Chris Adamski's gameday grades: Bears 23, Steelers 17 (OT)
Ben Roethlisberger blamed himself for the loss and, in part, justifiably so. His final statistics weren't horrible (22 for 39 for 235 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions), but he was off target — usually high — on a number of throws, particularly early. The Big Ben magic of the past was absent when the Steelers got the ball three times in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead and, effectively, win the game. The offense got a combined one first down and netted 28 yards on those three possessions. It always falls back on the QB.
Where do you stand on the Steelers skipping the national anthem?— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) September 25, 2017
Skill positions: D+
When does the alarm sound on Le'Veon Bell? He had a third consecutive ho-hum game to open this season, the sequel to having one of the best running back campaigns in the history of the NFL. Bell totaled 98 yards on 21 touches, none going for more than 13 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster continued to play like a precocious 20-year-old, making a big play but also catching just two of six targets. Martavis Bryant was — again — a nonfactor. Eli Rogers wasn't even targeted (and he muffed a punt, but more on that later). Antonio Brown saved the day with another productive game, though.
Offensive line: C+
The group was without two starters for most of the game, so it's tough to pin too much on backups Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney, who were OK. But part of what is ailing Bell is he doesn't have the gaping holes to run through like he had in seasons past. Roethlisberger was sacked three times, not an alarming number but probably one too many.
Defensive line: D+
Fatigue was definitely a factor late. The Steelers front seven simply was out of gas during overtime, and the Bears marched right down the field as a result. With the unit missing one of its stalwarts, Stephon Tuitt (biceps injury), and playing with 41⁄2 members (Daniel McCullers finally made his season debut) on a 90-plus degree day, the defensive line deserves something of a pass. But giving up 220 rushing yards against at 5.8 yards per carry is simply unacceptable.
The linebackers, too, are culpable for the big day from the Bears' Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, each of whom got into the second level of the defense too often. Chicago had eight carries of at least 13 yards, which was the total of the Steelers' biggest carry of the day. Anthony Chickillo had a sack, giving him an average of one per game this season through three weeks. Ryan Shazier also forced two fumbles and recovered one among his 11 assisted tackles.
There were times Steelers' defensive backs let interceptions slip through their fingertips, though J.J. Wilcox came up with one. But the secondary played a penalty-free game and limited the opposing quarterback to 101 passing yards. Just one pass was completed to a Bears wide receiver. OK, so the opposing quarterback was Mike Glennon, and the opposing receivers were a beat up and unheralded group. But it's difficult to fault the Steelers secondary too much.
Special teams: D-
Let's get to the good side of things first: Jordan Berry had an above-the-line day punting (three inside the 20, one touchback, no return yardage against). Then, the bad: Two of Chris Boswell's five kickoffs were touchbacks, and only one Steelers kickoff or punt return of any positive note. Of course, it's the ugly that overshadows it all: the blocked field goal that was returned to the opposing goal line and the Rogers' muffed punt. Those are two negative splash plays that are unacceptable.
Fair or not, the chink in the armor of the Mike Tomlin resume always has been road losses to poor teams. Whatever the circumstances, that continued. The defensive gameplan also rightfully can be questioned. How was an opposing team that is so one-dimensional, with no downfield passing game to speak of, able to produce a winning effort? An offense flush with individual talent continues to underachieve, too.
Though they erased a 10-point deficit in the second half, below-par play at times in all three phases prevented the Steelers from taking the lead. The schedule strengthens considerably beginning next week at Baltimore, and this was a valuable opportunity to build in some margin of error that was squandered.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.