Steelers vs Bears: Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season has gotten pretty wild. The Bills lost to the Jaguars. The Broncos dominated the Cowboys. The Browns blew out the Bengals. The Saints lost to the Falcons. The Giants beat the Raiders. The Chiefs and Packers played a game with almost no offense. The Cardinals won without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. The Titans beat the Rams without Derrick Henry.
There’s only one game left in Week 9: the Chicago Bears travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Monday Night Football.” Will we get a similarly wild game to match the week we’ve had so far? Let’s hope so.
How to watch Steelers vs Bears
Date: Monday, Nov. 8 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Steelers -7, O/U 39
Bears have the ball
We know what type of offensive team the Bears want to be — at least when Matt Nagy is coaching. They want to run the ball as often as possible and ask Justin Fields to do as little as possible. That’s just the way they’ve been approaching things. (Even last week when Fields had a season-high-tying 10 rushing attempts, eight of them were scrambles.)
Whether they try to run it with Khalil Herbert or the possibly returning from injured reserve David Montgomery remains to be seen, but we know they will try. How much success will they have running it against the Steelers? Probably not much.
Pittsburgh ranks sixth in rush defense DVOA this season, according to Football Outsiders, as well as ninth in the percentage of opponent rush attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Bears are a respectable 16th in rushing offense DVOA, but it’s not because the line is doing a good job of clearing running lanes. Chicago checks in 23rd in Adjusted Line Yards and 27th in the percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line. Running into Pittsburgh’s run defense is a good way to get into the third-and-long situations Chicago wants to avoid.
And yet, one can’t help but think the Bears will do just that anyway. They’ve shown almost no inclination to let Fields air the ball out. And even if they were to do so here, it’s hard to believe that they’d do a good job protecting him from Pittsburgh’s pass rush. The Steelers actually have a slightly below-average pressure rate (31%) so far this season, but Fields has a tendency to hold onto the ball until the last moment looking for a good throw, and that’s not ideal against Pittsburgh’s defensive front.
If Allen Robinson were at or near the top of his game, it might make more sense to take to the air. But he and Fields have been unable to get on the same page this season, with the rookie showing much more chemistry with Darnell Mooney. The Steelers also do a good job of taking away the types of deep throws on which Fields excels, making it difficult to imagine him finding much success if the Bears do turn to a pass-centric game plan anyway.
Steelers have the ball
Ben Roethlisberger looks a whole lot like the guy he looked like last year. Which is to say, not much like the guy he was for most of his career.
Roethlisberger operates one of the league’s most conservative passing attacks, repeatedly targeting players close to the line of scrimmage and only very occasionally taking a deep shot — and even then almost exclusively on go routes down the sideline and never anywhere close to the middle of the field. Sure, Big Ben gets the ball out quickly and before any pass rush has a chance to get through Pittsburgh’s offensive line, but he’s not accomplishing all that much by doing so because he’s not testing anybody deep or over the middle. It’s just short crossers and screens and slants.
The offense depends on its wide receivers to do a whole lot of work with the ball in their hands. Thankfully, both Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are capable of doing good work in that area. It remains to be seen which of them will draw more of Jaylon Johnson’s coverage in this game, but it would be reasonable to expect the Steelers to heavily target the other player, as Johnson is pretty clearly Chicago’s best cover corner at this stage.
Rookie running back Najee Harris operates as the centerpiece of Pittsburgh’s ground game and one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. (He likes to throw short passes anyway, and Harris is a smooth pass-catcher out of the backfield.) He’s gotten some better blocking in recent weeks and has thus been a bit more efficient (4.0 yards per carry in his last four contests as opposed to 3.0 in the first three), but the Steelers still don’t have the up-front physicality to dominant an opponent and run it down their throats, like they presumably want to.
Instead, they have to take small gain after small gain, both on the ground and through the air, and put together long scoring drives. They’re helped by their defense giving them better-than-average field position; but it’s still tough sledding more often than not. That figures to be the case on Monday night as well.