To their credit, the Bears acknowledge that what was one of the top defensive fronts in the league last year is far from that after two games.
Two sacks by the defensive line, neither by Pro Bowl tackle Henry Melton or end Julius Peppers, are reflective of a pass rush that has contributed mightily to the Bears ranking tied for 31st in the NFL in allowing third-down conversions (51.9 percent). The defense is giving up nearly 40 more passing yards per game than 2012’s average of 213.
“Pass rush is something we need to improve on,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “We need to finish in our rushes. We were getting closer but no cigar.
“This week is about finishing — four guys working together. And when we pressure, we gotta get there and we’ll get that done as well. But there’s other areas as well — third down, we need to improve.”
Bent on getting Ben
Indeed, few things serve to quiet a home crowd than the visiting team putting the hometown quarterback on his back. Few quarterbacks over their careers, however, have taken the cumulative sackings that Ben Roethlisberger has and still performed at an elite level.
It has not always mattered whether or not he is under siege.
Roethlisberger was sacked a career-low 23 times in his second season, which ended with a Super Bowl win. He was sacked twice that number in 2008, and the result was another Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger is tied for sixth with Cam Newton and Andrew Luck with seven sacks. He also is third in the NFL in time to sack (4.91 sec.), according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Tennessee Titans sacked him five times in their 16-9 win in game one.
But the problem isn’t necessarily getting to Roethlisberger, 6-5, 241 pounds. “It’s getting him down,” Peppers said. “It’s one thing to get there, but when you get there you have to get him down and we’re going to need a group effort to do that.”
The issue now is that Roethlisberger is 31, meaning less mobility and potential durability as the hits take tolls. He hasn’t played 16 games since that 2008 season, his only one with 16 games played.
And he now is playing behind what some local observers have called the worst offensive line Roethlisberger has had with him. It is a group that hasn’t protected Roethlisberger well and has given the offense the 31st-ranked rushing game at 37.5 yards per game.
The Steelers are expected to return to a zone-blocking scheme against the Bears, one that depends less directly on winning one-on-one matchups, which the Steelers aren't doing.
Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season four minutes into the Tennessee game. Tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert have allowed a combined 20 sacks, hits and hurries.
“We’re just going to continue to work,” Peppers said. “We’re not going to do anything different, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing for four years since I’ve been here, and everything is going to work itself out.”