By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers are off to a 2-0 start in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08. A big reason the Steelers are unbeaten is the tremendous play of their defense.
Pittsburgh heads into Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon to face the Chicago Bears with the league’s third ranked defense. The Steelers are allowing 13.5 points and 237.0 total yards of offense a game, and have limited their opponents to the fifth-fewest passing yards (163.0) a game. In addition, this defense has the eighth-best completion percentage against (58.9%) and are holding opposing quarterbacks to the seventh worst quarterback rating (73.1).
Last year, the Steelers ranked 22nd in total defense through the first two contests. They were 31st in pass defense.
So, what is the major difference from last season to this one?
The pass rush. The Steelers have generated a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks which, in turn, has made up for any coverage breakdowns that have occurred in the secondary. And the Steelers are getting pressure without having to blitz a ton.
Pittsburgh has already collected nine sacks, tied for the second most in 2017, which is eight more then they had at the same point last year. The Steelers also have been credited with 15 quarterback hits. While Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu are doing yeoman work upfront, the strength of the team is its linebackers. Third-year pro Anthony Chickillo along with rookie T.J. Watt have two sacks apiece to lead the squad. Veterans Vince Williams and Bud Dupree, who missed the season opener with a shoulder injury, each have one sack.
The Steelers should be able to continue having success getting to the quarterback against Chicago on Sunday. The Bears are severely banged up on the offensive line and, as a result, they have struggled mightily protecting Mike Glennon. Glennon has been sacked five times and hit on 18 occasions already.
Cameron Heyward named Steelers Digest Player of the Week
Speaking of Heyward, he was named Player of the Week by Steelers Digest. Heyward followed a solid season-open big game with a sterling performance against Minnesota. The 6-foot-5 defensive end racked up six tackles, two solos, to go along with a run stuff and two quarterback hits against the Vikings. He currently has nine tackles and one sack on the season. Heyward also has three tackles for losses, three quarterback hits, as well as two run stuffs.
Watt was named the Digest’s Week 1 Player of the Week.
Jesse James is dealing with an ankle injury
Tight end Jesse James has been an important part of the Steelers offense early this season. James suffered an ankle injury in the win on Sunday, though he is expected to play against Chicago. He has a team-leading two touchdowns receptions with both scores coming in the red zone. Overall, James is second on the team in receptions (10) and targets (13).
While James’ production is not likely sustainable, he is unquestionably the Steelers’ top tight end especially with Vance McDonald banged up. James was on the field for 96 percent of the plays against the Vikings, hauling in four receptions for 27 yards. He posted a career game with six catches for 41 yards and two scores versus Cleveland.
If for some reason James is hampered by the injury, second-year pro Xavier Grimble would likely see the majority of time at tight end. Grimble has 11 career receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Steelers among teams well on their way to the playoffs
If the Steelers are able to secure a win in Chicago, they will start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2010, which is when they last reached the Super Bowl. Granted, the Steelers have not performed as well as expected so far, but they are one of eight teams that have won both of their games, which generally bodes well for a team’s playoff chances. According to ESPN Stats and Info, since 1990, 63 percent of the teams that started the season 2-0 have reached the postseason.