Steelers Report Card for Bears Loss: Piss Poor Grades for a Piss Poor Performance

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who what he thought was an Advanced Placement class that nonetheless seems to be regressing towards the mediocre mean here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Steelers report card bears, Steelers vs bears, Antonio Brown, Marcus Cooper

Marcus Cooper swats away the ball from Antonio Brown in the Steelers loss to the Bears. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Are the arms on Big Ben’s clock ticking towards “Life’s Work” faster than anticipated? Ben Roethlisberger’s stat sheet doesn’t quite seem to indicate that as 22 of 39 for one touchdown and no interceptions is respectable, if hardly spectacular. But Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been sharp all season, and he hasn’t been able to establish a rapport with any wide out not named Antonio Brown and even then, Brown is making Ben a better quarterback on some of those throws. Big Ben is far from the only thing that ails the Steelers offense, but he need to improve. Grade: C-

Running Backs
This was to be the week that Le’Veon Bell got back on track, wasn’t it? Truth be told, his rushing average was up, but Bell is still very, very far away from the type of dominating performances that were a Sunday afternoon staples for the 2016 Steelers offense. Grade: C-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Jesse James caught two of the four passes thrown his way and had to leave the field with an injury. James was the only tight end targeted this this game. While the type of film analysis needed to offer a definitive critique of the Steelers run blocking woes goes far beyond the scope of this column. So while it might not be fair to label the tight ends a problem area, they clearly haven’t shown they can be part of the solution. Grade: C

Wide Receivers
Martavis Bryant dropped a bomb on the game’s opening play that he should have caught, and could have been a difference maker. As it was it set the tone for the day, as both he and JuJu Smith-Schuster had a combined 14 targets for 4 catches. Again, some of those passes would have required herculean efforts to catch, but it takes two to tango. Antonio Brown, in contrast, had 10 catches for 110 yards on 11 targets, which brings the group grade up. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 3 times and hit 5 times. On the surface that doesn’t seem like too bad of a day for the Steelers pass blocking, but the first sack resulted in a turnover, the second forced a punt and the third came against a 3 man rush at the end of regulation. And for the third straight week, the road grading effort from the Steelers offensive line was missing. Grade: D

Defensive Line
For the season’s first two weeks, the Steelers defensive line could do no wrong. And to be sure, Javon Hargrave came up with a sack at just the opportune time. But with that said, the Bears averaged over 6 yards a carry rushing. All of that success certainly didn’t come at the expense of Cameron Heyward’s crew, but responsibility for stopping the run starts with them. Grade: F

Linebackers
Anthony Chickillo added another sack, and seemingly reminded everyone of why he was keeping James Harrison on the bench…. Until the Bears moved 74 yards on the ground for a touchdown in 4 plays during overtime. That’s not all Chickillo’s fault, as both Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams missed tackles with alarming regularity during the game, as did Bud Dupree. When the Bear’s “Yards After Contact” numbers are calculated they’ll put the Steelers to shame. What’s worse is that a good chunk of those came on 3rd or 4th efforts. Ryan Shazier’s forced fumble & recover y raises this unit’s grade. Grade: D

Steelers vs. Bears, Steelers Report Card Bears loss, Ryan Shazier, Anthony Chickillo, Jordan Howard

Ryan Shazier forces then recovers a fumble during the Steelers loss to the Bears. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Secondary
The Steelers secondary came up with an interception, limited the Bears wide receivers to one reception and kept them to 4-12 on third downs, or worse than the Steelers. So clearly the Steelers defensive backs were doing a lot of things right against the Bears. But that doesn’t mean that Artie Burns, Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden get off scott free. It’s not the fault of the Secondary that the Bears running backs broke out to the second half, but it is their job to stop them when they do. The Steelers secondary didn’t, especially when the game was on the line. Grade: D

Special Teams
After the Steelers defense forced a 3 and out, Eli Rogers muffed punt gave the Bears the ball on Pittsburgh’s 29 and set Chicago up for their first touchdown. For an encore, prior to the second half, the Steelers field goal unit allowed a Chris Boswell attempt to be blocked that set off a chaotic chain of events concluded with a 6 point swing in Chicago’s favor.

The Steelers kick coverage was strong, and Rogers actually had a nice 12 yard return, but those hardly make up for the first half special teams disasters. Grade: F

Coaching
It’s hard to finger coaches for poor execution at times, but when things go wrong on so many levels as they did against the Bears, the coaches bear the ultimate responsibility.

  • Chicago ran the ball well in the first half, making their first rushing touchdown look frighteningly easy.

Credit Keith Butler for making some adjustments, adjustments which held until the overtime disaster. A week ago outsiders were speculating as to whether the Steelers had the makings of a number one defense. The Bears show that Butler’s boys are very, very far from earning that status.

  • Todd Haley has been a lighting rod for fan criticism since he arrived in Pittsburgh, and most of that (save for early 2014) has been unjustified.

The same cannot be said 3 games into 2017. On paper, the Steelers have the potential to have one of the most lethal offenses in recent NFL memory. This was the team that was supposed to put up 30 points without breaking a sweat. Instead, they’re struggling to break the 20 point mark without Chris Boswell’s help.

