Bears vs. Steelers features two of the oldest franchises in the NFL. The Bears own a record of 19-7-1 against the Steelers, having won the last three meetings. The two franchises are still family-owned, and the ties between the McCaskey’s and the Rooney’s are very strong.
In fact, when Virginia Halas began dating Ed McCaskey, her father George Halas expressed doubts. Halas asked his NFL pals Bert Bell (owner of the Eagles) and Art Rooney (owner of the Steelers) to head to McCaskey’s college campus in Pennsylvania and “inspect” McCaskey.
Anyways, now that the trade deadline has come and gone without any real changes for the Bears, it is time to focus on the Steelers. And who you might want the Bears to hire as their next head coach, considering their 3-5 record.
But first, I am throwing one out there for the Yinzers with a fun fact: Pittsburgh, New England, and Oakland all have the same blood type. AB Negative. I will see myself out now.
Bears vs. Steelers Betting Lines
In the above graphic, I have noted the spread and the projected spreads according to my two models, PFF, and 538’s two models for Bears vs. Steelers. Why use two models from one source? I like to use multiple models to crosscheck each other. The more models that say something is a good bet, the more assurances you get. That’s what all of us gamblers want, assurances.
Bears vs. Steelers Cover History
In the graph above, the blue line represents the expected point differential based on the spread. For example, if the spread is CHI +7, the blue line will have a data point at -7, since the Bears are expected to lose by seven.
The orange line represents the actual result. Therefore, any data point above the blue line means that the Bears covered the spread and any data point below the blue line means the Bears did not cover. We can see that this Bears team has only covered the spread in two of their last nine games as road dogs.
In Matt Nagy’s tenure as head coach of the Bears, he has compiled a record against the spread (ATS) of 27-31. As an underdog, Nagy’s teams are 13-17 ATS. On the road, his teams are 12-16 ATS. Combining those two factors, Nagy’s teams have a record of 7-10 ATS as a road dog. This represents a cover rate of 41%, versus the league average cover rate of 56%.
“Good coaches win. Great coaches cover the spread.”
We can see that this Steelers team has not covered the spread in their last six games as home favorites. Additionally, they have straight-up lost four of their last six games as home favorites.
Since 2018, Mike Tomlin’s team has compiled a record against the spread (ATS) of 30-25-1. As a favorite, Tomlin’s teams are 13-21-1 ATS. At home, his teams are 15-14 ATS. Combining those two factors, Tomlin’s teams have a record of 9-14 ATS as a home favorite. This represents a cover rate of 39% versus the league average cover rate of 43.8%.
Fun fact for you; Mike Tomlin is 0-3 in his head coaching career against the Bears.
Bears vs. Steelers Team Stats
The final ranking for each unit is the average of DVOA, EPA per Play (10% win probability filter), and success rate. DVOA is a metric developed by Football Outsiders that measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to the league average based on situation and opponent. Meanwhile, EPA per Play is a stat that aims to measure the value of individual plays in terms of points using historical data for down, distance, and field position. Finally, success rate measures the percentage of plays that generate positive EPA on offense or a negative EPA on defense.
The Bears and Steelers rank similarly on offense. Both teams have struggled to pass the football with much efficiency. However, both teams have been able to find success in the ground game. Defensively, the teams are not quite as similar. While both teams have been middle-of-the-pack in defending the pass, the Steelers have held up that same standard against the run. On the other hand, the Bears have struggled to stop the run, especially of late.
Steelers Offensive Overview
Play-Caller: Matt Canada
Personnel Groupings: RB-TE [WR]
- 1-1 [3WR]: 73%
- 1-2 [2WR]: 19%
- 2-2 [1WR]: 2%
Third Down Conversion Rate: 40.9% (14th)
Red Zone TD Conversion Rate: 55.6% (23rd)
Explosive Play / Pass / Run Rate: 8% (28th) / 7% (28th) / 10% (20th)
Score %: 33.3% (24th)
Turnover %: 9.3% (23rd)
Steelers Offensive Scouting Report
The Steelers' offense averages 19 points per game. They have scored 20 or more points just three times this season. After the 2020 season, Matt Canada received a promotion from QB coach to Offensive Coordinator, taking over for Randy Fichtner. After spending many years as a coach in the college ranks, Canada made his jump into the NFL in 2020 as the Steelers QB coach. A few staples for Matt Canada include pre-snap motion, play-action usage, and pulling blockers in traditional power run concepts. That is not to say that he lacks creativity, as Canada is always searching for new formations and motions to confuse defenses. We can expect to see many different shifts, motions, and formations throughout the contest.
At QB, the Steelers are trotting out 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger. When protected well, he can still stand in the pocket and pick apart the defense. However, he cannot move very well, does not like pre-snap motion or play-action, does not excel in the RPO game, and lacks the arm strength to attack vertically. Therefore, the offense needs to be tailored to Ben’s strengths, creating an environment where match-ups are of the utmost importance. Against Cleveland last week, they used heavy sets and under-center passing calls in order to attack the middle of the field.
