Da Bears: Steelers Week 3 Opponent Preview
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The Steelers have, through the years, played the Bears a number of times. 13 of those games have been in Chicago. The Steelers have lost 12 of them. So if we were to let history be our guide we would just hang up the (Terrible) towel now and not even bother.
But as we know history isn’t generally a very good guide. Well, maybe when you’re talking about playing the Patriots at their place. (For one thing, the communications system for the opposing team never seems to work correctly…) But for a team the Steelers play as infrequently as the Bears, history shouldn’t have much to do with it. I would be more likely to suspect the pizza.
So what can we expect from this year’s Bears team? Well, they are 0-2, for one thing. But the loss to Tampa Bay looked much different (and worse) than their Week 1 loss in Atlanta. So what’s going on?
The Bears have always been known more for their stifling defense, so let’s look at how the defense has done so far. Now that a couple of games have been played, some of the comparisons are available.
Football Outsidersuses their metric of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to look at several aspects of each defense. And I have to tell you that they aren’t particularly keen on Chicago. The top defense in the league (and it’s not even close) is Baltimore, with a -70.8% DVOA (lower is better on defense.) Of course, their 10 turnovers in two games helps with that. The Steelers are No. 6, with a DVOA of -20.0%. (This is up from No. 9 after Week 1.) The Bears currently sit at No. 24, up from 27 in Week 1, with a DVOA of +12.2%. Not very good.
According to FO, the Steelers are No. 8 against the pass, with a DVOA of -19.5% and No. 11 against the run with a DVOA of -20.6%. The Bears turn out to not be bad at all against the run (-14.1%, for No. 15) but absolutely abysmal against the pass (38.5 %, No. 26.)
I do believe we’ve seen this movie before, though. In the end these numbers don’t mean as much as we would like to think, even when most of the games have been played, and I’m guessing they don’t mean much at all at this point in the season.
If you look at just the defensive lines, the numbers are similar—No. 7 overall for the Steelers, No. 22 for Chicago. (Curiously, Baltimore drops to No. 8—apparently it is their backfield that is so spectacular. But more on that next week.)
So let’s see what Pro Football Focus thinks of the Bears’ defense, or more accurately, the various players from which it is made:
Other than LOLB Leonard Floyd (48.1,) PFF is pretty positive about the defensive line. The same cannot be said for the safeties—the highest graded safety is the strong safety Eddie Jackson, at a 46.9. (And yes, these numbers are out of 100.) One of their corners, Kyle Fuller, doesn’t even grade quite that high, and there are no grades for Amukamara, as he has not played so far this year. When they go into their nickel package the lowest-graded player on either team, FS Quinten Demps, comes in. But CB Bryce Callahan also comes in, and he is their highest-graded player, at 81.9,
Here’s what they think of the Steelers’ D, for comparison:
Heyward is graded in the All-Pro category, (85.4) which he richly deserves, and Tuitt and Watt are also highly graded. Hargrave, Williams and Shazier are close behind. They only have Dupree at 68.8, but it’s early days yet. As far as the DBs, the second highest graded defensive player is—wait for it—Artie Burns, at 83.5! All those AB-on-AB practices have clearly paid off. They also like Mike Hilton a good deal, but it’s downhill after that. Mike Mitchell comes in at 68.8, Joe Haden (rather to my surprise) at 43.1, and Sean Davis at 40.6. We may not entirely agree with those numbers, but they do make for an interesting comparison.
Well, defense may win championships, but as we’ve seen the past two weeks, you need at least a modicum of offense as well. The Bears offense has not, so far, impressed. (Neither has the Steelers’, for the most part, although unlike the Bears they’ve managed to do enough to actually win the games.) So let’s look at the same comparisons. First, Football Outsiders’ Total Offense:
This may surprise some of us Yinzers, but the Steelers are actually at No. 6 (a DVOA of 26.9%. For offense, higher is better.) This is up from No. 7 the previous week. Interestingly, the Team Which Must Not Be Named is only one slot higher, so in your eye, Tommie!
