After an impressive Week one showing against the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, optimistic Chicago Bears fans were excited about the team’s prospects in 2017. However, those same fans are undoubtedly smarting after an ugly 29-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week two where next to nothing went right for Chicago.
The Bears now find themselves at 0-2 and things aren’t about to get any easier as a date with the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers is next on the docket. Can the only winless team in the NFC North find a way to overcome such an incredible obstacle? Here are our Chicago Bears keys to victory for Week three.
Week Three Chicago Bears Keys to Victory
Play Well Defense on Defense
Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant. The Steelers are loaded on offense, and the Bears defensive unit will have to be at its best if this game is going to be competitive. But which Bears team will show up?
In Week one, the Bears defense performed admirably against the Falcons elite offense, but in Week two, they let the Bucs jump out to an early lead, and the game was effectively over before it even began. The Steelers offense is arguably the most talented in the NFL in spite of a few missteps over the first two games, and if the Bears stumble out of the gate, last week’s blowout could look like a walk in the park by comparison.
It’s not going to be easy. The Bears will continue to miss linebacker Jerrell Freeman in a big way, after a Week one torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Freeman is arguably the team’s best defender, and his absence was clearly felt in Week two. Someone is going to have to step up because the Bears offense can’t keep pace with that of the Steelers unless they have a lot of help. Fair or unfair, the defense is going to have to provide a serious boost.
Feed Jordan Howard Early and Often (If Healthy)
The Steelers defense has only surrendered 148 rushing yards, which is the sixth-best tally among all teams that have played two games. Meanwhile, the Bears running game, led by Jordan Howard, has only accumulated 145 rushing yards over the first two contests. At face value, the idea that the Bears should feed Howard seems foolish.
Yes, Howard is struggling, having only rushed for 59 yards and a measly 2.7 yards per carry average over the first two weeks. Yes, that nine-carry, seven-yard showing against the Bucs was ugly, but in order for the Bears to keep this game competitive, he needs to be featured.
During the last nine weeks of 2016, by far the most productive stretch of Howard’s young career, he averaged 19.9 carries per game. Through the first two weeks of 2017, he’s only averaging 11 carries per contest. Howard is a Pro Bowl running back. That number needs to change.
There is no question that electric rookie Tarik Cohen needs to receive his touches, both as a runner and as a receiver, but Howard needs to lead the backfield in carries by a wide margin. Of course, this all depends on his health. Howard was questionable with a shoulder injury going into Week two, and was reportedly spotted in a sling after the game.
#Bears RB Jordan Howard left Raymond James Stadium with his right arm in a sling. Was on injury report with shoulder last week.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) September 17, 2017
If he’s limited throughout the week, he obviously won’t be able to handle a full workload on Sunday. However, if he gets back to full strength, the Bears need to make Howard a focal point. The running game simply must be the main emphasis on offense as quarterback Mike Glennon committed three turnovers last week and the team isn’t ready to install rookie Mitchell Trubisky as the starter.
Speaking of which…
Glennon has thrown 85 passes over the first two weeks of the season, which is tied for the third-highest total in the entire league. That was never the plan for 2017. Glennon’s intended role was to manage the game, provide veteran leadership, and avoid turnovers. When your quarterback is slinging the ball that often, it’s difficult to achieve those goals.
Yes, the Bears were playing catch up for large stretches of the first two contests, but the passing game is not a strength of this team. Glennon hadn’t made a start since 2014, prior to Week one, and the Bears receiving corps is depleted, to say the least.
This underscores the importance of Howard and the running game, and illustrates why turnovers are so costly. When a team falls behind early, they limit their ability to utilize their greatest strength and are forced to turn to an area of weakness. If the Bears turn the ball over, the Steelers are a team that knows how to capitalize and build a big lead. Glennon and the offense can ill-afford any costly errors in this one.