The Bears will find out a lot more about themselves Sunday night, especially on offense, when they take their 2-0 record on the road.
The difficulty factor gets ratcheted up a few notches in a nationally televised game in Pittsburgh.
After back-to-back victories to open the season in the friendly confines of Soldier Field, coach Marc Trestman's team faces the Steelers in the hostile environment of Heinz Field.
"We've got to play in the noise," Trestman said. "We've got to play in an environment (where) there's going to be a great sense of urgency on both teams. I think it will help measure us a little bit more."
The wounded-but-dangerous Steelers (0-2) are desperate for a win. And, for the first time this season the Bears' offense must deal with a 3-4 defense.
"We just don't see it often," quarterback Jay Cutler said of the defensive scheme that has become more popular of late. "We go against a 4-3 almost every day in practice.
"(The 3-4) is something that if you're unfamiliar with it it's going to take an extra second, an extra click to really get it. But we've had a good week so far trying to duplicate it as best we can."
The Bears will see similar 3-4 schemes in seven more regular-season games after Sunday. But over the years few teams operate it as effectively as the Steelers.
"Historically, they are a very difficult front to run against," Trestman said. "Everybody attempts to do it, and we certainly are going to run the football as well. But it's hard because a lot of their pressures are designed to stop the run.
"It remains to be seen whether we can unlock some of our plays and get some yardage. It won't be easy. It never is for anybody that goes into Pittsburgh."
The Steelers' defense has struggled early, but it was No. 2 in rushing yards allowed last season. The Bears' Matt Forte, who has 140 yards on 38 carries, will have to earn his yards because of the way the Steelers' 3-4 operates.
"They're more oriented not to rush the passer but to stay in the gap and wait for runs to come at them," Trestman said. "Their fits are different, and they're not playing their front to rush the passer and defend the run on the way to the quarterback; they're rushing the passer to stop the run, and they're doing it with internal blitzes and people coming from different levels, which makes it harder to 1-on-1 block."
The Steelers have yet to get their pass rush in gear, with only linebacker LaMarr Woodley bringing constant heat. But legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone blitz has created havoc in opposing passing games for decades by bringing pressure from every conceivable angle.
"It's a combination of things," said Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. "They play very stout two-gap defense on first and second down with a combination of some pressures. But then on third down Dick LeBeau has been known for years to have a lot of tough nickel blitzes.
"(He'll) show you one way and blitz the other way, (or) roll a guy from the line of scrimmage down to a deep half to cover. So that's what makes it difficult. It's just hard to see where they're coming from."
Maintaining the protection that has seen Cutler sacked just once will be more difficult. And Trestman hopes that by practicing with piped-in crowd noise, the offense can maintain its perfect record in avoiding pre-snap penalties.
"Guys, up to this point, have done a good job," Trestman said. "The guys (have been) really mindful, and Aaron is doing a good job with that. (But) it's going to be much more difficult to avoid pre-snap penalties this week.
"We'll be playing in the noise, (and) we're going to be in a silent count most of the time."
For rookie offensive linemen Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, it's another challenge, maybe their most difficult so far.
"The noise is going to be a problem for us offensively," Cutler said. "We have some young guys, and we'll just see how the communication goes, keeping our poise out there. It will be a good test for us."
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