ReFo: Bears @ Steelers, Week 3
Believe it or not the Steelers actually looked a lot better in this game then they had so far this season, but things still ended up getting away from them and they lost 40-23. It wasn’t quite a game of two halves as the old chiché runs, but the Bears leapt out to a 17-0 and then a 24-3 lead before the Steelers started to peg the lead back.
After some spectacular plays they got the game back to within four points, trailing 27-23 early in the fourth quarter before the Bears extended the lead back out to 10 points and a fumble returned for a touchdown put the game out of reach. So, while this looks like another game the Steelers were blown out in, it’s worth remembering that they came pretty close to pulling back a horrific start and their defense had the upper hand for large portions despite the scoreboard ultimately reading 40 for the Bears.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable play.
Chicago — Three Performances of Note
The Two Sides of Marty B
There is no doubting that Martellus Bennett is a hugely talented TE, and has as much ability as pretty much anybody in the NFL, but for some reason it never all seems to fire at once. He’s like a wildly out of control race car, either set up to blast high speed down the straits or speed around the corners, but never both at the same time. His game-winning touchdown last week against the Vikings showed his threat in the passing game, as did some of the dump-off passes he received in this game before, breaking tackles and making people miss. He has also in the past graded as PFF’s top blocking TE over a season, but I never seem to see those two sides of him in the same game. In this game we saw plenty of the receiving weapon, but his -4.0 overall grade came thanks to terrible performances as a blocker both in pass protection and in the run game. If the Bears can just combine the two sides of Bennett they have an absolute stud on their hands.
Old Guard Fooled by Old Tricks
Ben Roethlisberger has the best pump fake in the NFL. He has the ability to fire the ball almost all the way out and then reel it back, moving defenders around like nobody else can. The Steelers put that to good use today, faking a series of quick bubble screens with full pump fakes and taking advantage of the aggressive Bears defense jumping up to play them. Charles Tillman (-3.2) and Lance Briggs (-2.6) were both badly caught out by one of these plays, resulting in big gains over two of the better players on that defense. Tillman’s day was made worse by being beaten deep for a touchdown and then suffering with a groin tweak that send him to the sideline while the Bears played out the remainder of the game in relative comfort.
Long On Skills
After his stellar preseason, we expected rookie right guard Kyle Long to hit the ground running once the regular season came around. He struggled opening day against the Bengals (who have a certain Geno Atkins in their line), but since then he has only been improving with back-to-back impressive days run blocking. This game was the best so far with a +2.8 grade and a display of impressive strength at times against Steelers linemen that couldn’t match him in that regard. His pass protection has yet to match his impressive run blocking, with negative grades (albeit minor ones) in each outing, and in this game he allowed a pair of pressures, but he is moving in the right direction and already finds himself in the Top 5 of our guard rankings in terms of run grades.
Pittsburgh — Three Performances of Note
Almost Page of Fame Worthy
Apparently the day Antonio Brown put together was just outside the best WR performances we’ve ever graded, but only barely. He fell just short of two-bills receiving, ending with nine catches for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 targets. What makes things even more impressive was the manner of the two touchdowns. The first was impressive enough, high pointing a deep ball in the end zone having shaken the Bears’ coverage defenders loose just enough to buy the space. The second catch was something else entirely. Beating Charles Tillman on a corner route, Brown extended for a slightly overthrown ball, caught it one handed and then got both feet in before he landed out of bounds. This was a career day for Brown and deserves serious plaudits.
Troy is Back
Sometimes you see Troy Polamalu read things so fast that you wonder how it’s possible, and then every now and then you catch a play where he guessed wrong, and it tarnishes the mystique a touch, but this was a game without the bubble bursting moment. Polamalu seemed back to his best and was all over the field, blowing up bubble screens seeming to come from nowhere and shooting gaps at the line of scrimmage to make a nuisance of himself. His +3.5 grade came from impressive work both in the run and pass game and on this form Polamalu has a real case to be seen as the league’s best safety once more.
Issues on the OL
While many people expect the Steelers’ line to collapse without the presence of Maurkice Pouncey, Fernando Velasco has actually performed reasonably in his stead. In this game he earned a -0.8 grade by making some plays in the run game, but surrendering a couple of hurries and a hit in the pass game. The right side of the line actually performed pretty well overall, but the same cannot be said for the left side. Mike Adams had his hands full with Julius Peppers, somehow avoiding the sack, but giving up two knockdowns and five hurries. Left guard Ramon Foster chipped in with three hurries of his own and a sack. The Steelers need some better play from that left side if they are to salvage this season, and so far there isn’t much sign they will get it.
– Jay Cutler completed 84.2% of his passes when under no pressure in this game, but that fell to 36.4% under pressure.
– Ike Taylor apparently relished the chance to play against Marshall and Jeffery, but surrendered catches on seven of nine targets for 79 yards.
– In relentless goal line work, Michael Bush carried the ball eight times for just nine yards, but he did finally get the touchdown.
PFF Game Ball
There is no other serious challenger to the game that Antonio Brown had. Clear winner.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam