Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Bears

How bad was Jay Cutler in Week 1? Pretty bad. In his three years in the league, though, he tends to rebound quite well after poor performances. Add in the fact the Steelers are without their best defensive player (the Bears have several injuries as well), and it makes the defending champs' Week 2 match-up with Chicago an intriguing one.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh wonders who will miss their star defensive player more, the Bears or the Steelers?

Fans posting on the Chicago Bears Official Message Board seem to like their chances on the site's game thread.

ESPN's John Clayton says the Bears' defensive run appears over.

Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye asks Bears fans not to feel sorry for the team, the defending champs are coming to town.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Jay Cutler

"Cutler consistently made poor decisions and appeared panicked. He was so reckless that if he were driving a car instead of an offense, he would have ruined his car and taken out a block full of others, a few trees, a telephone pole and a mailbox." - Chicago Tribune writer Dan Pompei, in his Bears Grades column Sept. 15.

It's not a question of how badly Cutler played in a 22-15 loss at Green Bay in Week 1. It's how the young but talented passer responds.

At least that's what Bears brass are telling themselves right now. After trading two first round draft picks and Week 1-winning QB Kyle Orton to Denver for the mercurial Cutler, he laid a Tyrannosaurus-sized egg at the 50-yard line of Lambeau Field. Now he's got the home-opener in Chicago, a season in which many have (had?) Super aspirations.

Cutler's career is an odd phenomenon of inconsistency. The Broncos 8-8 campaign last year seemed to mirror their up-and-down quarterback - unable to sustain success, but not down for long, either. Through eight games, his worst game was a 3-INT, 2 TD game (a loss) at home against Miami. He responded the following week by going 24-of-42 with 447 yards and three touchdowns (to 1 INT, 107 passer rating) against Cleveland.

His worst game of the year was a Week 11 loss to Oakland at home, and he followed that up with a combined 59-for-83 with 643 yards and four touchdowns in wins over the Jets and Kansas City.

Pompei suggests it's even quarter to quarter. Cutler had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the third quarter. In quarters 1, 2 and 4, he was 20.6.

Which Cutler can the Steelers expect to get in Week 2? Recent trends suggest he doesn't follow his poor passer rating games (43.2 in Week 1) by laying another egg. Even more fuel on Cutler's fire is the fact Pittsburgh will be without All-World SS Troy Polamalu, who, through two quarters, was well on his way to ensuring a shutout on his own against Tennessee in Week 1.

With Cutler's ability to bounce back after forgettable performances and the Steelers' lack of their most dynamic player, look for Cutler to settle into the talented passer he is.

Steelers Spotlight: SS Tyrone Carter

"People will say, ‘Well, they still have James Harrison and Casey Hampton and so on...' Irrelevant. Troy's really the only guy on this defense that I see as a full playmaker. Sure, James Harrison gets after the QB. But Troy is all over the field. He can change the outcome of a game in one play. Without him, this becomes a good defense with a very ordinary secondary." - Former Steelers RB now SI writer Jerome Bettis

Pittsburgh is a different team without Polamalu. Understatement of the year (no wonder you lost your NBC job, Jerome). Carter is effective enough to continue to be a spot-starter in the twilight of his career, and while it's unfair to suggest he's no Polamalu (who is?), the Steelers are without their sideline-to-sideline force, and his level of impact cannot be duplicated.

The question then becomes at what level can this secondary play without him? If Week 1 was any kind of precursor to that, the Steelers can feel optimistic. They only allowed 112 yards of offense in the second half of that game, which was played entirely without Polamalu.

Despite the success the defense had with him in there, Carter becomes a marked man in Week 2. Chicago is going to look Carter's way if they see Pittsburgh playing Cover 2, and any time FS Ryan Clark is not on TE Greg Olsen, the Bears will exploit it.

It's a great game for ILB Lawrence Timmons to come back, he can alleviate some of the coverage responsibilities from the physical-but-slowish Carter, but Little Evil is going to have to be a key contributor in specialty packages. With even as poorly as the Bears receivers looked in Week 1, the speed they have in WR Devin Hester and rookie WR Johnny Knox will be utilized.