It is hard to identify any one or two critical breakdowns on Steelers offense because three games into the season, the only thing that is working is Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. (The awful Steelers offenses of the late 80’s could at least rely on Merril Hoge in the days when Bubby Brister to Louis Lipps set the tempo.)

  • Todd Haley’s job is to find a way to make it work, and he’s failing mightily in that respect.

And that brings us to Mike Tomlin. Steel Curtain Rising has never jumped on the “Fire Tomlin” bandwagon before and won’t now.

  • But that doesn’t mean the Steelers head coach doesn’t deserve some harsh criticism, because he most certainly does.

Trap games have always been tricky for Tomlin teams, dating back to his rookie season as head coach. And whether you want to focus on his 5-9 “early season road games” since 2014 or his 5-13 road record against losing teams, this has become a chronic weakness of Tomlin teams.

Last season, either after the losses to Philadelphia or Miami, Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola assured a fan that neither the Steelers nor Tomlin had eased up on their preparation in the weeks prior to those ugly losses. The Steelers and Tomlin haven’t changed a thing, Labriola assured.

Maybe that’s part of the problem, because the impact of the Steelers September stumbles have echoed on well into December and January during the past three seasons. This cannot continue. Grade: F

Vance McDonald, Marcus Cooper, Vance McDonald forced fumble, Steelers vs. Bears, Steelers report card bears loss

Vance McDonald strips the ball from Marcus Cooper after the Bears block a Chris Boswell field goal. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

Unsung Hero Award
Finding an Unsung Hero after a game where nearly every area on the Steelers depth chart can be either be fingered for a critical failure or otherwise remained mired in mediocrity is a challenge.

As the Steelers stood poised to bring the score within 4 to close the first half disaster struck in the form of a blocked field goal. Not only did the Bears deny the Steelers 3 points, but the ball bounced right into the hands of Marcus Cooper who looked to transform the disaster into a 10 point swing for Chicago.

But Cooper got a little too cocky on the way, and that allowed Vance McDonald, who hustled the entire play to force a fumble and prevent a touchdown and for that Vance McDonald wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers loss to the Bears.

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Regression: Stumbling Steelers Overtime Loss to Bears Confirms Troubling Tomlin Trend

Week 3 in the NFL is often times an equalizer. Football is a game of angles and inches and its not uncommon for middling teams to get caught just a little too short or do just enough to win or loss in week’s 1 and 2.

  • But in week 3, the law of averages tends to even out.

And that’s accurately describes the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won, albeit in unimpressive fashion in weeks 1 and 2 over the Browns and Vikings. In the Steelers overtime loss to the Bears, Pittsburgh came up short in a number of cases, had several opportunities thrown their way, but ultimately revealed their identity for what it is thus far: A team with a superstar roster with woefully under performing its pedigree.

Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Young, Steelers vs Bears, Steelers overtime loss Bears Chicago

Willie Young sacks Ben Roethlisberger to end regulation in the Steelers overtime loss to the Bears. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribuen Review

Troubling Tomlin  Trend Confirms Itself

Mike Tomlin has been at the helm of the Pittsburgh Steelers for over 10 seasons. While that’s ten too many for some factions of Steelers Nation, this site has not (and still is not) inclined to join that chorus. Regardless, such a long tenure provides ample opportunity for finding meaningful tendencies.

And the tendencies relevant to the Steelers loss to the Chicago Bears are troubleing:

  • The Steelers are 5-13 in last 18 games on the road against teams with losing records
  • Since Super Bowl XLV the Steelers are 5-9 in early-season road games
  • Beny Rothlisberger doesn’t seem to be the same quarterback on the road

Leading up to the Chicago game, the Steelers said all the right things, as they always do. Mike Tomlin reminded the team that it was Mike Glennon who embarrassed the Steelers in their 2014 loss to Tampa. Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and players further down the depth chart to a man, assured us that the Steelers weren’t taking the Bears lightly.

And let’s give the guys credit, there’s nothing to indicate that the Steelers looked past the Bears.

  • Which makes the Steelers 23-17 overtime loss in Chicago all the more troubling.

It is easy to find scapegoats. And the truth is that absent the Pittsburgh’s special teams snafus, from Eli Rogers muffed punt, to Chris Boswell’s blocked field goals, the Steelers probably would have stumbled to victory against the Bears.

Perhaps it’s a tautology, but great teams find ways to overcome mistakes with superior plays. Good teams overcome mistakes by taking advantage of opportunities presented to them. In their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, the Steelers failed to marshal superior plays, and saw a Bears team all but beg to give the team away in the second half.

That the Steelers were insufficient to the task is incontrovertible. Understanding why remains a mystery.

Steelers Offense Continues to Underperform

The word on the Steelers coming into the Bears game was that the defense had carried the team during the first two weeks. While that’s true, its also true that the when the Browns took away the deep ball, Ben Roethlisberger responded by burning them to Antonio Brown underneath. When the Vikings crowded up the middle of the field, Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant deep (or otherwise got his receivers to draw pass interference penalties.)

  • Through it all, the Steelers struggled to establish Le’Veon Bell on the ground.

Against the Bears, the Steelers offense sputtered, as best exemplified by their 4-11 third down conversion record. And while pass protection was generally sound, a strip sack by the Bears ended one promising scoring drive, and fighting to get into field goal range, the Steelers offensive line was unable to protect their quarterback against a three man rush.

