Tomlin, Steelers keep guard up vs. winless Bears
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The Pittsburgh Steelers will aim for their first 3-0 start since 2010 when they head west to face the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is warning against complacency as his team gears up for the winless Bears (0-2).
"We'll get prepared with an edge," Tomlin said this week. "We know we're playing a team that's going to be hungry. We know we're going into a hostile environment. And quite frankly, we're too fragile, we're too new in this team development process in terms of searching for consistency and an acceptable level of play to take any other approach."
Tomlin's hard stance is no surprise to those who have watched him compile a 105-57 record in 10-plus seasons in Pittsburgh. He already has seven playoff appearances and a Super Bowl championship under his belt, and he is trying to steer his squad toward the postseason once again with a string of victories to start the year.
The Steelers are coming off back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings by a margin of 47-27. Although running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown have yet to find the end zone, Pittsburgh is ranked No. 11 in scoring (23.5 points per game) and No. 16 in total offense (312.5 yards per game).
The Bears will have to keep pace to avoid their third straight 0-3 start with John Fox as coach. After a better-than-expected performance in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, Fox's team was plagued by mistakes in a 29-7 blowout loss at Tampa Bay.
The ugly effort increased fans' scrutiny on quarterback Mike Glennon, who threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble. But Fox and his offensive assistants said Glennon firmly remained the team's No. 1 starter heading into Week 3. That means rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky will stay on the sidelines, at least for now.
"He's a competitor," Fox said of Glennon, who will earn $18 million this year. "We all deal with adversity. What's critical is how you respond. You're going to get hit. You're going to have bad days. It's how you respond to that."
The Bears' ground attack has not provided much support. After a breakout rookie season, running back Jordan Howard has been limited to 22 carries for 59 yards (2.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Rookie Tarik Cohen (6.4 yards per carry) offers an exciting change of pace but is most effective as a complementary piece rather than an every-down back.
Glennon could have help this week if wide receiver Markus Wheaton is cleared to return from injury. Wheaton signed with the Bears during the offseason after appearing in 47 games (22 starts) over the last four seasons with the Steelers.
"He brings another speed element," Glennon said. "We already have fast guys on the outside with (Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson). We're growing into a speed offense with Tarik and those receivers. I think it can really stretch the defense. We can run by guys. We can throw it deep. It definitely adds another dimension. It will be great having Markus back."
The Steelers' defense has surrendered only three touchdowns in the first two games. Rookie linebacker T.J. Watt already has posted two sacks and an interception, but a groin injury could slow him this week. Third-year linebacker Anthony Chickchillo also has shined with two sacks, and he is expected to start ahead of veteran linebacker James Harrison.
The Bears hope to welcome back offensive lineman Kyle Long and cornerback Prince Amukamara this week. Neither player has seen action this season because of injured ankles.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are not certain about the status of players such as offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), tight end Jesse James (ankle), and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (biceps). Tight end Vance McDonald returned to practice this week after sitting out against the Vikings.
Roethlisberger said he and his players had plenty of room for improvement despite an impressive start. The veteran quarterback has a 99.9 passer rating this season with 506 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
"We should set goals that are almost unattainable so that you can be the best you can be," Roethlisberger said. "We're not worried about guys that missed time or whatever. We're winning football games, we're making improvements, and I'll say it again: We're winning football games."
The game marks the first meeting between the Bears and Steelers since 2013. Chicago has won the past two contests, and Pittsburgh is seeking its first win at Soldier Field since 1995.
Updated September 20, 2017