By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to extend their regular season win streak to 10 straight games when they face the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 24. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on CBS.
Pittsburgh (2-0) is coming off a 26-9 shellacking of the Minnesota Vikings (1-1) at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon. The Steelers have yet to get much going offensively, especially on the ground where they are averaging 68.5 yards per game (29th in the league). Defense has been an entirely different story. The Steelers have been outstanding on that side of the ball, surrendering 13.5 points a game (6th) and 237 total yards of offense (3rd).
The Bears have dominated the all-time series, winning 18 of the 26 meetings which also includes a tie. Chicago has won two of the three meetings this century and is 11-1-0 all-time at home against the Steelers.
Bears record 0-2
Chicago is one of nine teams that is off to an 0-2 start to the 2017 season. The Bears have been outscored 52-24 this season for a -28 scoring margin, the third worst in the league. The Bears opened the season with a 23-17 home loss to Atlanta and were then beat up in Tampa Bay this past weekend (29-7).
Bears on offense
Chicago was slightly outgained 311-310 and recorded 19 first downs in their loss to Tampa Bay. But most of that production came after Tampa Bay had a huge lead. In the first half, the Bears turned the ball over four times and totaled 16 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
Quarterback Mike Glennon has completed a high percentage of his passes through the first two weeks (67.1%), though most of those completions have been on routes underneath the defense. He has also committed three turnovers, all of them coming against the Buccaneers, including a pick-six. Glennon has 514 passing yards to go along with two touchdown passes and two interceptions for the season.
Chicago doesn’t really have any big-time playmakers at the receiver position with Cameron Meredith on injured reserve. Running backs Tarik Cohen as well as Jordan Howard have yet to get anything going on the ground. Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing yards last season, saw limited practice time in the week leading up to the game against Buccaneers and finished with just seven yards on nine carries. He is averaging 2.9 yards per carry with a long run of 11 yards.
The Bears’ offensive line is a mess. Starting left guard Kyle Long did not make the trip to Tampa Bay, and starting right guard Josh Sitton along with reserve tackle Tom Compton both left Sunday’s game with injuries.
Bears on defense
Defensively, Chicago has not been horrible despite their statistics. The Bears kept the dangerous Atlanta Falcons offense relatively in check, though they got burnt by tight end Austin Hooper on a 88-yard pass play that gave the Falcons a 20-10 lead early in the fourth. Then Tampa Bay scored 21 of their points following a Bears turnover. In fact, the Bucs scored a defensive touchdown after an interception and only had to go a total of 48 yards on their other two drives.
Overall, Chicago has given up an average of 22.5 points a game. The Bears rank 23rd in total defense, permitting 341.5 yards a game. They also rank 21st in pass defense and 15th against the run (90.5 yards per game). The Bears have registered four sacks and forced one turnover, a fumble.
The Bears defense has also been snake bitten by injury in the early going. Starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman is on injured reserve. Cornerback Prince Amukamara was inactive for the game against Tampa Bay and reserve linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski left the game early with a pectoral injury.
Safeties Eddie Jackson and Quentin Demps lead the defense with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Players to watch: Tarik Cohen and defensive end Akiem Hicks
Tarik Cohen is Mr. Everything for the Bears, despite being a rookie. Cohen serves as the team’s backup running back, receiver, punt returner and Wildcat quarterback. Against Atlanta, Cohen totaled 156 all-purpose yards including a touchdown. He didn’t have super game against the Bucs, accumulating 78 yards of total offense. He also had a costly special teams mistake, picking up a live punt and then fumbling it.
Still, with Howard dinged up and struggling running the ball, Cohen is the Bears’ best offensive weapon. He leads the team in rushing yards with 79 yards on 12 carries. Cohen also tops the team in receptions (16) and targets (21) and is second in receiving yards (102).
Hicks recently signed a four-year contract extension that made him the fourth-highest paid 3-4 defensive end. The 27-year-old has had a solid start to the season with six tackles, five solo, and two sacks. Hicks had a career year in 2016-17, posting seven sacks along with 53 stops and six run stuffs.
Outlook: Steelers 30, Bears 10
Pittsburgh will eventually break out of its offensive slump and Chicago looks like a prime candidate for its resurgence. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell hasn’t been very productive through the first two games, though he said that he believes that he is due for “an explosion of plays.” The Bears gave up 114 yards to the Bucs’ two running backs last week. If Bell can’t get anything going on the ground, there is a good chance either Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant can come through with a big game, as the Bears are allowing 8.6 yards per throw, which is tied for fourth worst in the league.