Steelers notebook: Polamalu fires up defense
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Safety Troy Polamalu said after last Monday's loss to the Bengals that the Steelers' defense had to make things happen Sunday night against the Bears at Heinz Field.
He wasted no time leading by example as he dumped receiver Brandon Marshall for a 5-yard loss on a bubble screen. Then he hurried quarterback Jay Cutler into an errant third-down pass on the Bears' opening possession that ended with a 47-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
Polamalu gave Cutler several looks. He blitzed up the middle and off the edge. He was nearly flawless in pass coverage as the Steelers limited the Bears to 75 yards passing in the first half. Marshall, the Bears' long-ball threat, averaged 3.7 yards per catch with Polamalu shadowing him in the middle of the field.
Big plays just out of reach
For the third consecutive game, Roethlisberger and receiver Emmanuel Sanders failed to connect with a big play within reach. Sanders ran past cornerback Charles Tillman, but Roethlisberger's throw was an inch too long. The ball slid off Sanders' fingertips at the Chicago 30.
The Steelers also failed to take advantage of a couple of mismatches, including rookie receiver Markus Wheaton twice being in man coverage against a linebacker.
Big play II out of reach
After surrendering a 55-yard run by running back Matt Forte to their 5-yard line, the Steelers' defense had an opportunity at redemption late in the first quarter.
Defensive end Cam Heyward and linebacker Vince Williams made stops on second and third downs to leave the Bears with fourth-and-goal inches from the goal line. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons appeared to have Michael Bush wrapped up short of the goal line, but Bush overpowered Timmons to put Chicago up 17-0.
Steelers turn to Felix
For the first time this season, the Steelers dumped their running back by committee — at least early on.
Felix Jones got the start ahead of Isaac Redman and handled the ball exclusively in the first quarter. He carried six times for 33 yards.
Jonathan Dwyer carried four times in the second quarter for 22 yards. Dwyer ripped off a 25-yarder late in the second quarter.
Jones' work was overshadowed by a fumble on the Steelers' first possession of the second half. The Bears recovered at the Steelers' 29 to set up a Gould field goal that gave Chicago a 27-10 lead.
The offensive line shuffle
Perhaps it's recognition the offensive line is unsettled that Jack Bicknell Jr. alternated his tackles — Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum — for much of the first half.
It didn't seem to matter to the Bears, who still roughed up Roethlisberger with two sacks and five quarterback hits in the first half.
Pass rush shows signs of life
Steelers defense end Brett Keisel recorded only the second quarterback sack of the season when he chased down Jay Cutler early in the second quarter. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley had the Steelers' only other sack this season.
The pass rush continued to harass Cutler in the second half.
Bears' pressure disrupts Ben
The Bears' D.J. Williams sacked Roethlisberger twice in the first half and jarred the ball loose from Roethlisberger to set up the Bears' first touchdown in the first quarter.
The Bears' pass rush was even more effective as cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman locked down the Steelers' flankers to force Roethlisberger to hold the ball.
The Bears mixed up their blitz packages to put the heat on Roethlisberger, who threw an interception that Major Wright returned 38 yards for a score.
Brown keeps Steelers afloat
Receiver Antonio Brown almost single-handily kept the Steelers alive in the first half.
Brown had four catches for 105 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter after punter Zoltan Mesko was roughed up to keep alive the drive.
Brown also had a 45-yard catch to set up a Shaun Suisham 27-yard field goal.
Yes, numbers matter
The Steelers again were bad on third down. They were just 1 of 6 in the first half after a 3-for-12 showing against Cincinnati.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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