Monday Night Football Preview: Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers

Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers

Here’s a preview of Monday night‘s matchup between the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers, courtesy of STAT Stack:


Line: Steelers -7, Total: 39


Don’t Expect a Ton of Scoring…

The current Over/Under for this game is 39 points. If it closes at that number, it will tie for the lowest total for an NFL game this season (Week 5, Patriots beat the Texans 25-22). It’s rare to see a total below 40 in the NFL with how proficient offenses have become; this would be the third game to kick off with a total under 40 this season — and two of them have involved Pittsburgh (also in Week 5, the Steelers beat Denver 27-19 in a game with an Over/Under of 39.5).

Normally we would save the gambling information for the next section (and we will get to that shortly), but it seems relevant to all fans that Vegas is expecting these teams to put up so few points. Entering Week 9, Chicago is the second-lowest scoring team in the league (15.4 points per game) and Pittsburgh is seventh-worst (18.9); the Texans are the lowest at 14.9. Chicago averages 1.6 touchdowns per game, the worst mark in the league. Pittsburgh is tied with Miami for fifth-lowest at 2.0 TDs per game.

The Bears average 127.4 passing yards per game which is more than 50 yards fewer than the next-worst team (New Orleans, 180.9). The Bears passing offense isn’t just bad for the current era — it’s arguably one of the worst ever. Since 1980, no team has averaged fewer than 135 yards passing per game. Only three teams have even averaged fewer than 140 yards passing per game in a season: the 2005 49ers (136.9) and Bears (137.6) and the 2000 Bengals (138.7). Interestingly, while those 49ers and Bengals teams both finished the season 4-12, the 2005 Bears went 11-5 won the NFC North.

Now that the Steelers have seemingly found a running game, averaging 127.0 yards on the ground over the past three after averaging 55.3 in the first four, expect the clock to be moving throughout this game. Chicago leans on the run more heavily than any team in the NFL; its 136.6 rushing yards per game ranks sixth in the league and the Bears are the only team that averages more rushing yards than passing yards. The next closest to achieving that feat would be Cleveland, which averages 60 more yards passing than rushing per game.

On Monday night, you have two teams that are running the ball well and struggling to move the ball through the air. One has a rookie QB who is learning how to play in the NFL and the other has an aging veteran who is likely in his final season. Expect to see a lot from a pair of rookie running backs; first-round pick Najee Harris for Pittsburgh and 6th-round pick Khalil Herbert for Chicago. Despite their massive difference in draft position, they’ve performed similarly over the past month. Harris has averaged 89.0 rushing yards over his past four games, while Herbert is gaining 86.0 over the same span.  If you like old school football — rushing and defense — then Week 9’s Monday Night Football is the game for you.


Theme of the Day is Low-Scoring Affairs  

Pittsburgh is 5-8 against the spread over its last 13 games, including 3-4 this season. As a home favorite, the Steelers have failed to cover six straight opportunities. On the other side, the Bears have dropped three straight ATS and are 3-6 in their past nine. They’ve failed to cover in six of their last eight as a road underdog. As far as the total, Steelers games are 2-5-1 (under-over-push) and Bears contests are 2-6-0 this season. In their last 21 games as a road dog, Chicago totals have gone 6-14-1. With the Steelers as a home favorite, the Under has cashed in five of the last seven (one over and one push).

According to Action Network, Pittsburgh is attracting 54% of the bets and 65% of the money. Despite the noted trends, bettors are backing the over; 59% of the tickets and 67% of the handle think this game goes over. There has been some sharp action reported on the under, however.


Mike Tomlin vs. Rookie QBs  

We noted earlier how Justin Fields and the Bears passing offense has really struggled this season. Fields is averaging the fewest passing yards in the NFL among quarterbacks who have started at least five games. He’s the only passer averaging fewer than 165 yards per game — and he’s not particularly close to that threshold — throwing for 123.9 yards per game.

Now, he goes up against a Mike Tomlin-led team that has been historically very strong against rookie QBs. Teams led by first-year signal-callers are a dismal 4-24 against Tomlin’s Steelers. No rookie QB has ever passed for more than two touchdowns against Tomlin. In 28 tries, only three have ever passed for over 300 yards (Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott both did, and they both won in those games).

Rookie quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (29) than touchdown passes (27). They have been sacked 89 times, which averages to more than three sacks per game. The 20-point mark seems to be the goal if you’re a rookie facing Tomlin: in each of the four losses the Steelers have had against rookie QBs, they scored at least 20 points in all of them. In the other 24 games, they’ve crested that mark three times. In 21 of the 28 games, those teams were held to fewer than 20 points. Teams with rookie starting quarterbacks are averaging 13.8 points per game against Tomlin’s defenses.

Tomlin now goes up against Fields, who leads the second-lowest scoring offense, while throwing for the fewest passing yards and taking the most sacks per game. Fields is tied for the league lead with 26 sacks, despite starting only six games this season. He is sacked on 14.1% of his dropbacks; no other NFL QB is sacked at a 10% rate or higher. Fields has also thrown seven interceptions and is picked off on 4.4% of his passes, the second-highest mark in the league (Zach Wilson, 5.0%). In other words, good luck Justin.

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