Stopping Bear rush key to 2-0 start

The Pittsburgh Steelers today will face the same matchup problem that nearly cost them in the opener. This time, the offensive line must deal with the crowd noise in Chicago.

Four of the last five NFL champs came back to win division titles the following year, with the Steelers of 2006 the exception.

Those Steelers also were the only defending champ in the last five years to lose the second game of the season, as the rest opened 2-0 on their way to an average record of 12-4.

These Steelers believe they're more the rule than the exception after opening their title defense with an overtime win against the Tennessee Titans – even though the Titans controlled the line of scrimmage with a penetrating, active defensive front.

The same matchup problem exists today for the Steelers, who travel to Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears. The Bears' active, penetrating defensive line controlled the Packers last week in Green Bay, only to suffer the same last-minute fate as the Titans.

"Very, very similar," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said when asked to compare the Bears and Titans along the defensive front. "Big, strong, active, same style. Of course, they lost a couple good linebackers, but the front four itself is as good or better."

The Bears lost middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa in the opener. They'll be replaced by Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach, respectively.

Can the Steelers isolate and attack the backups?

"They're so good up front, and Hillenmeyer started for a long time and Roach started last year, so it's not like they're putting rookies in there," Arians said. "We'll just stick to our game plan."

Because of the Bears' talent up front, the Steelers' game plan could well be the duck-and-chuck attack that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rode to the title last season. But it's a risky one.

Up front, the Bears will bring Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson and Alex Brown off the edge, and Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison up the middle. The group accounted for 2 sacks and 4 other tackles-for-loss last week, nearly a two-fold improvement for a group that averaged only 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per game in 2008.

"You can definitely tell the effect Rod Marinelli's had," Steelers right guard Trai Essex said of the Bears' new and well-regarded line coach. "They're playing a lot harder and they're definitely trying to penetrate a lot more and they're coming off the ball harder. They've definitely elevated their game from last year, from what I've watched. And with two of their backers out, they're definitely going to step it up a little more. We expect their best effort this weekend."

What should Steelers fans expect from their offensive line? It was the weak link last season and opened up with a shaky performance against Tennessee.

"And when you throw in the crowd noise and not being able to hear your count, it's very hard," Arians added.

Arians, of course, wouldn't say whether he'll attack the Bears' injury-riddled back seven with the no-huddle approach that took over and won the opener. It would be a logical approach, if the Steelers weren't so intent on improving a run game that produced only 36 yards on 23 carries in the opener.

However, it's not as if the Steelers should be expecting a shootout. The Bears' offense performed poorly in its opener, and without much experience in their receiving corps, the Bears will have trouble springing running back Matt Forte against the Steelers.

The Packers contained Forte. While picking off quarterback Jay Cutler four times, the Packers held Forte to 55 yards on 25 carries.

Converted kick returner Devin Hester and fifth-round pick Johnny Knox of Abilene-Christian can threaten anyone deep for the Bears, but both are raw route-runners. Tight end Greg Olsen is a bigger matchup problem than either of the two sprinters and possession receiver Earl Bennett. And to that end, the Steelers must cover Olsen without strong safety Troy Polamalu, who'll be replaced by Tyrone Carter and in the dime package by linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

Of course, several Bears games over the years have been decided by their outstanding special teams play. But the Steelers, with punter Daniel Sepulveda and new return ace Stefan Logan, could rival the Bears in that department these days.

"If I put it up there the way I should and the way I know I can, it'll be a non-issue," Sepulveda said of the Bears' vaunted return game.

It would be more comforting to Steelers fans if Sepulveda could make a similar promise about stopping the Bears' defensive front.

Steel City Insider Top Stories