  • Perhaps its Tomlin should have played his starters more in preseason, to establish greater cohesion.
  • Perhaps Le’Veon Bell’s holdout dulled his edge more than expected.
  • Perhaps Todd Haley is mailing it in.
  • Perhaps Father Time has Big Ben’s clock clicking towards “Life’s Work” faster than expected.

At this point, all explanations deserve full consideration.

The bottom line is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have far too much talent on offense to struggle as they have during these first 3 games of the season.

Steelers Defense Overrated?

Heading into the season, the word on the Steelers defense was that they had as good of a front seven of any other team in the league, but that the secondary remained suspect. But the Steelers defense looked good in weeks one and weeks two, getting contributions not only from the usual suspects, but from new faces such as Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Joe Haden, J.J. Wilcox, Javon Hargrave and Vince Williams.

They’d preformed so well that MMQB’s Andy Beniot suggested that the Steelers might have the best defense in the league….

  • Then Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard combined for 220 yards and averaged over 6.0 yards per carry.

Note, Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Glennon completed all of one pass for 9 yards to a wide receiver. Clearly he didn’t need to do more. IT would be incorrect to say that the Chicago Bears imposed their will on the Steelers, because there were times when the Steelers defense stuffed Chicago runners as we’re accustomed to seeing them run.

  • But if the Chicago Bears couldn’t run the ball on the Steelers defense when they wanted to, they certainly ran it when they needed to.

And as a result, the Bears overcame two second half turnovers, numerous penalties, fumbles and bad snaps to last long enough to thoroughly embarrass the Steelers defense in overtime.

Keith Butler had better have a long look at this tape, because opposing offensive coordinators certainly will.

3 Games into 2017 Steelers Regressing to the Mean

The Pittsburgh Steelers began 2016 with a mix of strong and inconsistent performances, only to struggle mightily in the middle portion of their schedule. They made a stark turn round during the second half of 2016 which continued all the way to their AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

  • 3 games into the 2017 season, there’s only one thing you can say about this team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are team well-stocked with above average talent that somehow is finding itself regressing to the mean.

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#ICYMI: Steelers Rule T.J. Watt, Marcus Gilbert Out vs Bears

Compared to some other NFL teams (knock on wood) the Pittsburgh Steelers have remained relatively healthy during 2017, but Mike Tomlin’s men will have to win today’s matchup against the Chicago Bears without the services of starting right outside linebacker T.J. Watt and starting right offensive guard Marcus Gilbert.

  • As of Saturday evening, starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt was listed as questionable.
T.J. Watt, DeShone Kizer, Steelers vs Browns

T.J. Watt closes in on DeShone Kizer in the Steelers 2017 season opening win over the Browns. Photo Credit: Getty Images via Obsev.com

T.J. Watt injured his groin in the second quarter of the Steelers win over the Vikings, while Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury during the same game. Stephon Tuitt injured his biceps in the Steelers season opening win against the Browns.

  • Chris Hubbard will start in Marcus Gilbert’s place at right tackle, and therefore be charged with defending Ben Roethlisberger’s “sightful side.”

The question of who will start and who will play at right outside linebacker remains far more intriguing. When Bud Dupree was unable to start the Steelers season opener, Anthony Chickillo took his place. However, going into the Vikings game, James Harrison was assumed to be T.J. Watt’s backup, yet when Watt got injured the Steelers moved Chickillo over the right side.

  • Mike Tomlin explained the move as wanting to go with the “hot hand” at outside linebacker.

Tomlin’s explanation makes sense, given that Chickillo had two sacks and a special teams touchdown in the season opener (which, if you’re keeping notes, means Chickillo tied Jarvis Jones year three sack total in a single game.)

Stephon Tuitt was listed as taking snaps with the Steelers first team defense on Friday afternoon, which is a strong indicator that he’ll suit up to play against the Chicago Bears. Regardless, the Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell likes to rotate his defensive lineman, so fans can expect to see Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton spelling Tuitt as well as Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave.

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Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Chicago Bears

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Chicago Bears is long and rather tortured for Pittsburgh, dating back to 1934, with the Steel City suffering a 7-21-1 record against Windy City. The founders of both franchises, Art Rooney Sr. and George Halas are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the lopsidedness of the Steelers history vs. the Bears might be due to Pittsburgh’s ineptness during the pre-Chuck Noll era, Pittsburgh’s record in Chicago remains a woeful 1-12.

This chronicle of Steelers history vs the Bears only goes back 31 years that have seen Pittsburgh square off against Chicago 8 times. Indeed, a see-saw dynamic characterizes recent Steelers-Bears history, with the Steelers seem to celebrate glorious victories or agonizing defeats, with very little in between.

Either scroll down or click on the links below to relive key moments in the Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Chicago Bears:

Steelers history vs bears, Steelers vs. bears, Antonio Brown, Charles Tillman

Antonio Brown catches a touchdown in front of Charles Tillman of the Bears. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today

1986 – Ditka Takes the Wind over the Ball in OT

November 30, 1986 @ Solider Field
Chicago 13, Pittsburgh 10

The 4-8 Steelers gave the defending Super Bowl Champion Bears a run for their money, even though they did not score an offensive touchdown. But that was good enough to force overtime when…

Iron Mike elected to kickoff, trusting in the wind and his defense. The Bear’s defense vindicated their coach, forcing a punt and setting up Kevin Butler’s winning kick.

