The Steelers will host the Chicago Bears for Monday Night Football tonight. However, while the Steelers and Mike Tomlin specifically are almost always great on Monday nights, he has yet to register a victory over the Bears in his coaching tenure. Along with the Saints, those are the only two teams that Tomlin has failed to defeat during his lengthy stint with the Steelers up to this point. In order for that to change, what needs to happen in Pittsburgh?
Slow Down the Rushing Attack Proper
Adding the word ‘proper’ to this is needed because there are two aspects to the rushing attack of the Bears. More importantly, they did this against Cleveland. David Montgomery will be returning and Khalil Herbert has proven himself to be a dangerous and capable backup running back. Justin Fields is dynamic, but the Bears do not run many designed quarterback runs with the young Ohio State product just yet.
The Steelers must force the Bears to beat them through the air. Not only have the Bears allowed the most sacks in the NFL this year, but Fields has yet to completely get comfortable on an NFL field. While he is starting to find that level of comfort, there are plenty of chances to still rattle him and get him off his game. If Montgomery and Herbert are able to run wild and take pressure off of Fields, however, the Bears could score in bunches, similar to how Seattle did on Sunday Night Football versus the Steelers.
Thus, the Steelers’ defensive line, edge rushers, and especially their linebackers will have to play at a high level to stop the dangerous duo of backs that Matt Nagy’s team wields.
Use 12 Personnel Effectively
The Bears will be without Khalil Mack, and that is a huge boon for the Steelers’ offensive line in this game. However, they still have Robert Quinn who will be dangerous and a fantastic linebacker in Roquan Smith. That is not even mentioning guys on their interior like Akeim Hicks. It will be a tough time for the Steelers even without Mack perusing the Bears’ defensive front. However, what has turned into a lifeline for them in recent weeks in their uptick in 12 personnel usage.
With no Eric Ebron, the Steelers ran the ball incredibly well by forcing the Browns to play in base the entire game. By going heavy with two solid blockers in Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry, the Steelers create matchup problems in the passing game and create an extra gap in the running game to complicate the opposing team’s run fits. They must do the same on Monday night to continue to move the football well. If the Steelers are to win, expect Freiermuth and Gentry to have their piece in the victory.
Keep Justin Fields In-Structure
This one implies that Fields can not work in structure, and the Steelers must be cognizant that he can. However, he is far more dangerous out of structure than he is within the confines of an offense. Nagy has failed to completely capitalize on Fields’ skillset just yet as a dynamic runner of the football as well as a talented passer. Part of that is Fields’ inexperience as the game starts to slow down for him, but he is a completely special player out of the pocket.
This is the second component of the rushing attack that the Steelers have to be attentive to the entire night. Fields’ dynamic ability to turn nothing into something is not something the Steelers have faced very often this year aside from Josh Allen. Obviously, they have experience going up against guys like Fields with Lamar Jackson in the division. Still, they are different players with far different styles. If they can collapse the pocket around Fields and minimize his impact on the ground, the defense should look much better for it. If they can not do that, it will open up plenty of opportunities on the back end as well as the scrambles Fields loves to employ.
This seems obvious, but for the Steelers and Matt Canada, it is paramount as an offense. The obvious matchup to exploit is that without Eddie Jackson, the middle of the field should be prone to attacks. It does not have to be deep passes, but slants, digs, and curls like the Steelers ran against the Browns is something that can be employed in a similar plan on this night. The Steelers can go under center and work their play-action series, as long as they can run the football to a decent degree.
The key will be for the Steelers to not fall behind too early and force the entire gameplan into a pass-heavy attack. The Steelers are not built to do that, and have to take pressure off of the offensive line in pass protection and Ben Roethlisberger. On the outside, getting Chase Claypool against Kindle Vildor makes a lot of sense. Claypool has the size advantage and could be due for a big game.