Marc Trestman’s play-calling looked scared in the second half Sunday. The Bears' rookie coach looked like he was hoping and praying the clock would run out while his team still had the lead against the desperate Steelers.
This from a coach who has shown in a short time that not only isn’t he afraid to make a big call to go for it on fourth down, but seems to live for it.
Still, a Bears offense that looked so sharp early in moving out to leads of 17-0 and 24-3 suddenly was dying.
Jay Cutler suddenly felt a ton of pressure. The Steelers’ 3-4 defense had found holes in the Bears’ scheme. Tons of holes. Everywhere. If receivers were getting open, it was news to everyone.
The running game, meanwhile, went nowhere. Except into a pile of Steelers. Matt Forte was getting nothing except pounded. It became so bad that the Bears faked a handoff to Michael Bush on third-and-1 so Cutler could throw a jump ball to Brandon Marshall into triple coverage.
Like that, the Bears had managed 55 yards and three first downs in the second and third quarters combined.
So, really, what could Trestman call?
Something. He had to call something that would work. That's why he's here. The Bears weren’t adjusting. They couldn’t block all the men the Steelers were sending, and worse, they couldn’t call or execute plays to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s aggressiveness.
Then the defense contracted whatever was ailing the offense. Bad timing, that.
Ben Roethlisberger was finding open targets for big chunks. A Pittsburgh rushing game that had 75 yards all season had 80 on Sunday night. And while you were thinking of flipping over to the Emmys, the Steelers had pulled to within 27-23 early in the fourth quarter.
Trestman needed some answers, and trying to run out a clock that still had 10 minutes left wasn’t a good one.
Trestman has a long history of smart play-calling. He brings with him the ability to solve tough defenses and put his players in position to succeed. He needed to find that immediately.
And he did.
Trestman made some big calls at big times. Cutler hit Marshall for 40 yards on third-and-12 when a punt looked like it would lead to a Steelers go-ahead touchdown. On the next third down, Cutler fired a wonderful pass that was followed by a better catch by Earl Bennett in the end zone, but the officials ruled that Bennett didn’t come down with both feet in bounds.
That’s when Trestman made yet another big call. He challenged the play, and unlike everything else since Anthony Walters roughed the punter midway through the second quarter, this went the Bears’ way. Touchdown. A much-needed, maybe-you-could-exhale touchdown.
When Lance Briggs got home on a blitz to strip Roethlisberger and Julius Peppers ran it back for a score, you could indeed exhale.
Bears 40, Steelers 23. An uncomfortable 40-23. It was a win on the road, sure, but Bears coaches will have so many teaching points from this game tape that you’d think they lost.
And the first thing the Bears can learn is that a team can develop a killer instinct in the second quarter.