  • Fun Fact: The Steelers only touchdown came in the third quarter on a fake field goal from Harry Newsome to tight end Preston Gothard.

1989 – Steelers Suffer Third Shut Out of Season

November 11, 1989 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Chicago 20, Pittsburgh 0

Aliquippa native Mike Dikta gave himself a hell of a home coming during the only game he coached at Three Rivers Stadium. His Bears netted 6 turnovers, wracked up 203 rushing yards, and held Pittsburgh to 54 rushing yards during their 20-0 shut out.

1992 – Cowher’s Achilles Heel or Mike Singletary’s Final Game in Chicago?

December 13, 1992 @ Solider Field
Chicago 30, Pittsburgh 6

Rookie head coach Bill Cowher‘s 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers had taken the NFL by storm. They traveled to Chicago with a 10-3 record and a chance to clinch their first AFC Central Title since 1984. Cowher Power had rejuvenated the Steelers.

  • The sky was the limit. Or was it?

The Cowher’s Steelers fell flat on their faces. And then the Bears stomped all over them, to the tune of 30-6. Barry Foster ran 12 times for 25 yards. The Bears sacked Bubby Brister 5 times and picked him off twice. Worst of all, Pittsburgh looked lethargic and unfocused.

NBC commentator Bill Parcells attributed the result to the emotional surge occasioned by Mike Singletary’s final game in Chicago, sharing something to the effect, “I was in the Bear’s locker room prior to the game, and this was a team clearly ready to play.”

  • Cowher’s Admission: During Cowher’s early tenure, over confidence was his Steeler’s chronic Achilles heel. Cowher would perhaps dispute this general observation, but a number of years later he admitted that the 1992 game against the Bears was one of the few times the team had not been mentally prepared to play.
Greg Lloyd, Rashan Salaam, Pittsburgh Steelers history vs Chicago Bears, Steelers vs Bears

Greg Lloyd closes in on the Bears Rashan Salaam in the Steelers 1995 over the Bears. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via the Bleacher Report

1995 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. I – Super Bowl XXX

November 5th, 1995
Pittsburgh 37, Chicago 34

The 1995 Steelers started 3-4, and looked ugly doing it. After a particularly egregious loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Bill Cowher declared it was now a “9 game season.” Having beaten the Jaguars in week 8, they traveled to Chicago to take on the 6-2 Bears.

  • This was one of the most exciting games the Steelers have every played.

The lead changed 5 times and the score was tied 3 times as the Steelers and Bears fought back and forth in this titanic struggle.

Hope faded for the Steelers when Barry Minter returned an interception to put the Bears up 34 to 27 late in the fourth. But Neil O’Donnell rebounded, taking the Steelers the length of the field capping off the drive with a 11 yard strike to Ernie Mills to tie it up just inside the two minute warning.

Cowher seemed ready to gamble it all when he sent in the 2 point conversion unit, forcing the Bears to burn their final time out. The Steelers kicked the extra point instead, and Willie Williams picked off Eric Kramer in OT, to set up Norm Johnson’s game winning field goal.

  • Cowher’s Quote: When asked if such a dramatic victory might have been a character building exercise for his recently struggling Steelers, Cowher’s response was concise and correct – “Games like this do not build character, they display it.”

That character carried the Pittsburgh Steelers to Super Bowl XXX

1998 – Steelers Start season 2-0, But…

September 13, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 17, Bears 12

The 1997 Steelers had finished 11-5 and only two Kordell Stewart goal line interceptions away from the Super Bowl. They’d beaten the Ravens 20-13 the week before, but had not looked good doing it.

The Steelers defeated the Bears 17-12 on the strength of Jerome Bettis 131 years rushing.

  • Cause for concern: Kordell Stewart went 17-30-1-1. Not bad numbers, but he only threw for 137 yards and was only 4-4 rushing. Whether it was because Ray Sherman didn’t know what he was doing, or a lack confidence, but this was the beginning of a tentative and timid Stewart, as opposed to the swashbuckling Slash that Steelers fans had seen before.

2005 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. II Super Bowl XL

December 11, 2005 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 21, Chicago 9

The Bears were coming off an 8 game winning streak. Despite their 7-5 record, the Steelers were coming off a 3 game losing streak, and looking at the possibility of needing to run the table to make the playoffs. The Steelers were up to the task, as the Bus led the march that ended with One for the Thumb in Super Bowl XL.

Jerome Bettis, Brian Urlacher, Steelers vs. Bears, '05 Steelers

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss

The Steelers totally dominated the Bears in the snow at Heinz Field. Jerome Bettis ripped off 101 yards as he plowed through Brian Urlacher and the Bears defense. Willie Parker was close behind him with 68 yards. Ben Roethlisberger hit seven different receivers, as the Steelers out gained the Bears by almost 100 yards, and dominated time of possession to the tune of 37:19 to 22:41

  • Bettis Final 100 Yard Game: This was Bettis’ 50th 100 yard game with the Steelers, a team record. It was also to be the Bus’ final 100 yard effort, and he gained all but one of them in the second half. He also scored 2 TD’s for the 16th time in his career, which brought him to 4th on the Steelers all-time scoring list.

