Steelers special teams unit. The same will go for the Bears, as already, free agent return man Stefan Logan has made a big difference in the Steelers return game and can beak one in an instant.
Both teams are very well coached and this one could actually be a high scoring affair. Turnovers as always will play a huge role in the game. In the end, the Steelers are just the better team and should prevail in this one.
Prediction: Steelers 38 Bears 24