Defensive football coaches work long hours in the hopes of employing just the right scheme at just the right time to enable one pass-rusher to arrive in the backfield untouched with the game on the line. The Steelers, with legendary coordinator Dick LeBeau at the helm, sent two blitzers around the right side of the Bears' overmatched offensive line on third-and-goal late in the fourth quarter Sunday. There was absolutely nothing between them and prized Bear quarterback Jay Cutler, whose team trailed by a touchdown at the time.

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  • Cutler had to know at least one of those guys was coming. The Steeler defense had completely overloaded that side of the ball, as it had on several occasions earlier in the second half, and the Bears seemed powerless to counter it. But he still took the snap and scooted back to pass directly into the projected path of the rushers. Fearing a screen, both blitzers seemed to hesitate just a bit but they were still closing in on Cutler fast enough to seemingly prevent any sort of orderly offensive response. The quarterback was in full Grossman backpedal and all seemed lost . . . until he calmly flipped one of his routine "how did he make that pass from that spot" spirals into the end zone toward an open, crossing Johnny Knox. Knox, who had a great game in slick conditions, pulled the ball into his midsection as a Steeler defender belatedly dug at it to no avail. The Bears had the touchdown they had to have on their way to a pulsating victory.

    Offensive Overview
    Is the line a major problem or is that unit slowly working its way into game shape against some of the toughest competition it will face all season?

    I lean toward the latter assessment but hey, I'm an optimist. And a little optimism is warranted after the Bears stole a game that the Steelers controlled for just about 45 of its 60 minutes.

    At the start of the last few seasons, the Bear defense has suffered for coach Lovie Smith's less-physical-than-average training camps. In particular they have struggled to finish plays with solid tackles early in seasons. But the defense has, for the most part, hit the ground tackling so far this time around. On the other hand it appears the offense wasn't ready to enter the trenches at the start of this season. At least that's what we hope.

    On a slightly related note, one of the great things about Cutler's arm strength is how quickly he can get the ball out to a wide receiver on those short little passes that have the potential to be great responses to many manners of blitzes. The Bears picked up solid chunks of yardage on numerous occasions on Sunday and if Earl Bennett had possessed a bit more patience (and had allowed his blockers a bit more time to deploy) on the wide receiver screen he caught in the first half, he might very well have taken it all the way.

    As For The Defense
    One of the most aggravating elements of Tampa 2 defensive football as practiced by Lovie Smith's Bears for far too long has been the belief that for the scheme to really work the front four linemen must pressure the quarterback all on their own.

    It is obviously a bit of an over-simplification but if the front four fails, the defense fails.

    Well, the front four failed during the Steelers' first drive on Sunday. Pittsburgh held the ball for more than eight minutes as it went more than 90 yards for a potentially demoralizing score.

    Fortunately when Lovie took back the reigns of the defense this year from former coordinator (even though he still holds the title) Bob Babich, he apparently decided he wasn't going to rely on the front four alone this season.

    And so he busted out the blitzes the next time the Steelers had the ball and for the rest of the game.

    The resulting pressure led to Peanut Tillman's momentum-killing interception shortly thereafter and the Bears were on their way to allowing only 14 points on the day.

    Bears Bits
    * What a fearsome collision resulted from the Steelers' Tyrone Carter going in helmet-first and knocking the ball away from Greg Olsen after a long near-completion late in the second quarter. And how impressive was it that Olsen got back in the game before Carter did and later made one more stellar grab in the deep middle knowing there was a good chance he would get crushed again. It was Gladiator stuff.

    * This team certainly hasn't caught any breaks as far as injury avoidance in its first two games. First it was Brian Urlacher. And then the Bears' by-far best defensive player on Sunday, Alex Brown, went down with a leg injury late. And the Bears didn't seem to have the luck of the penalties (i.e. referees seeing more of the Steelers' infractions that happen on just about every play than they see the Bears' infractions that happen on just about ever play). But good fortune smiled on the home team on those two Jeff Reed field goal attempts.

    * The Bears have extreme confidence in Robbie Gould at this point, and really, you can't blame them. The guy doesn't miss inside of 45 yards and he doesn't miss when it matters most. Neither play-by-play man Jim Nantz nor analyst Phil Simms (who was very good, as usual, with, among other things, rules explanations - noting at one point that a flag on the Steelers was picked up because a seeming illegal chop block occurred more than five yards down the field, which it actually didn't, but anyway . . . ) were high on the Bears' game plan after they moved into field-goal range in the last two minutes. But the Bears effectively ran down the clock (just as they had in the first half by the way - way to manage the clock Lovie!), and put the game on Gould's foot. And he, and snapper Patrick Mannelly and holder Brad Maynard, delivered.

    * And then . . . no squib kick! Thank you Coach Smith (who is apparently as haunted by last year's debacle at Atlanta as the diehards are). As opposed to using some rarely-utilized gimmick scheme, the Bears kicked away with 15 seconds left, choosing to put the game in the hands of a kick-off coverage unit that had not shown itself at all vulnerable to the big return earlier in the game. Sure enough, not only did they make a sure tackle, but Jamar Williams forced a fumble and Craig Steltz recovered it.


    Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday. He welcomes your comments.

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