Down but not yet out with an 0-2 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers must respond with some nastiness and desperation post haste.
Pittsburgh must collectively “nut up” or “shut up” against the Chicago Bears this evening, and their team will need strong performances from each and every player who trots out onto Heinz Field after 8:30 PM.
With important contributions in mind, here are five players who I will be watching closely tonight:
The addition of their two-time Pro Bowl tight end should go a long way in psychologically boosting the morale of the Steelers’ offense. Unfortunately, we have yet to see Miller in any sort of “game-action” since he sustained his knee injury in December of last year. How well the tight end can perform still remains a large mystery, and I am anxious to see how often he is utilized in Pittsburgh’s passing game.
Regardless of how hobbled Miller may or may not be, he still represents a vast improvement over David Paulson and David Johnson as a pass-receiver and run-blocker. I just can’t wait to yell “HEEAATTHH!” when he makes his first catch in a regular season game in close to nine months. Of course, I hope that I can do it seven or eight times as opposed to just once.
Acquired as almost an “afterthought” before the Steelers’ third preseason game, Jones is set to start at running back over Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman this evening. Todd Haley had some positive things to say about Jones after he rushed for 37 yards against the Bengals on Monday, and the veteran running back will see plenty of work against the Bears.
If Jones can find any semblance of success on the ground against Chicago, then Pittsburgh’s offense might be able to finally break out and cause some confusion. To find success however, Jones must actually have some running lanes to run through courtesy of his offensive line. In what could be his best chance to contribute all season, the team needs a strong performance from Felix.
After two lackluster regular season performances and a hardly impressive preseason, Mike Adams (as well as Marcus Gilbert) is now on the “hot seat.” His offensive coordinator stated earlier in the week that he could be pulled if he continues to play poorly, and Pittsburgh’s offense cannot function without at least “passable” play from Ben Roethlisberger’s blind-side protector.
Adams must bring his “A game” and ready for an intense battle tonight with future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers. While the task might be difficult, Adams must hold firm and not turn into the turnstile he was against the Bengals in Week Two.
I know I am going “offense-heavy” with this list, but I am downright intrigued to see if some of these newer, recently-returned, and still-developing players can respond to adversity. Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton is expected to see more playing time this evening, and the speedster could be an important “x-factor” against Chicago.
Armed with 4.3-speed and the confidence of many veterans on the team, Wheaton could stretch the Bears’ defense vertically and horizontally and make some “splash plays” his offense has sorely lacked lately. Best of all tough, Wheaton stretching the field could also open up space for the likes of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and Pittsburgh’s tight ends to boot.
With Cortez Allen sidelined again, Pittsburgh will look to their rookie safety to pick up the slack as the team’s nickelback this evening. While Thomas might not be responsible for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery for much of the night, he must keep the talented Martellus Bennett in check whenever he is forced to cover him.
While hard-hitting safety will be put to the test as a slot cornerback, he must also provide some support against the run when the Bears utilize “Pro Bowler” Matt Forte in the running game. I just hope that Thomas can use his “nose” for the football and help his defense force some turnovers with some big hits or interceptions.
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