The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Chicago Bears Sunday night at Heinz Field and below are seven things to watch for in the game.
Rushing To Get Better – The Steelers have to get their running game going if they are going to beat the Bears. Through two games they have a franchise low 75 yards and they figure to lean on Felix Jones more this week while rotating in the other backs to spell him. Even though they worked on the outside zone all offseason, we have yet to see much of it and that has to change Sunday night. The offense has to get the Bears front seven moving out in space as their linebackers are just too good playing down hill all the time. 93 rushing yards by the Steelers very well could be the magic number in this game and that just so happens to be what they Bears have allowed as an average in their first two games.
Wheaton Wide – Rookie Markus Wheaton has played all of 12 snaps in the first two games and has yet to be targeted in the passing game. That figures to change Sunday night as he is sure to get more playing time. When the Steelers use their 11 personnel grouping, Wheaton should line up outside wide which will allow Emmanuel Sanders to play in the slot. Jerricho Cotchery will still likely see 15-20 snaps, but those numbers will likely start diminishing as the season progresses. Wheaton, unlike Cotchery, can stretch the field and that should create more space for the other eligibles in the passing game.
Taylored Marshall Plan – Last week, cornerback Ike Taylor did a great job on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and he must now follow up that solid performance up Sunday night with another one against Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who already has 15 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in two games. Make no mistake, Marshall is going to get his catches like Green did last week, but as long as he is wrapped up quickly after the catch and not allowed to get loose over the top, it will be the equivalent of shutting him down.
Heath Help? – It looks like tight end Heath Miller will make his 2013 debut Sunday night and that will definitely be a shot in the arm for the offense if he does. It will be interesting to see how the knee brace affects his game and if he is able to offer anything as a blocker. David Paulson hasn’t played well as an in-line blocker to start the season and that has played a small role in the running game getting off to a poor start. Last season, the Steelers passing offense ran through Miller and there is no reason to think that won’t continue in his first game back. Miller is unlikely to be a big difference maker in this game, but he certainly cant hurt things.
Crushed Peppers – Bears defensive end Julius Peppers is not off to a great start this season as he is yet to register a sack in his first two games. He will be looking to get on track Sunday night against left tackle Mike Adams, who has already allowed a sack, two quarterback hits and seven hurries in the first two games. The Steelers will have to give Adams some help in the form of a tight end or a running back chip as the young tackle can’t be fully trusted just yet.
Troy Story – One of the biggest task that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will have Sunday night is finding and tracking safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers broke out their quarters package with dime personnel last week that included four safeties and two cornerbacks on third and longs and there is no reason to think they won’t do the same this week. Polamalu lined up all over the place Monday night in an effort to confuse Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and it seemed to work for the most part. Look for Polamalu to be near the line of scrimmage pre snap quite a bit in the quarters package as the defense will want Cutler think about him as much as possible. Cutler is not above making bad decisions and the defense could certainly use a few of those Sunday night. Polamalu, without a doubt, can be a difference maker in this game.
No Hester Jesters – Bears return specialist Devin Hester was named the NFL’s special teams player of the week for his performance last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings that included him returning five kickoffs for a franchise-record 249 yards. Two of those returns set the Bears offense up deep in Vikings territory and that simply can’t happen Sunday night against the Steelers. The Steelers special teams are off to a good start this season and they have allowed an eight yard return average on two attempted returns. If at all possible, kicker Shaun Suisham needs to boot a few through the end zone for touchbacks. If he doesn’t, Jarvis Jones, Kion Wilson, Chris Carter and Shamarko Thomas all need to be down field quickly in order to prevent a big return that could change the game.