2009 – Super Bowl Champion Steelers Slip, Signal Things to Come…

September 20th, 2009 @ Solider Field
Chicago 17, Pittsburgh 14

The defending Super Bowl Champions had won their opener doing what they had done during the previous season – snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But this trip to Solider Field showed that things would not be so easy for the 2009 Steelers.

The Steelers got on the board quickly with a clockwork like opening drive engineered by Ben Roethlisberger. But Roethlisberger threw an interception and he was off after that, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and throwing balls that were either too low or two high. Ben Roethlisberger had help however,

Despite that, the Steelers hung in and appeared to be set to repeat history – pull out a win at the last moment.

Unfortunately Jeff Reed missed a long field goal, giving Chicago a victory. Unlike their ’08 brethren, this was to be the first of many last minute losses for the ’09 Steelers….

2013 – Bears Pass Rush Overwhelms Steelers en Route to 0-3 Start

September 22, 2013 @ Heinz Field
Chicago 40, Bears 23

Sometimes single tweet says it all. That’s the case with this Dale Lolley gem that still resonates long after the Steelers 2013 loss to Chicago:

  • That might seem like a harsh exaggeration, but rest assured my fellow citizens of Steelers Nation, it is not.

The 2013 Steelers entered the game at 0-2, yet both of those games had some extenuating circumstances (such as losing 3 starters in their opener to the Tennessee Titans.) But this was the height of the Mike Adams experiment on offensive line and, truth be told, the jury was still very much out on Marcus Gilbert at that point.

Ben Roethlisberger barley had time to breath, let along throw that night, as the Steelers signal’s turnovers directly led to two Bear’s touchdowns. Chicago jumped to a 27-3 lead, until a Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown hookup evened the score to 27-10 at the half.

  • The Steelers opened the 2nd half by 13 unanswered points to bring it to 27-23 by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Alas, a Jay Cutler scramble on 3rd and 10 gave Chicago new life, and set up a score. The Steelers tired to match, but a Roethlsiberger fumble was returned to Pittsburgh’s six yard line and the Steelers started 2013 0-3.

 

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bears @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is quickly tiring of seeing his student slip because of correctable issues like failing to get work in on time, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bears. Note as a caveat, no other Steelers Report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

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Quarterback
Something is up with Ben Roethlisberger. Yes it is true that he hasn’t had a running game to work with. Yes it is true that his offensive line has been horrendous. Yes Ben make some fabulous throws vs. the Bears. But Ben Roethlisberger caused four of the Steelers 5 turnovers vs. the Bears. And this is a tendency that is repeating itself. Turnovers doomed a Steeler team that otherwise dominated Chicago. Grade:  F

Running Backs
Jonathan Dwyer proved his worth as a blocker and as a runner. Felix Jones looked smart running the ball, yet he put the ball on the ground, which hurt the team when it could lease afford it. Grade:  C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller made his triumphant return, and looked very sharp. His impact was not only visible in the plays he made, but in the success of the rest of the passing game. The tight ends contribution to the blocking efforts was not apparent, however. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had a break out game, just barely missing the 200 yard mark and making two difficult catches in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders likewise put in a strong game and made the catches he had to make. Jerricho Cotchery did all he was asked to do. Markus Wheaton had a ball thrown at him that he didn’t catch. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
David DeCastro did look good on some running plays. But he had difficulty pass blocking as did Ramon Foster. Marcus Gilbert split time with Kelvin Beachum, as did Mike Adams who was abused terribly the entire night. This unit’s play, particularly at the tackle position, remains dangerously far below the line. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Brett Keisel had a monster game with a sack four solo tackles and a tackle for a loss. Cameron Heyward continues to pressure the quarterback but has not struck gold yet. Steve McLendon had 5 tackles. Ziggy Hood had 2 in what looked like reduced playing time. The unit’s play was solid, save for Matt Forte’s 55 yard touchdown run, which has to bring down the grade a bit. Grade:  B-

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons was all over the field leading the team in tackles in defensing to passes (how about picking one off?)  Jarvis Jones was next in tackles, but still has yet to register a sack. LaMarr Woodley spent plenty of time behind the line of scrimmage. Vince Williams and Kion Wilson are both playing with a passion that says they want to stay there. A good performance, but something broke down on the 55 yard play, which hurt. Grade: B-

Secondary 
Troy Polamalu played a strong game and destroy a play with a brilliant tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Willam Gay also played well. Ike Taylor had a strong game, but let Brandon Marshall get ahead of him on a key conversion. Likewise the unit must shoulder some responsibility for the 55 yard run. Robert Golden did not shy from Jay Cutler’s challenge, but Culter made one hell of a play. Once again, no turnovers. This has to change. Grade:  C+

Special Teams
Felix Jones did well on two kick returns. Brown’s punt returning was a non-factor. Shaun Suisham was 3-3 but his kickoffs were short, although that might have been by design. There were a couple of penalties and forgotten in the roughing the kicker penalty on Zoltan Mesko that sparked the rally is the fact that the defender was untouched. Polamalu’s blocked extra point was meaningless, but nice to see nonetheless. A mixed bag on special teams. Grade:  C

Coaching
Dick LeBeau’s game plan and play calling was solid. Todd Haley, Steelers Nation’s latest whipping boy, saw his offense nearly double that of the Bears. And while you can fault the coaches for ruining continuity on the offensive line, these tackles cannot be allowed to take comfort in their level of play.

