(AP) — Winless through two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned but not ready to panic.
The Chicago Bears know they’re fortunate to be undefeated instead of still searching for their first victory.
Looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2000, the Steelers hope to prevent the visiting Bears from opening 3-0 for the second time in four years Sunday night.
With an offense that’s scored 19 points and rushed for 75 yards, and a defense that’s yet to record a takeaway, Pittsburgh doesn’t appear to have an easy solution to its struggles. Still, the Steelers won’t write off the season after starting 0-2 for the first time since 2002.
“Right now, we’ve got to keep playing,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We can’t panic and abandon what we have learned. We do have to shore some things up. We do have to be a lot more sound. If we don’t, this is going to keep happening.”
Only Cleveland (16) and Jacksonville (11) have scored fewer points, and the backfield foursome of Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for 70 yards on 27 attempts while rookie Le’Veon Bell works his way back from a foot injury. Thirty-seven of those yards came on 10 first-half carries from Jones in a 20-10 loss at Cincinnati on Monday.
In the second year under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 58.6 percent of his passes. He’s thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions while being sacked seven times behind a rebuilt offensive line that’s missing injured center Maurkice Pouncey.
The Steelers might get a big boost Sunday, as tight end Heath Miller is probable to play for the first time since tearing ligaments in his right knee in a December loss to Cincinnati.
Even though he’ll likely return, Miller said it will take him some time to get up to speed due to the limited contact he saw in practice.
“Whenever I’m able to play, I think it’s unrealistic to think I’m going to come back in midseason form,” Miller said. “I haven’t played football since last December, so I’ve been out for a while. With the rules now, you have one day of pads per week.
“That’s not training camp, by any means.”
Tomlin knows the absence of the three-time Pro Bowler has been just one of the offense’s issues.
“There’s been a problem with our functioning,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “There’s been a problem with our production. There’s been a problem with our points. You can point to whatever you want to point to in regards to that, and obviously if the plays aren’t working well then we’re susceptible to that judgment.
“I’m not going to lose a whole bunch of sleep over that.”
Tomlin’s sleepless nights could increase if a defense that lost James Harrison in the offseason and is without the injured Larry Foote doesn’t improve after totaling one sack and allowing 239 rushing yards in two weeks.
“We need some guys to step up, older guys to step up and younger guys to get it going and avoid the road we’re going down,” Roethlisberger said.
Getting into the win column this week probably won’t be easy against Chicago, which rallied for victories in its first two at home. The Bears overcame an 11-point, second-half deficit to beat the Bengals 24-21, then won 31-30 over Minnesota last Sunday after Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett for a 16-yard TD pass with 10 seconds left.
Chicago last started 3-0 in 2010, when it reached the NFC championship game.
“We’ve seen a unique team resiliency, an ability to keep our poise, an ability to just move onto the next play without what happened on the last play inhibiting us,” first-year coach Marc Trestman said.
“What’s exciting now is we have to do it. We don’t have the help of our fans. We’ve got to go do it on our own.”
The Bears know they could very well be 0-2.
“It’s minute, very, very small,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “In those critical situations, a guy could just as easily gotten his hand up, come through that line, gotten a sack, disrupted the throw, or the throw be a little to the left or right, and we lose that game.”
Chicago, which has not played in Pittsburgh since 2005, has dropped two straight and five of six there. The Bears, however, appear to have a more dependable offense than in recent years.
Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte lead the team with 15 receptions, while Bennett has 10 and three TDs – matching the 2012 touchdown total of Chicago tight ends.
Cutler has thrown three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a TD last week, but he appears comfortable in Trestman’s West Coast offense. He’s completed 68.1 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and has been sacked once behind an improved offensive line. Cutler was sacked nine times in the first two games of 2012.
In a 17-14 win over Pittsburgh in the teams’ most recent meeting Sept. 20, 2009, Cutler went 27 of 38 for 236 yards with two TDs and no picks to improve to 2-0 against the Steelers.
The Bears have forced six turnovers, including an interception returned by Tim Jennings 44 yards for a touchdown last week.
Chicago led the NFL with 145 points scored off 44 takeaways last season.
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