Chicago should tread lightly, though. Carter is such a weak link, he's been a part of two Super Bowl championship teams. One of those two led him to dance.

 

 

I See You

I see you, offensive line. I'm probably the only one who sees you, and appreciates the job you did in pass protection in the two-minute offense in Week 1's victory, but I'm not just trying to jump on the bandwagon now. You wore down a (no offense) stronger unit in the Titans defensive front, and by the end, you had created enough of an advantage that Ben Roethlisberger had plenty of time to work his magic.

Ya know what happens when you don't stay aggressive, and continue to pound away at that rock? The defense breaks you down, and your quarterback can't win the game for you at the end. Just ask Buffalo's Trent Edwards, who was sacked twice in the Bills' final drive. They lost a heartbreaking game, you guys prevented that from happening to the Steelers.

Even more so, when Hines Ward fumbled at the 4-yard line, eliminating the chance to win the game in regulation, you weren't kicking dirt, or screaming at him or each other. You calmly collected yourselves, and when Pittsburgh won the coin toss in OT, you went back on the field, kicked their butts for a few more minutes and got the win.

With all due respect to Jerome Bettis, he's a "writer" now. Screw him. The run blocking will come, just stay confident in your pass pro, it'll all work itself out.

Key Stats

  • Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was 15-for-16 in the fourth quarter and overtime in Week 1
  • His 43 pass attempts were more than he's thrown since Nov. 9, 2006 - a 24-20 Week 10 victory over Cleveland, where he threw 44 times.
  • It was the first time Kerry Collins lost to the Steelers in his 15-year career
  • Games With 300 Yard of Offense since 2008: Tennessee 2-2; Rest of NFL 1-18
  • Bears K Robbie Gould is fourth in NFL history in career field goal percentage (85.938). Steelers K Jeff Reed is 10th (82.653)
  • The OT field goal against Tennessee was Reed's eighth career game-winner

Quick Hitters

Coach Snipes: One of the highlights of Week 1 was SteelerBro's English friend texting him during the game, asking, "Why is Wesley Snipes Pittsburgh's manager?" Referring to an American football coach as a "manager" is funny in itself, but it invented a new game: "What Would Coach Tomlin Say?" If a reporter asked him to respond to a comment that he looked like Wesley Snipes, what witty, profound or flat-out blunt response would he use? "Image isn't as important to me as success." Or perhaps "Our men don't concern themselves with who their coach looks like." He'd be right though, it's the fans' job to concern themselves with who their coach looks like.

Coach Babich: Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich is a native of Alaquippa, Pa., and has seen a fair amount of success in his coaching career. His biggest non-pro stint was a five-year run at then-Division II North Dakota State University, located in Division II town Fargo, N.D.

It also happens to be the alma mater of the author of the PZB.

As a young scribe working almost primarily for beer money my freshman year, I was assigned the football beat for the college newspaper, The Spectrum. Reading over the media guide, I noticed Babich was from Alaquippa, and hoped to use our link to Pittsburgh as a way to get the coach to remember me.

Like just about everyone else I've met from the Pittsburgh area, Babich loved to find out I was from there, and it started a great relationship that spanned the five years I covered the team. He and his wife, Nancy, invited me over for dinner that freshman year, he spoke to my dad for a little while before a game and generally just went out of his way to be helpful as I tried to learn from him about football and the role the sports writer plays.

I remember speaking to him about a young recruit that Babich said they couldn't get to qualify academically, but really thought they were going to land him. He told me to keep my eye on him, though, because he's going to be a fantastic player. His name was Larry Fitzgerald.

Babich resigned after a miserable 2-9 season in 2002 to accept the assistant linebackers coach of the St. Louis Rams under newly hired defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. A few years later, Babich followed Smith to Chicago. Babich has been the defensive coordinator of the Bears since 2004, and has seen a good level of success in that time.

At the risk of worsening my name-dropping diatribe, Steelers fans will be pleased to know that Babich is a fine man, an excellent coach and a true Pittsburghean through and through. It'll be an honor to watch Roethlisberger put a game-winning 75-yard drive on his defense Sunday.

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