While Mike Tomlin will ultimately be judged on W’s and L’s, and he doesn’t have anything in the W column almost 25% of the way in, his team was down 23-3 and fought back valiantly, showing that he maintains control of the team. Is it really the coach’s fault when his quarterback develops and acute case of butter fingers? For one week at least Tomlin gets a pass on this front. He and his coaches were “above the line.” Grade: C

Unsung Hero
When a team goes down 23-3 in the first quarter a lot of things can happen, and most of them are ugly. One of them is not coming back and making game of it, which is exactly what the Steelers did. Lots of players won and deserve accolades for that, but one of those who stepped up with big plays that no one would have thought him capable of was David Johnson, who caught 2 passes for 50 yards and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the Bears game.

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Steelers Loss to Bears; 0-3 Start Gives Steelers Nation Erie Reminder of ’00 0-3 Start…

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. Chicago attempting to fend off three opponents:  The Bears, themselves, and their first 0-3 start since 2000.

The Steelers failed on all three fronts. Now they share the 0-3 mark of Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert’s inaugural squad. A lot has happened since then, but there are both promising similarities and disquieting asymmetries shared by these two editions of the Steelers, separated by 13 years.

Looking Back at the Steelers Last 0-3 Start

Unlike in 2013, the Steelers entered the 2000 season as an afterthought. No one wondered “Can this team still be a contender?” “Can they surroned their quarterback with enough talent to win?”

Instead the question was “Can Cowher keep his job past midseason?” and “Can the Steelers win in spite of Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham?”

The early going was rough:

  • Baltimore defeated the Steelers at home in the opener 16-0. Make no mistake about the score, it wasn’t even close.
  • Week 2 saw the Steelers, unable to kick a last second field goal, drop a 20-23 decision to the Browns

Week 3 brought a Tennessee Titans team to town that had fallen about a foot short of victory in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were to be Tennessee’s sacrificial lamb. Yet Cowher’s squad stubbornly refused to follow the script.

Instead they want toe-to-toe with the AFC Champions, holding a 20 to 26 lead late into the fourth quarter on the strength of two Kris Brown field goals and touchdowns by Stewart and Bettis.

What’s more, poetic justice was being served, as Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington had picked of Neil O’Donnell 3 times and Jason Gildon sacked him, knocking him from the game as the two minute warning loomed….

The Windy City Blows Up Against Big Ben

Steelers Nation remembers the last two weeks all too well. Any positive preseason prognosis for Pittsburgh included the caveat “As long as the offensive line stays healthy…” And of course good health only lasted 7 plays.

Against Cincinnati, the class of the division, the Steelers played to a 10-10 half time tie in spite of their efforts to make it easy for Cincinnati by giving them the ball. In the second half the Steelers gave it their best shot, and came up short.

The Steelers treated their guests to similar hospitality turning over the ball twice and giving up a long run.

  • Before the first quarter was even over, the Steelers were down 17-0.

Dale Lolley’s tweet summed up the story of the game perfectly:

Bears sending more than #Steelers can block. Apparently that’s one
— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) September 23, 2013

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have invested heavily in the offensive line via the draft. Yet Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert both proved woefully inadequate. The result was Ben Roethlisberger personally spotting the Bears 14 points.

All hope seemed lost, yet then a funny thing happened.

Echo’s of ‘00er’s Resiliency 

Like their predecessors from 13 years earlier, the Steelers refused to fold, fired after Zoltan Mesko drew an illegal contact penalty.

Roethlisberger first hooked up with Emmnauel Sanders for 22 and then he found Antoino Brown in the end zone. Almost on cue, guys began to step up.

  • David Johnson hauled in not one, but two long catches
  • Jonathan Dwyer helped shore up the pass protection – and ran as if his NFL career depended on it
  • LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel reintroduced the sack into the Steelers lexicon
  • David DeCastro started throwing crushing blocks and pushing guys past the pylons

Late in the third quarter Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Antonio Brown for another show stopping catch. The Steelers held the Bears and the offense tacked on three.

In a game that once saw Steelers down 23-3 now had knocking at heaven’s door, 27-0….

3 Throws and 2 Runs = 0-3 for the 00er’s

…Steelers Nation can be forgiven if they cheered at the sight of Gildon forcing a bloody Neil O’Donnell from the field.

But the Catholic nuns and monks that instructed the Rooney boys will tell you that the Good Book tells us not to wish ill for anyone, and Steelers Nation got a lesson why.

Steve McNair came into the game. McNair would prove himself to be a “Steelers Slayer” and this game showed why, as it only took him 3 passes and 2 runs to reclaim the lead and the game, for Tennessee.

  • Bill Cowher was close to tears and Steelers Nation distraught.

