By Alan Robinson
If Monday was a must-win game (that they lost) for the Steelers, then the Sunday night home game is a MUST-win game.
Why? Because there’s virtually no chance to make the playoffs after starting 0-3, simply because – even after so few games – there is too much ground to make up in too little time. No NFL team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3 since 1998.
Given that 10 wins often is the hallmark for getting a wild card, the Steelers would need to go 10-3 in their final 13 games just to get to the 10-win mark. Even getting to nine wins would require a 9-4 finish.
Optimistic that this team could do that?
With that in mind, here are 10 things to watch for as the winless Steelers (0-2) play the unbeaten Bears (2-0), who have dominated the Steelers like few others by going 20-7-1 against them. Of course, nearly all of those wins came from the 1930s-1960s.
1–What’s Ben’s mood? The Steelers go as “Seven” goes. Watch his body language, even after a few series. If he looks frustrated or is talking extensively with his receivers, that could signal he’s already seeing trouble.
2-Who’s getting the ball? Two games in, and the Steelers still haven’t sorted out the mess that is their offensive backfield. Felix Jones apparently will get that chance Sunday. Will somebody, anybody seize the job until Le’Veon Bell returns?
3-Is Jay Cutler on target? If he is, there could be fewer opportunities for the Steelers secondary to make plays and turn the ball over. Often, the Bears quarterback is a defense’s best friend. When he’s on target, he can be difficult to stop. Ike Taylor called him the Brett Favre of today, a quarterback who is susceptible to making big plays for either team.
4-Are Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert looking strong or are they struggling? There will be no running game (much like the first two games) if they’re overmatched early on. And if Ben is running around because of a lack of protection, trying to force the ball to receivers who aren’t open …
5-Will the kicking game be a factor? Shaun Suisham wasn’t in the first two games, attempting just one field goal. He likely will be if this is a close one – and, remember, he is just a week removed from a hamstring injury that nearly put him on the shelf for a game.
6-Is Antonio Brown getting open or getting frustrated? As Jerricho Cotchery said, Brown is the offense’s best player except for Roethlisberger. But he can get out of his game if he senses the ball, or calls, aren’t going his way.
7-Can Fernando Velasco hold up the middle again? The newly signed center did more than a commendable job in Cincinnati off less than a week’s work. But he didn’t have a training camp or an offseason with the Steelers, and there’s a lot to learn for the man who calls the offensive line signals, and not a lot of time to do it.
8-Can they turn the ball over? The defense still hasn’t forced a turnover this season. Talk about being overdue.
9-Can the defense hold up the Forte? Matt Forte has rushed for 140 yards in two games, or 65 more than the Steelers have as a team. Forte makes Cutler that much better when he’s pounding out yards, and the Titans and Bengals ran for a combined 239 yards against Pittsburgh. A similar effort to that, and the Steelers almost assuredly will be 0-3.
10-Can the Steelers keep Brandon from ramblin’?. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall already has 15 catches for 217 yards and a 14.5 yards per catch average. The Steelers simply can’t allow him to make multiple catches downfield, especially the way they’re (not) scoring points. He’s a playmaker, something the Steelers simply don’t have right now – unless Antonio Brown breaks out Sunday night.