Najee Harris is their bell-cow back, playing 84% of offensive snaps. Harris ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts and second in touches. When taking a handoff, his specialty is running between the tackles in a power blocking scheme.
Up front, the Steelers' offensive line seems to be finding their footing after some early-season struggles. When run blocking, they lean on power blocking and inside zone schemes. While the OL has struggled with pass protection, it is not evident in the numbers. This is because Roethlisberger gets the ball out faster than any other QB, helping his OL in the process.
Although the Steelers have stayed in 11 personnel for most of the season, they played out of heavier packages for most of last week’s game against Cleveland. The Steelers could be gearing toward more two TE sets than we have seen early in the season, which would fit Matt Canada’s history.
Rookie TE Pat Freiermuth is having a strong rookie season. On the outside, the combination of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool makes for a strong WR core. Juju Smith-Schuster remains injured and will not see the field this week. Both Johnson and Claypool are big-play threats, but both are bogged down by Roethlisberger’s receding arm strength.
The “Pos. Rank” uses multiple position-specific stats to generate a relative ranking for each player at their position. The percentile is simply a representation of their rank. For example, Najee Harris Ranks 15th out of 56 qualifying RB’s. This results in a percentile of 73% (MATH = 1 - (15/56)). In the right-most column, you can see the stats used to generate the ranking.
Offensive Line stats represent the entire unit, rather than any individual player. I believe that it is just too subjective of a stat to place statistical blame on individuals without knowing their assignments.
Steelers Defensive Overview
DC: Keith Butler
Blitz %: 20.1% (27th)
3rd Down Conversion Rate: 37.1% (9th)
Red Zone TD Conversion Rate: 47.6% (5th)
Explosive Pass / Run Rate: 8% (11th) / 13% (27th)
Score %: 38.2% (15th)
Turnover %: 7.9% (27th)
Steelers Defensive Scouting Report
Do you see that blitz rate? We are talking about the Steelers, right? Blitzburgh, no more. In 2020, the Steelers were one of the most aggressive teams in the NFL when it came to blitzing. They brought five-plus rushers on 44.1% of all defensive snaps. So far in 2021, they have cut that rate in half.
Through the first half of the season, the Steelers' defense has shown little resemblance to the philosophy they’ve deployed for the majority of the past three decades. In order to be less predictable, the Steelers' defense has pulled back on their blitz-heavy tendencies. Although, they still have the blitz packages in their back pocket, as shown in their game against Seattle. Basically, they take it on a week-by-week basis, and one would expect them to come after a rookie QB with a porous offensive line.
The Steelers' defensive line has missed the presence of Tyson Alualu, who is on IR. Due to multiple interior defenders being placed on IR, the Steelers do not boast the same depth they are typically used to having here. Regardless, Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt remain as two of the top defensive players in the NFL. This defense's strength is still in their front seven. But the limited availability of depth up front impacts their ability to stop the run the way they did in previous years.
Devin Bush, despite having a down year statistically, is still a playmaker at the LB position. Flanking him is Joe Schobert, who has had no problem fitting in as a thumper in the Steelers defensive front.
On the back end, Joe Haden remains a reliable man coverage CB. Aside from him, the Steelers have question marks at the other CB spot as well as in the nickel. Both Cameron Sutton and Tre Norwood have been vulnerable this year. Behind them at the safety position, Minkah Fitzpatrick is an absolute ballhawk who is dangerous when on the field. The QB needs to find Fitzpatrick before every snap and be aware of where he is going.
The “Pos. Rank” uses multiple position-specific stats to generate a relative ranking for each player at their position. The percentile is simply a representation of their rank. For example, Cameron Heyward ranks second among 81 qualifying iDL players. This results in a percentile of 98% (MATH = 1 - (2/81)). In the right-most column, you can see the stats used to generate the ranking.
Bears vs. Steelers Injury Report
Bears vs. Steelers is most likely going to be ugly for everyone involved. The Bears' offensive scheme is broken. The Steelers' offense is broken. Both defenses are talented but have some large holes at key spots.
There is an upside for the Bears with Justin Fields having the opportunity to stack good games on top of each other. Despite Pittsburgh’s history of winning as a home favorite, I am taking the young QB this week.
Ultimately, this seems like a very winnable game for the Bears if they can keep Fields upright, assuming that at least Eddie Jackson will be back on the grass. If Jackson is not out there, I think the Steelers might pick apart the Bears' defense since they seemed to have a hard time disguising their intentions without him. I am hoping to see Fields build off last week's strong showing. I would expect the Steelers to spy Fields often due to how many yards he picked up on the ground last week. However, the Bears should be able to use that to open the passing game more.