And nothing demonstrates small sample size like the following—the Chicago offense is at No. 22, after being No. 10 after Week 1. (Their DVOA is currently -16.1%) They can comfort themselves with this thought, though—they aren’t the Bengals, who currently sit at No. 32, with a DVOA of -60.0%.
There is nothing about the Chicago offense which jumps out at you as great (except perhaps the rookie running back) but Glennon is pretty accurate when he’s upright, and he gets the ball out of his hand in good time. Which he needs to do, given his offensive line.
So let’s take a look at the offensive lines. We all think the PIT line is definitely under-performing at the moment, and apparently Football Outsiders thinks so too, as they are sitting at No. 21. Chicago is at No. 27.
How about Pro Football Focus? They like the right side of the Steelers offensive line a lot—I believe David DeCastro is their top-graded guard this year so far, with an “elite” rating of 92.3. Gilbert and Foster get good ratings, but as usual they hate Maurkice Pouncey. Big Al dropped precipitously this week after the poor game he had last Sunday, although honestly it’s hard to see how he could play well when he had been losing his cookies all week.
As for Chicago, their highest-rated lineman is their left tackle, Charles Leno, who has a rating of 68.7. It’s all downhill from there, all the way down to their center, Cody Whitehair, who got a 32.0 rating. Their best offensive player is running back Tarik Cohen, (78.7). This kid is seriously fast. The Steelers had better keep track of him. Mike Glennon is the only other offensive player with a rating in the 70s (73.1.) Their receivers aren’t great, but Markus Wheaton should be playing for the first time on Sunday, so he will presumably be an upgrade.
Looking at the rest of the Steelers’ offense, it is no surprise that there is another top player—Antonio Brown, who leads the league in PFF’s rankings. But the next-highest ranked skills player might surprise you—it’s none other than the Outlaw himself, Jesse James (77.1.) This tops Ben’s rating of 75.2. If you like, take a guess at the lowest-ranked offensive player—by a long way. That would be the 2016 PFF darling Le’Veon Bell (42.3.) Let’s hope he makes PFF eat their ranking this week.
And finally, Football Outsiders ranks Special Teams, and PIT is currently at No. 8. Chicago is at No. 22.
For the Steelers, it is looking more and more hopeful that Stephon Tuitt is going to play, and less likely that T.J. Watt will. J.J. Wilcox was a full participant at Thursday’s practice, which is good. Marcus Gilbert was out, which is not. And lots of guys have been struggling with whatever it was Alejandro Villanueva had last week—some sort of violent stomach bug, apparently. Jerald Hawkins was back at practice for the first time, although I don’t think anybody wants to see him playing on Sunday. We have to hope that Chris Hubbard is enough back-up, I guess.
For the Bears, while a lot of guys are banged up, their main problem is the offensive line. Last Sunday three of the five linemen sustained injuries, and some of those guys were substitutes in the first place, including a rookie. Guard Kyle Long hasn’t played yet but hopes to play Sunday.
At this point the interior of the line is a hot mess. Now that I’ve said that, let’s hope they don’t pull a San Diego Chargers on us, come out with a line picked up off the street, and play like a bunch of All-Pros. (Sorry to revive painful memories.)
Cornerback Prince Amukamara has not played yet this year, but was limited in practice and, I suppose, might be back.
One matter of interest—it looks like Markus Wheaton will make his Bears debut on Sunday.
Finally, as I looked for more information on the Bears’ impressive Week 1 loss, if I may be allowed to characterize it that way, I was amused to read the game recap in the Falcoholic,which began thusly:
Look, I took the Chicago Bears too lightly. I thought the Falcons would come out firing, the Bears would sort of keel over and wither because of their lackluster offense and so-so secondary. Instead, the Bears stayed in the game via an effective ground game, a terrific effort from the front seven, and just enough from Mike Glennon and the passing game to make it a truly close game.
On paper this is a good match-up for the Steelers. But as we all know they play on grass, not paper, and there can be many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. (Suggestions for further clichés may be left in the comments. Obviously.) Let us hope the slips are mainly on the part of the Bears, and the Steelers can leave Chicago triumphant, just for once. (Although it would then be for twice…)