By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers travel to Soldier Field for a 4:15 p.m. game on Sunday against the Chicago Bears:
STEELERS ROLB JAMES HARRISON VS. BEARS LT ORLANDO PACE: His credentials are impressive. Pace made history by becoming the first player to win consecutive Lombardi awards as the outstanding collegiate lineman, and then in 1997 by being the first offensive lineman chosen first overall in the NFL Draft since 1968. He has started 154 of the 158 games played over the course of 12 NFL seasons, and started all 16 games in eight different seasons and made the Pro Bowl seven times. But all the banging in all of those games played takes a physical toll, and Pace, 34, did not look like the same player against the Packers last Sunday night. Harrison is an extra difficult matchup for tall tackles who haven't experienced his power and explosion, and Pace is 6-foot-7 and he never has faced Harrison. When the Steelers played the Rams in 2007, Pace was on the injured reserve list. As always, the Steelers want to pressure the quarterback, and Harrison vs. Pace could provide that for them.
STEELERS SS TYRONE CARTER VS. BEARS TE GREG OLSEN: This will be Carter's first start this season, for an injured Troy Polamalu, and while losing a dynamic individual player like Polamalu has to have an impact, the Steelers are 6-2 in the previous games he has missed with an injury. Carter is a veteran who understands the defense, and this type of situation is exactly why the coaches want him on the roster. This is Olsen's third pro season but his first as a full-time starter, and he has improved from 39 catches for 391 yards and two touchdowns to 54 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns. Jay Cutler is coming off a game in which he threw four interceptions, and often in such cases quarterbacks spend a big part of the next game looking for the sure-handed tight end. If the Steelers get after Cutler and he needs to get rid of the ball quickly, Olsen will be one of his first reads.
STEELERS TE HEATH MILLER VS. BEARS MLB HUNTER HILLENMEYER: Staying with the tight end theme, the Bears will be trying to defend Miller without All-Pro Brian Urlacher, who is out for the season following a wrist injury. Urlacher is a fast, physical presence in the middle of the field, and the Bears utilize him in a variety of roles, both to attack the backfield or drop, sometimes deep, into coverage. Hillenmeyer is a veteran who has 56 starts with the Bears since 2003, but in 86 career NFL games he has managed 4.5 sacks and one interception. When these teams met in 2005, the Steelers won with Jerome Bettis rushing for over 100 yards in the second half and running over Urlacher to score a touchdown, but this is a different style of offense. Miller caught eight passes against the Titans, and if he's open that much on Sunday he may catch even more.
STEELERS KR STEFAN LOGAN VS. BEARS KR DEVION HESTER: During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Hester was a kick returner the likes of which the NFL had never seen. As a rookie in 2006, he returned two punts for touchdowns and two kickoffs for touchdowns; in 2007, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and four punts for touchdowns. He also returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a 92-yard touchdown. The all-time record for returns for touchdowns is 13, and it's held by Brian Mitchell, who played in 223 games over 14 seasons to do it. Hester had 11 touchdowns in three full seasons and only 47 career games. He now is into the process of becoming a starting NFL wide receiver, but Hester settling under a kickoff or a punt is a potential disaster for the opponent. Logan is in the NFL today because of his own return ability, and he averaged 29 yards on four kickoff returns and 11 yards on one punt return against the Titans. Fielding the ball is always Job No. 1, and Chicago can be a tricky environment – they don't call it the Windy City for nothing.
STEELERS C JUSTIN HARTWIG VS. BEARS NT ANTHONY ADAMS: Without Urlacher in the middle, the Steelers might be able to commit more blockers to moving the 6-foot, 310-pound Adams out of the middle. On combination blocks with Hartwig and one of the guards, for example, there won't be as much of a concern about the middle linebacker, because Hillenmeyer is not as quick and physical around the line of scrimmage as Urlacher.
Steelers - Bears Matchups
By BOB LABRIOLA