Yet the ’00 Steelers were far from done. The following week, left for dead by the NFL, they traveled to Jacksonville, and with their backs to the wall won the game. They just missed the playoffs, but that Jacksonville victory set the tone for the decade (click here for recap.)

Many factors contributed to that turn-around, but one sticks out. The 00’ Steelers had fallen victims to two last second touchdown drives by McNair and Tim Couch. One constant in those drives had been the presence of safety Scott Shields in the dime defense.

He rode the pine after week 3, and the Steelers late-game defense was the better for it. One small change made a big difference.

Cutler Tough, Ben Butterfingers

…The Steelers appeared to have the Bears on the ropes, forcing a 3rd in 10 when heavy pressure flushed Jay Cutler from the pocket. Cutler of course scrambled with it, lowered his shoulder, and nearly KOed Robert Golden in the process.

That allowed Cutler to hit Brandon Marshall for 41, and then Earl Bennett for a 17 yard touchdown. 34 to 23 with 5 minutes left to play is daunting, but not impossible.

Especially if you have a big game, comeback tested quarterback.

  • Which everyone knows Roethlisberger is. Right?

Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled, with the Bears returning it for 6….

…Steel Curtain Rising isn’t ready to give up on Ben Roethlisberger yet. God knows he’s had zero time to throw. But the fact is that he has not played well since his return from injury last season.

  • Worse yet, the turnover, instead of the touchdown has become Ben’s signature play in late “come from behind” drives which used to be Ben’s strength.

Perhaps that weakness can be rectified by shifting around the tackles and/or shifting Kelvin Beachum into the line up, just as Bill Cowher improved things by benching Shields.

Steelers Nation had better hope so, because Ben Roethlisberger is not so easily replaced.

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Roethlisberger, Steelers Self Destruct vs. Bears, 40-23

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a 23 to 40 decision to the Chicago Bears dropping their 2013 record to 0-3, marking the first time the Steelers have started 0-3 since the year 2000.

The lopsided score does not indicate how competitive of a contest the game was, with the Steelers having been down 23-3 in the first quarter, only to work within a touchdown in the 4th quarter.

The key play of the game came on a third down quarterback scramble by Jay Cutler, who had no where to throw and was facing pressure, only to dart out of the pocket past the first down marker, and lower his shoulder to deliver a whalloping hit on Robert Golden.

The real story of the night was Butter Fingers Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. Points scored off of Roethlisberger’s turnovers and Felix Jones‘ fumbles accounted for 23 of the Bears points.

It was a night of many wasted performances including:

  • Antonio Brown‘s nearly 200 yards catching and two touchdowns
  • Troy Polamalu‘s blocked extra point
  • Signs of life from the running game in the form of long runs from Jonathan Dwyer and solid running from Jones

Alas, none of it meant anything as the Steelers could not keep from shooting themselves in the foot.

Its 1:20 am here in Buenos Aires, and work is looking tomorrow. Steel Curtain Rising will have full analysis late tomorrow evening. Go Steelers! You may be 0-3 but Steelers Nation is still with you.

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Steelers Lose Frank “The Tank” Summers

Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Frank “The Tank” Summers in the 5th round of the 2009NFL draft to great fanfare.

Summers made the squad despite arguably being out-preformed by 2009’s training camp sensation Isaac “Redzone” Redman. Summers played in two games, starting one as the team’s fullback, but he looked lost.

After the Steelers loss to Chicago, Summers went on IR with what at the time appeared to be a mysterious back injury, but the injury was later corroborated by media reports of surgery.

Summers returned to training camp in 2010, where many suggested that despite his size he was miscast as a full back, that he should have been used as a conventional running.

Regardless, it was Isaac Redman’s chance to turn the tables, as Redman made the team, relegating Summers to the practice squad.

Summers neither attracted interest while on the waiver wire nor while on the Steelers practice squad, but the San Diego Chargers signed Summers, where he’ll get a chance to compete for a slot on their 2011 roster – assuming there is a 2011 season.

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Bears Deal ’89 Steelers Third, Final Shut Out of Season

The Steelers returned from Mile High Stadium licking their wounds after dropping at 34-7 decision. Week 10 brought the Chicago Bears to Three Rivers Stadium, and at least the potential for hope.

After all, returning to Three Rivers Stadium had inspired rallies in week 3 against the Vikings and then later in week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

History was also on the Steelers side. The Chicago Bears had never won a game in Three Rivers Stadium, nor had they won in Pittsburgh since 1944.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, dice do not have memories.

Case in point, Bubby Brister entered the game not having thrown an interception since the week one 51-0 blowout against the Cleveland Browns. He’d thrown 179 passes with out a pick to be precise, a record for the Steelers under Chuck Noll…

  • …Bears cornerback Lemuel Stimpson intercepted Brister’s very first pass.

That was only Stimpson’s first of the day, as he grabbed one more, as did another Chicago defender.

It actually got worse for the Steelers on the ground, as they gained a meager 54 yards total rushing,

  • a stat made all the more worse when one considers that 32 of those came on a Dwight Stone reverse

In contrast, the Bears amassed 203 yards rushing – without a single back getting anywhere near the century mark. Even Jim Harbaugh ran 7 times for 56 yards.

About the only good news for the Steelers was that they held the Bear’s scoreless in the second half.

