1. Pittsburgh offensive line vs. Bears defensive line…The Bears defensive line hasn’t played up to expectations through two games, especially the pass rush. DE Julius Peppers will need to demonstrate he’s not washed up by feasting on a Pittsburgh offensive line that even Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin says is in a “developmental stage.” Center Fernando Velasco has taken over for injured Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost for the season in game one. Velasco has been adequate in relief, but faces a challenge from emerging Chicago DT Stephen Paea. Paea, a Bears second-round draft choice in 2010, is playing up to those expectations with a strong push up the middle. The Bears need more from his fellow DT Henry Melton, who has been on cruise control through the season’s two weeks. A concussion suffered in preseason game one seems to have affected Melton’s conditioning and strength. Either Corey Wootton or Shea McClellin needs to offer a more consistent pass rush from the other DE position.
2. Steelers running game vs. Bears LB’s…Thus far, the Bears rank 31st in third-down defense and have allowed both the Bengals and Vikings to engineer long drives. MLB D.J. Williams has yet to flash, and may be holding the position warm until rookie second-rounder Jon Bostic gets fully comfortable. Pittsburgh’s running game has been nonexistent, though the Steelers are excited for rookie RB Le’Veon Bell to display his skills.
3. Steelers TE Heath Miller vs. Bears S Major Wright…Miller will see his first action of the season, but provides a reliable target for Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers lack outside playmakers, so getting Miller down the season appears to be one of Pittsburgh’s “go to” strategies. Wright is rounding into form as one of the NFC’s better safeties. He provides not only a ballhawk presence, but is a force in run support. Expect Pittsburgh to challenge him down the middle.
4. Bears QB Jay Cutler vs. Steelers defense/misc…..By now, everyone is tired of hearing about how Cutler has struggled in the darkness. He possesses the most weapons he’s had in his Bears career, and if the offensive line provides protection, he should be able to pick and choose his targets. Even more important is ball security. The Bears have been turnover prone through the season’s first two weeks, and last week’s miscues almost cost them the game against Minnesota. A patient Cutler, exercising good judgement, is the best prescription to ward off what should be an aggressive Pittsburgh attack unit.