Hub Arkush: Pittsburgh Steelers present Chicago Bears with toughest test yet
CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bears team that faced the Atlanta Falcons in the season opener shows up to play Pittsburgh on Sunday, it can upset the Steelers.
If it’s the team we saw in Tampa last week, spend the day on your “honey do” list because the football could get ugly.
There is some good news for the Bears going in, as it appears guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Prince Amukamara will all be making their season debuts.
Unfortunately, Nick Kwiatkoski definitely won’t go at inside linebacker, and guards Josh Sitton and Tom Compton will be doubtful and questionable, respectively.
If Sitton and Compton are ready, this will be the best version of the Bears we’ve seen yet.
The Bears’ problems will start with the Steelers’ big three – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown – who are among the best in the league at their positions, and will be exacerbated by one of the best offensive lines in football, featuring All Pros Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro at center and guard, Pro Bowler Ramon Foster at the other guard and one of the biggest players in the league, 6-foot-9, 320-pound Alejandro Villanueva, at left tackle.
Like the Bears, the Steelers have a few injury concerns. One break the Bears will catch is Pro Bowl right tackle Marcus Gilbert will be unable to go, and there is a noticeable drop-off to backups Chris Hubbard and Jerald Hawkins.
Bell is off to a slow start after sitting out the preseason in a contract dispute and reporting Sept. 1.
He did, however, get 27 carries and four receptions Sunday vs. Minnesota, and you have to hope this isn’t the week he breaks out.
Roethlisberger has been known to struggle on the road, and he is for the most part a stationary target in the pocket who can have trouble with big pass rushes.
If the Bears’ front seven can bring consistent pressure with a potential soft spot at right tackle to attack, there could be an advantage.
If the Bears can’t create pressure, they’re in big trouble because as good as Brown is, 6-4, 211-pound Martavis Bryant is back on the other side and can be even scarier. The Steelers have great depth at receiver, too, with Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, rookie Juju Schuster-Smith and Darius Heyward-Bey.
It’s a good day for the Bears to have Amukamara, Kyle Fuller and Marcus Cooper all available, and it will be interesting to see how they are used, as Fuller has played well enough in relief of Amukamara to stay in the starting lineup.
As good as Pittburgh’s offense can be, the Steelers are 29th running the ball and 32nd in average gain per rush through two weeks, but they are 11th passing and 10th in average gain per pass.
On defense, five technique Cameron Heyward (son of former Bears fullback Greg “Ironhead” Heyward), linebackers Ryan Shazier and Bud DuPree and safety Sean Davis are the players the Bears have to focus on taking away.
First-round pick and younger brother of J.J., T.J. Watt, who was the star of the Steelers’ Week 1 victory at Cleveland, will be out with a groin problem.
The Steelers have been rebuilding this group for several seasons, and at 2-0 they are eighth against the run, fourth against the pass, second in QB sack percentage and third in points allowed playing the shaky offenses of Cleveland and the Vikings without Sam Bradford.
Pittsburgh has only two takeaways in two games but has turned the ball over only once.
There is no question the Steelers are the better team here and worthy of being a touchdown favorite, but if quarterback Mike Glennon takes care of the football and the Bears’ front seven can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, the Bears will have a chance to surprise.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.