Former head coach John McKay had one of the best sports quotes of all time. When asked about the execution of his team, he said, "I'm in favor of it." This seems quite apropos at this point in the year for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare to square off with the Chicago Bears.
Everything that can go wrong for the Steelers this year has. Injuries, poor play and poor coaching have infiltrated every nook and cranny of the team, and it is starting to cause emotions to spill over.
Earlier in the week, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers Insider Ed Bouchette joined SportsRadio 93.7 on the Vinnie & Cook Show and discussed the problems.
There is very little good that can come from this kind of chaos. It illustrates the level of desperation this team is feeling only two weeks into the season.
The Chicago Bears come into the game with a 2-0 record after beating the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings, both in very close games.
The Bears rank near the middle in all statistical categories two weeks into the season, but watching them play, you see it is about balance. In two games, the Bears have run 63 pass plays and 61 runs. This sort of diversity makes it very difficult to scheme against.
However, the Steelers can absolutely win this game. This is the NFL, where anything can happen. The Bears have pulled out two tight wins in two weeks, and that tells me they are due for a letdown. It is taxing to play games like that whether you win or lose. Nevertheless, it will take a supreme effort by the Steelers to do so.
Let's take a look at some keys for the Steelers against the undefeated Bears. Unless otherwise specified, all stats are courtesy of NFL.com.
Keep it Simple
The Steelers need to get back to basics on offense. Last week, the Steelers fooled themselves trying to fool the Bengals with convoluted play calls and blocking assignments.
This week, the Steelers need to do what works. In preseason, the Steelers implemented a zone-blocking scheme that seemed to provide them with some creases for their backs to work with. So far this regular season the Steelers have chosen to not use the blocking scheme they worked so hard on in training camp.
If the Steelers want to get the ground game going, zone blocking and a big dose of Felix Jones is what will cure their ills. Also, more Kelvin Beachum in at tight end to give the Steelers an edge in the trenches.
Keep it Going
For as poorly as the Steelers offense has played, the defense has been that good. This unit has had to deal with playing from behind and being sent back on to the field repeatedly after stalled offensive drives.
Linebackers Jarvis Jones and LaMarr Woodley are starting to find some chemistry as bookend pass rushers and the rest of the defense is playing very well as a group. Look for some sacks and turnovers this week as they finally get over the hump.
Keep the Playmakers Involved
So far on the season, Roethlisberger has completed 41 passes, with 23 of those to wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Along the same lines, 10 of the Steelers' 31 rush attempts have gone to Felix Jones.
These are the three players the Steelers must focus their offense around if they are to be successful. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has been too inconsistent and unless Heath Miller is able to play, the tight end position has been relegated to an extra offensive linemen.
Sanders and Brown in the open field with the football in their hands is a win for the Steelers. The game plan must focus on finding ways to get them the football, in space, where they can run after the catch. A few successful bubble screens and shallow crosses will turn a double move into a deep reception.
Jones is the best fit for the zone blocking scheme assuming it is put in place this week. Felix should get a minimum of 15 carries, just to keep teams honest. Commitment to the run game is key, even if it is not terribly productive.
To Blitz or Not to Blitz
Andy Dalton dropped back 45 times on Monday night, and the Steelers only rushed five players 11 times. And four of those times were quick passes or screens.
There was almost no zone blitz or overloads to one side, and at no point did the Steelers ever send more players than the Bengals could block. Against the Bears, this must change.
By the Numbers
Let's take a look at how the teams match up by the numbers.
|Rushing Yards Allowed||239||186|
|Passing Yards Allowed||397||504|
Why the Steelers Can Win
There are a few factors that should give Steelers fans some hope. First, the team is at home, and historically, the Steelers are a tough out at home. If this game were on the road, this would be a much steeper climb for Pittsburgh to get into the win column.
The other big factor is that big tight end Heath Miller may be able to play. This is one of those "Don't get your hopes up" type of moments, but there is hope. There is nothing official to confirm Miller will play, but if he does, that opens this offense to a whole new world of play calling. And Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did add to the optimism with this Tweet.
#Steelers TE Heath Miller was a full participant in practice today and it is a possibility he starts Sunday barring any setbacks— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 18, 2013
Why the Steelers Can't Win
There is no greater hindrance to a team's success than dissension among the ranks. Except for maybe voids in talent at strategic spots. And lo and behold, the Steelers have both. If this team cannot get on the same page this week, and unless some of these marginal players step up and execute better, they could get run out of their own house quickly.
Matchup to Watch
What sort of reward does cornerback Ike Taylor get for doing such a great job covering Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green last week? He gets to do the same this week to Bears star wide out Brandon Marshall. There is little doubt Jay Cutler is going to target Marshall, so it will again be up to Taylor to keep the opponent's best player in check.
Prediction and Implications
At this point, it is very hard to look at the Steelers and think they can win this game. As impressive as the defense has been in these first two games, and even if Miller is able to return, I have a hard time finding hope for a Steelers win against the balance of the Bears.
If I were making a prediction, I expect a fairly low-scoring game, with both quarterbacks carrying their respective teams. Ultimately, the Bears’ ability to run the football will carry the day. The Bears pull out a close game 21-17.
What does it mean for the Steelers if they start the season 0-3? If history means anything, it probably means the Steelers will miss the playoffs. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter tweeted today that no team has made the playoffs after a 0-3 start since 1998.
No team has made the playoffs after an 0-3 start in 15 years, since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1998.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 20, 2013
This sort of history is something the Steelers can ill afford to be staring down come Monday morning.