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NFL Week 2 Preview: Steelers vs. Bears

Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler’s regular season debut with the Chicago Bears couldn’t have gone worse. The newly-acquired quarterback threw four interceptions, including one to snuff out the Bears’ fourth-quarter comeback, in a 21-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.

Now Cutler faces the most stout defense in the NFL this weekend. Chicago hosts the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. Bookmaker.com Oddsmakers have tagged the Bears as 3-point underdogs.

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Cutler finished Sunday night’s contest with 277 yards passing, one touchdown, and the quartet of picks. While the interceptions stood out, Cutler has a least brought life back into Chicago’s offense. The Bears haven’t moved the ball through the air that easily in years, and also proved that receiver Devin Hester is ready to become the No. 1 option; Hester caught four balls for 90 yards and the team’s lone score.

The Bears’ passing attack catches a break in Week 2 with Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu missing the next three to six weeks after tearing his MCL in Pittsburgh’s opener against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers boasted the top-rated defense in the NFL last season, allowing just 157 passing yards against in 2008.

Thursday night, they held the Titans to 234 yards through the air and picked off one pass – courtesy Polamalu in the first quarter. Pittsburgh has a 6-2 record without the active safety in the lineup.

Chicago also has a major hole in its defense heading into Sunday. The Bears lost leader and star linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season after the veteran dislocated his wrist in Sunday night’s loss to the Packers. The six-time Pro Bowler has missed time over the past two season with back issues and was hoping for a big year after a disappointing 2008 campaign.

Urlacher’s absence has the Steelers offense breathing a little easier. Pittsburgh totaled 321 passing yards in Week 1’s contest. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 33-for-43 passing and totaled one touchdown and two interceptions.

Roethlisberger connected with Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes on nine tosses for 131 yards and a touchdown, while veteran receiver Hines Ward caught eight balls for 103 yards – but almost blew the game with a goal-line fumble.

That pass-heavy attack gets away from Pittsburgh’s traditional ground-and-pound offense. The Steelers’ rushing attack couldn’t find space against Tennessee. It totaled just 36 yards on the ground with running back Willie Parker getting 13 carries for only 19 yards.

Head coach Mike Tomlin says it will take time to establish a solid run game, but the problems could be more with the offensive line than the legs carrying the ball. Pittsburgh’s o-line has had issues in the past keeping opposing pass rushes away from Roethlisberger and now appears to be slow adjusting to different defensive fronts.

Chicago’s rushing game didn’t fair much better against Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Second-year running back Matt Forte rushed for only 55 yards on 25 carries Sunday while failing to catch the only pass thrown his way. Chicago must find a way to get their versatile back into the offense. In his rookie season, Forte rumbled for over 1,200 yards and caught 64 balls for 484 yards receiving, scoring 12 touchdowns while also proving he was a solid pass blocker.

Pittsburgh has won five straight meetings over Chicago, covering the spread in four of those games. The over/under is 3-1-1 in that span. Sunday afternoon’s total is currently set at 37.5.

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