PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2-0) AT CHICAGO BEARS (0-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 17-8-1. The Bears have won the past two meetings, including a 40-23 win at Heinz Field in 2013. The Bears are 11-1 in games played in Chicago. The only time the Steelers beat the Bears in Chicago was 1995. They won, 37-34, in overtime en route to an AFC championship.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers established a running game against the Vikings and that opened up some one-on-one matchups in the passing game that they were able to take advantage of for big plays. Look for a similar approach in Chicago. Le'Veon Bell, who had 87 yards rushing last week, said he is close to breaking out, and the passing game has been efficient, if not spectacular.
On defense, the Steelers have to pressure Bears quarterback Mike Glennon. He is coming off a game against the Buccaneers when he finished with a quarterbacking rating of 23.2. The Steelers have nine sacks through two games and will look to get a few more against Glennon.
Considering Pittsburgh's defense has allowed only 237 yards in each of the first two games, the Bears' own defense can't afford to take many risks. They've got to play it as close to the vest as possible in order to keep the game close and have a chance to win at the end.
Offensively, there needs to be a commitment and emphasis on getting the ball downfield at least a few times early to loosen up the defense. The Bears need to also counter with quick slants or skinny posts on short drops to keep Pittsburgh's blitz from loading up.
The Bears want to run Jordan Howard, but the Steelers are going to have eight or nine in the box like previous defenses. Throwing passes in the flat to Tarik Cohen won't keep anyone off the line of scrimmage. It will only fuel Pittsburgh's desire to blitz. The running game may have to alter its preferred slow-developing outside run blocking scheme to try to punch holes for quick gainers inside against a blitzing defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears RB Tarik Cohen vs. Steelers LB Ryan Shazier. Cohen has been Chicago's most productive offensive player through two weeks with 181 yards from scrimmage (79 rushing yards and 102 receiving yards). Shazier is one of the Steelers' most athletic defenders and will be charged with limiting Cohen, especially in the passing game.
--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Bears S Quintin Demps. Demps has nine tackles and no passes defended. Brown has 16 catches for 244 yards. On film, the Steelers see Demps cheating to one side of the field deep against Atlanta on the key long TD scored by the Falcons. Demps will be tested. The Steelers will challenge the Bears deep with Brown, who can line up on either side of the formation or in the slot. Demps can be physical. Whether he can go vertical well enough to stay with Brown remains to be seen. The Bears allowed only one catch longer than 20 yards against Tampa Bay after yielding four at least that long in the opener, and Demps' layer of security over the top will be key in making sure Brown doesn't pile up deep yardage.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears TE Zach Miller. Although the Bears want to get Markus Wheaton involved for the first time, his full participation seems unlikely because he has had little practice time. Miller has averaged 8.1 yards a catch and is starting to find his way back into the attack after a foot injury led to injured reserve last year. His ability to get downfield or beat man-to-man coverage as a hot receiver against the blitz will be important. The Bears likely will target him or Kendall Wright the most.
FAST FACTS: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger owns a 33-15 career record against NFC opposition and has averaged 299.4 yards per game in his last five meetings against NFC teams with 10 TDs and three INTs. ... Steelers rookie LB T.J. Watt is one of three NFL players with at least two sacks and an interception through two weeks. ... Bears QB Mike Glennon threw for 301 yards and a TD last week in a 29-7 loss at Tampa Bay. In his last three games against AFC teams, Glennon is averaging 292 yards per game with six TDs. ... Bears rookie S Eddie Jackson notched a team-high eight tackles last week.
PREDICTION: Chicago could really use a soft touch right now. But it doesn't get one until a date with New Orleans in late October. Pittsburgh's early schedule has been cushy with Cleveland, Minnesota minus Sam Bradford and now the Bears. These teams continue to head in different directions.
OUR PICK: Pittsburgh, 24-14.