Cornerback Prince Amukamara signed a one-year “prove it” deal with Bears in the offseason and is lined up to make his season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. Amukamara was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, a sign that he’s almost ready to give it a go. And as far as the Bears’ secondary is concerned, he can’t join it quickly enough.
Improved secondary play will be important this Sunday, because Chicago’s run defense could put Pittsburgh in a passing mode. The Bears have allowed just 3.2 yards per rush this year, which is 10th best in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers’ rush offense is averaging a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have posted 100+ quarterback ratings in each of the last two weeks and the Bears’ pass defense also ranks in the bottom 10 in yards per game and yards per attempt.
Based on the trends and the facts, Week 3 could be another game (particularly) decided by quarterback play, an area where the Steelers have the decided advantage.
Of course, Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston didn’t have too much trouble finding their top targets against the Bears in the first two weeks. Mike Evans went off for seven catches (nine targets) for 93 yards and a touchdown from Winston, while Julio Jones caught four of the five passes thrown to him by Ryan for 66 yards. So when targeting their respective WR1, Ryan and Winston combined to complete 11 of 14 passes (78.6%) for 159 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. Punch those numbers into the quarterback efficiency calculator and it comes out to a 137.8 rating. Yikes.
Sitting atop the list of Week 3 priorities is limiting the damage done by Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
Amukamara figures to get a bulk of the duty against Brown, especially if he lines up outside. Brown has lined up in the slot on 17 percent of his snaps, but a majority of the time he lines up on the left side of the offensive formation where he’ll be matched up against the right cornerback – a position manned by Kyle Fuller 94 percent of the time this year. If Amukamara slides in for Fuller in the starting lineup, this would pit him against Brown often and cut into the advantage Brown has against the Bears’ secondary.
For what it’s worth, the Minnesota Vikings used a shadow coverage on Brown in Week 2. Shadow coverage doesn’t happen often in the NFL, but the Vikings matched up with cornerback Xavier Rhodes on 73 percent of Brown’s routes routes. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger targeted Brown eight times when he was covered by Rhodes, completing just four passes for 54 yards. If the Bears are to employ this strategy (and do so successfully) a second corner needs to step up or risk Martavis Bryant going off on the other side. Whether that responsibility falls on Marcus Cooper, Kyle Fuller, or even slot corner extraordinaire Bryce Callahan remains to be seen.
While Rhodes was shadowing Brown, it was Bryant making big plays catching three of his four targets for 91 yards. Those numbers included a 27-yard touchdown reception and another 51-yard grab. Bryant has emerged as a playmaker, which is one reason Pittsburgh felt Wheaton was expendable in the offseason.