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Is this the Steelers’ last stand?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 12:20 a.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 12:21 a.m. CST
Caption
(Tom Uhlman)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) and defensive end Michael Johnson (93) in the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

I suppose it would be clever to say you have to be very wary of a wounded Steeler, and the Pittsburgh Steelers at 0-2 will be all of that when the Bears come calling Sunday night.

But the truth is, I’m not entirely sure what a Steeler is. My best guess is they’re steelworkers, and though I’m sure those guys are tough, I’m pretty sure I’d rather wrestle a Steeler than a Bear, wounded or otherwise.

But this is the first time a Mike Tomlin-coached team has been two games under .500, and they’ll kick off the game knowing a win here puts them right back in the middle of the AFC North chase with all four clubs stumbling out of the gate.

These Steelers do have their issues, but they also are only four seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title and will be a desperate bunch when the Bears get to Pittsburgh.

The biggest challenge the Steelers offer is at quarterback, where Ben Roethlisberger already has won two Super Bowls – Tom Brady and Eli Manning are the only other active QBs with more than one ring – and is as dangerous extending plays in the pocket as anyone in the game.

Big Ben is particularly scary when his protection breaks down and he starts improvising. Bears defenders will have to hold their coverage in pass defense much longer than usual and, with the problems they’ve had pressuring quarterbacks, it can make for an awfully long night.

One factor very much in the Bears’ favor, though, is Pittsburgh is mediocre at best on offense right now, and the running game in particular is as weak as any Steelers team in recent memory.

Pittsburgh drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round after allowing former No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall to leave via free agency and then surprised many by releasing last year’s leading rusher, Jonathan Dwyer, in training camp.

When Bell went down with a Lisfranc foot injury – he’s expected to be sidelined at least three more weeks – the Steelers were forced to trade to bring in Felix Jones. After sitting out the opener, Jones rushed 10 times for 37 yards Monday night in Cincinnati and probably will be Pittsburgh’s main ball carrier against the Bears.

Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery are the primary receivers, but none match up particularly well with the Bears’ corners.

Heath Miller is a quality tight end but still is not 100 percent off a serious knee injury last year and is not a sure thing for Sunday. This is another big benefit to the Bears, whose safeties have struggled in coverage.

Pittsburgh also continues to struggle on the offensive line, and their best player, Maurkice Pouncey, is done for the year after tearing up his knee.

Completing the offensive puzzle in Pittsburgh, the Twitterverse was ablaze early in the Bengals game with insiders and amateurs alike trying to figure out whether or not Todd Haley even had a game plan, and if so, what it was?

Defensively, the Steelers are playing the pass well enough, but have been struggling against the run and rushing the passer. The loss of veteran Larry Foote for the season in the opener vs. Tennessee along with the releases in the offseason of James Harrison and Casey Hampton appear to have left a real leadership void.

Troy Polamalu still is on the back end at safety, but he appears to have lost half a step while Ryan Clark is better against the run than the pass at the other safety.

This will be the Bears and Marc Trestman’s new offense’s first look at a 3-4 defense. For Pittsburgh, it revolves around the linebackers, and LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons both still are extremely active. Jason Worilds continues to grow into the James Harrison role while Kion Wilson is the biggest question mark attempting to step in for Foote.

Wilson is a third-year journeyman who played eight games with the Chargers and Panthers before being out of football last year and working as an insurance adjuster.

Placekicker Shaun Suisham and punter Zoltan Mesko are dependable veterans who make the Pittsburgh special teams solid.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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