Of all the ways that the Bears vs. Steelers matchup might have unfolded on Sunday, nobody could have foreseen the utter horror which actually transpired at Soldier Field. In a game that neither team truly deserved to win, it was the Black-and-gold that ultimately collapsed in overtime under the weight of too many self-inflicted wounds and perhaps a bit too much withering heat in Chicago for late September.
Once again, the Steelers’ offense gave a totally underwhelming performance against a team seemingly begging to be beaten. Ben Roethlisberger passed for only a single TD and a total of 235 yards, posting a mediocre passer rating of 82.7. Le’Veon Bell had only 15 carries for a total of 61 yards and one TD. Martavis Bryant had only two catches for 30 total yards. Despite the strong, individual effort of Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 110 yards and one TD, Steelers Nation witnessed an even more discombobulated offense in Chicago than we’d seen the previous two weeks. Big Ben wasn’t at all sharp on his throws, some of which were too high or behind his receivers. Once again, No. 7 appeared not to be seeing the entire field very well, as he overlooked open receivers and tended to lock onto his primary targets. Add to this a pair of costly fumbles—one by Eli Rogers when he muffed a punt, setting up the Bears for an easy score—and a second by Roethlisberger on a strip sack. Just for good measure, the Steelers’ field goal unit allowed a blocked kick near the end of the first half which should have been returned for a TD by Marcus Cooper—if not for some ill-timed showboating by Cooper before he crossed the goal line, which led to a Bears’ field goal instead.
With the game tied in the fourth quarter—just when the Steelers desperately needed one final drive to capture what might have been a largely undeserved victory—Ben and his allegedly high-octane offense simply could not close the deal. As a quarterback renowned for his ability to rally his team at the end of a close game, Roethlisberger’s failure in the clutch against the lowly Bears wasn’t merely disappointing, but eerily foreboding of a possible alternate course for the Steelers’ 2017 season.
As Chicago celebrated its overtime win following a scarcely-defended, 19-yard TD run by Jordan Howard, a palpable shudder coursed through the very heart of Steelers Nation. While the Bears showed up essentially as billed in advance, the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers clearly are not the team we thought they were, or might be, when they concluded the preseason. As they lick their wounds and prepare to face an equally crestfallen Baltimore Ravens team in Week 4, it’s now painfully obvious that the problems in Pittsburgh run far deeper than merely watching the home team play beneath expectations. Based now on a representative sample of three regular-season games—each one played against an NFL doormat led by a backup or utility quarterback—there seems little doubt that the Steelers are suffering from some serious and deep-seated issues.
Prior to the game, the feeling was widespread that, even if the offense didn’t score 30 points, the Black-and-gold defense was good enough to bottle up Mike Glennon and the Bears’ speedy RB tandem of Howard and Tarik Cohen. But having little or no luck via the pass, the Bears persisted with their ground attack. As the game wore on, it was the Steelers’ front-7 that wore down. As for the Howard-and-Cohen Show, it finished the game with 216 yards, good for a 6.2-yard average per carry.
So much for stuffing the run.
The Bears’ running backs tacked on another 73 yards by catching short passes from Glennon. In fact, largely due to former Steeler Marcus Wheaton’s inability to catch the danged ball, the Bears recorded only one 9-yard completion to a wide receiver (Deonte Thompson) in the entire game.
In victory, Glennon somehow managed to play an even worse game than Big Ben. He completed 15 passes for only 101 yards, one TD and one interception. He was particularly shaky during the second half when he seemed to be doing his level best to hand the game to Pittsburgh. Glennon’s passer rating on Sunday was a dismal 74.2.
Many more lurid details of this embarrassing defeat remain to be discussed. But in a nutshell, the Steelers team that many were counting on to take the next step to another Super Bowl appearance in February have never looked less like a serious contender for the league title. Their two wins were mediocre showings against poor teams. Now, in their first loss, they give an abysmal performance against a team not significantly better than the ones they’ve beaten.
And for the first time in years, it’s undeniable that Pittsburgh has a definite problem at quarterback. Barring injury, of course, Ben will be in the lineup every week of the season. But without that special spark he provides for this team, it’ll be difficult for the Steelers to defeat any NFL opponent, and quite impossible for them to defeat teams such as New England or Atlanta. Because No. 7 is so crucial to the team’s success, the problems he’s currently experiencing with his field vision and overall comfort level with his receivers far overshadow the other significant issues exposed in the loss to the Bears. And if there’s truly some fundamental and potentially lingering problem with Ben, this means the Steelers might soon find themselves in the same leaky boat along with teams like Cleveland, Minnesota and Chicago.
Furthermore, despite all of the talent that Pittsburgh has assembled in recent years, it should be clear by now that the Steelers’ defense simply isn’t good enough to compensate for a continually misfiring offense. If a team like Chicago, playing with a patchwork offensive line, carves up this defense for 200+ yards, then we’re probably going to need that 30-points-per-game scoring average which Steelers Nation has been dreaming about for so long.
With their 2-1 record and 13 regular-season games remaining, the Steelers currently have as good a mathematical shot to reach the playoffs as any team. But the performance we just witnessed was so eminently awful that it’s just as conceivable the Black-and-gold might wind up the season at 8-8 or worse. In the wake of another sub-par performance by Le’Veon Bell, it’s legitimate to continue to question the impact of his preseason absence on the team’s preparation and early-season performance. Additionally, it’s worthwhile to reexamine Pittsburgh’s higher draft picks in recent years and frankly assess how they’re actually panning out. Given Pittsburgh’s strong emphasis on defense in the draft and trades, it was a huge letdown to watch a team like the Bears push Steelers defenders all over the field on Sunday.
No matter how the team might spin this defeat, it was obvious to anyone watching the game that something is terribly wrong with the Steelers these days. Mike Tomlin and his staff certainly have their work cut out this week to put this team back on the right track when it travels to Baltimore next Sunday. But as things stand now, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be a team in complete disarray.