Of course that would have meant so much more had the Bears not held the Steelers scoreless in both halves.

When the dust settled, the Bears defeated the Steelers 20-0, handing them their third shut out in just ten games, the first time any Chuck Noll team had been shut out three times in a year.

It was mid-November, six games remained, they had just dropped two in a row, and the 1989 Steelers record was 4-6. Many thought Pittsburgh might be lucky to match the 1988 Steelers 5-11 record.

They were wrong.

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Snake Bitten Steelers Fall to Bears 17-14 at Solider Field

The defending Super Bowl Champions were coming off another Ben Roethlisberger-led never-say die dramatic come-from-behind victory. The Chicago Bears were coming off a beating at the hands of arch-rival Green Bay Packers where star quarterback Jay Cutler threw 4 picks.

The Steelers were 1-11 in Chicago, but had won their last three games against the Bears.

Which trend would prevail?

Today, the long-term memory of this series, which began in 1934, carried the day as the Bears beat the Steelers 17-14.

In professional sports, however, trends do not assert themselves, but rather those who play on the field create them.

Thus was the case Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they squandered a host of opportunities and in the process yielded sole control of the AFC North to the Baltimore Ravens.

Yes, it was a game of sloppiness that led to missed chances, and provided ironies both spoken and unspoken.

Roethlisberger is Mortal

Ben Roethlisberger started the game in clockwork fashion, leading a 13 play 92 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. After the Steelers defense forced a punt, he looked set to do it again, until he went deep and badly underthrew Mike Wallace then Cedric Tillman picked him off.

Whether it was because this was his first pick of the season, or for some other reason, Ben sort of seemed to fall into a funk. The stat sheet shows that Ben had a decent game, completing 65% of his passes and going one-for-one on picks and TDs.

But he’s lucky he did not have more interceptions, as far too many passes were high, short, or just off target.

Certainly Ben was the victum of at least one too many drops, namely Santonio Holmes drop in the endzone. But as Gerry Dulac pointed out in his 2 Minute Drill, Holmes had 14 passes thrown in his direction. He had 5 catches, 3 drops, which leaves seven errant passes…

The irony here is that Steel Curtain Rising not only spent the summer defending Ben, but we finished our summary of the victory over the Titans concluding that the game represented a sterling reaffirmation of Roethlisberger’s ability to deliver.

But Ben failed to deliver against the Bears.

That’s no reason to bail on Ben: He simply had a subpar game, revealing that Roethlisberger is in fact mortal.

As the Pass Rush Goes, So Goes Cutler
In contrast, Jay Cutler threw as if his hands had been touched by God, completing over 70% of his passes, and hitting two very good touchdowns.

Culter deserves every ounce of credit he gets for making swiss cheese of the Steelers pass defense. But those pretty numbers do not belie another fact – when the Steelers pass rush got in his face, he was unable to move his team.

It really was that simple.

Bettis Vindicated, Half Way
Jerome Bettis lashed out at the Steelers running game last week, and categorically declared that the defense would not be able cope with the loss of Troy Polamalu.

It seems like everyone had a piece of the Bus’ commentary, from Dan Giger’s Blog and Gold to Ron Cooks column. And herein lies the silent irony: Steel Curtain Rising was set to chime in with its own assessment, but did not have time.

Perhaps its better that way, as we were prepared to agree with the Bus on the running game, yet take issue with him on the defense.

As it turns, out, the opposite happened.

No, the running game has not returned to its former glory, not by a long shot. But it did show signs of life. (Mendenhall also showed heart on that pass reception, and then followed it up with a nice 39 yard run.)

As for the passing defense, it is hard to assess how much the Steelers are missing Troy Polamalu.
Steel Curtain Rising harshly criticized Tyrone Carter after playoff loss to Jacksonville, and he was the primary cover man on both receivers who scored touchdowns. But really, both of those touchdowns were more cases of excellent throws by Cutler than anything else.

But even if its not right to come down too hard on Carter, it’s also hard, very, very hard not to think “Troy would have broken up at least one of those passes up….”

Snake Bitten Special Teams
Can the Steelers return a kick without a penalty? And what’s up with Jeff Reed? This man regularly makes long kicks under pressure in the slog at Heinz field, the most difficult place to kick in the NFL. It is rare for him to miss one kick, but two?

Stefan Logan showed that he really does have the talent to be something special as a return man. But he also revealed that he has a lot to learn. In a couple of cases it looked like he was trying to do too much.

And he needs to protect the ball. He did well enough on that final return to give Ben a decent shot at a Hail Mary, instead the game ended with Chicago taking a knee.

What Does Sunday’s Defeat Mean?
As Steel Curtain Rising mentioned during our profile of recent Steelers-Bears history, games against the Bears have frequently marked turning points for the Steelers.

Victories over the Bears were key to streaks to the Super Bowl in 1995 and 2005.

Interestingly enough, wins and losses themselves are not always sign posts, as the 20-0 shut out in 1989 preceded a run to Chuck Noll’s final post-season appearance, and the lack-luster victory over the Bears in 1998 foreshadowed the demise of the Steelers’ Cowher-Donahue era.

What significance will Sunday’s defeat hold?

Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and company will make that determination.

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