This Week 3 matchup was … one of heroic proportions by the Bears running backs.
The Bears best offensive drive came after regulation. The unit saved its best for last.
In the only overtime possession in this game, the Bears ran the ball four times to get into the end zone. On the second play, Tarik Cohen busted out a 36-yard run to the right, and arguably, it was touchdown (I didn’t hear a whistle for out of bounds). Following that big run by the small guy, Jordan Howard took the next run left for 18 yards. After the Bears called timeout, Howard again busted the official walk-off touchdown run to his left for 19 yards, thus, sealing the Bears first win of the 2017 season.
Since the mindset for this game was running the ball, another example of it came on the second offensive possession, after the mishandled punt by Eli Rodgers of the Steelers. The Bears strung together six consecutive runs (five designed, one Mike Glennon scramble) to get the ball into the end zone.
What made this an impressive drive?
The Bears were able to capitalize on a mistake and did it by establishing the running game.
The Offensive Big Picture
Finally, the Bears were able to establish the run. After last week’s underwhelming performance (nine carries for seven yards) Howard had his statement game. He had 23 rushes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Dating back to last season, all of us here and Da Bears Brothers said Howard needed to get at least 20 touches in a game for the offense to be effective.
So far in 2017, the Bears are 1-0 when Howard gets 20 or more carries.
While it was great to see 220 yards on the ground between Cohen and Howard, I fear that it will make the offense one-dimensional. It was nice to see Glennon put the ball down the field early. He targeted Markus Wheaton twice, one of which could have been caught. That keeps the defense honest and respecting the deep ball, which might have helped in the early success on the ground.
The second half offense was not as productive, largely due to the offensive passing game being nearly non-existent. Later in the game, Glennon was hitting his check down running back options to get “some” sort of passing attack going.
Which brings up another point.
If the running backs are going to be the focal point of the running game, and the passing game, they will get burned out as the season goes along.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that the Bears were able to establish the running game, and stick to their strength throughout the game. There are things that can still improve, however, let’s enjoy the Bears victory and that Howard made himself a force to be reckoned with once again.
The second defensive series for the Bears started a little rough, but in this particular case, the finish was stronger than the start.
The Bears had a penalty called on the kickoff for a low block, which added fifteen yards to the Steelers’ drive before the defense even takes the field. The next play, Kyle Fuller gets called for a pass interference penalty. After a couple runs by Le’Veon Bell for minimal yards, Antonio Brown makes a first down reception and Bryce Callahan gets called for illegal contact. A couple plays later, Callahan makes up for that mistake.
Callahan blitzes Ben Roethlisberger and gets the strip sack.
The ability to overcome the three mistakes prior to the forced fumble shows that Vic Fangio’s defense is better-equipped compared to a year ago.
The Defensive Big Picture
The Bears held the Steelers to 4-11 on third downs. That strip sack by Callahan came on a third-and-8 situation. Plus, it was a corner blitz. Fangio is not known for doing much blitzing at all, let alone a corner blitz. Plus, the Bears disguised it quite well. It could not have come at a better time.
Also, it was a turnover for the Bears, which is a step in the right direction after only forcing 11 last season.
The Bears defense looked all around solid. They only forced three 3-and-outs, but they very much displayed the “bend but don’t break” mentality. The coverage on Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown was very well executed, minus the one deep pass that Roethlisberger missed on the first pass of the game.
The Bears had three sacks, one from Callahan, one from Pernell McPhee, and one from Willie Young.
The pressure from the defensive line was present at times, but seeing more consistent pressure out of this group is going to be key going forward, especially Thursday when the Bears head up north to Cheeseland.