The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 22, 2013

Winless Steelers will face unbeaten Bears

PITTSBURGH — The meeting was intimate and brief. Following his team’s first 0-2 start in more than a decade, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Ryan Clark huddled with remaining players from the club’s last Super Bowl title in 2009 and tried to plot a course forward.

While a pep talk certainly doesn’t hurt, it can’t score a touchdown or force a turnover.

“It’s not like it’s a magic solution,” Roethlisberger said.

Perhaps because there isn’t one.

The Steelers enter Sunday night’s game against the unbeaten – if not exactly unbeatable – Chicago Bears (2-0) ranked near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category. Pittsburgh can’t run it, can’t throw it deep and can’t seem to find its way to the end zone with any regularity.

“It’s as frustrating as it gets right now,” running back Isaac Redman said. “I don’t think anybody expected this.”

And it’s only going to get worse if the Steelers can’t find a way to keep up with the resilient Bears. Chicago’s perfect start is the byproduct of a pair of fourth-quarter rallies, the latest a 10-play, 66-yard drive in the final minutes against Minnesota last Sunday. It  ended with a

16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Cutler to tight end Martellus Bennett that lifted the Bears to a 31-30 victory.

“We’ve had a few things go our way, a few fourth-quarter plays went our way,” Cutler said. “We’re obviously happy to be

2-0 but we realize there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

Here are five things to look for as Pittsburgh tries to win a game and Chicago tries to establish itself as a threat in the NFC under first-year coach Marc Trestman.

Contenders?: The Steelers’ list of problems is about as long as their roster. A 3-0 start would boost the argument that the Bears are for real, at least in the NFC North. A loss, on the other hand, would raise all sorts of questions. After all, they had to rally to beat Minnesota in the closing seconds, and that came on the heels of a season-opening win over Cincinnati when they trailed by 11 in the third quarter.

Your turn, Felix: The Philadelphia Eagles considered running back Felix Jones so expendable they traded him to Pittsburgh last month for linebacker Adrian Robinson, who didn’t even make the team. Jones impressed Steelers coach Mike Tomlin enough during last week’s loss to Cincinnati to get another turn at the wheel against the Bears. Jones still has the burst that made him a first-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys back in 2008. He’ll need it to find holes behind an offensive line that isn’t exactly dominating at the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh’s 75 yards rushing this season is less than 34 individual players, including four quarterbacks.

Hester's Havoc: The most encouraging sign for the Bears last week likely was Devin Hester’s performance.

He returned five kickoffs for a club-record 249 yards against the Vikings and reminded everyone else that he still can be a game-changer. That was one of the big questions coming into this season after he was ineffective a year ago. His longest kickoff return in 2012 was for 40 yards. He exceeded that three times last week, including a 76-yarder after right after Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opener 105 yards and an 80-yarder in the second quarter.

Creating chaos: Pittsburgh’s defense remains one of the league’s best, but the Steelers are no longer making the kind of splash plays necessary to flip the field. Pittsburgh is one of two teams (Oakland is the other) that has yet to create turnovers and it has just one sack through two games. An interception here or a fumble recovery there could go a long way to help boost the offense’s confidence: “We need to put people in bad situations behind the sticks,” Clark said. “(That) allows us to do what we do best, which is rush the quarterback, create pressure, sack-fumbles and cause bad throws.”

Panic time: The Steelers dropped their first two games in 2003 before catching fire under journeyman quarterback Tommy Maddox and earning a wild-card berth. They’ve never made it to the postseason starting 0-3.  While Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin believe mid-September is hardly the time to panic – and in the, so far, anemic AFC North, they might be right – Pittsburgh can’t afford to lose any more ground. “A win would solve or help heal some wounds that we have right now, but for us it’s still early in the season,”  Roethlisberger said. “And it’s a home game, so we think all those are must wins.”

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