Steel Curtain vs. Monster of Midway

Sep 17, 2009 - 8:15 PM By BARRY WILNER AP Football Writer

The Steel Curtain versus the Monsters of the Midway. How fierce. How ferocious.

And the Steelers' visit to Soldier Field on Sunday just might be all that, a defensive standoff emblematic of the NFL histories of Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Still, the absence of Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the very face of the Chicago defense, and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, the heart of Pittsburgh's unit, is a downer. Urlacher won't be back this season after dislocating his right wrist in the opening loss at Green Bay. Polamalu sprained his left knee in the victory over Tennessee and will be gone for September, at least.

Polamalu, though, was thankful he isn't headed for injured reserve, where Urlacher landed.

"Regarding an injury to the knee, this is the best-case scenario," Polamalu said. "There's no question that I'm very blessed that this scenario has come about rather than any worse scenario."

While replacing an All-Pro such as Polamalu is problematic, the Steelers have done it before and survived. They have so many playmakers on defense - maybe not as spectacular as Polamalu, but plenty dangerous - that they are better suited to filling holes than most other teams. Even a chasm this deep.

"I think we'll continue to do what we've been doing," outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "We don't want to change up everything because then we're not that same physical defense that we've always been. Troy's definitely a good player, and we've lost a good player for a few weeks, but the guy behind him is going to step up and do an excellent job as well."

That would be Tyrone Carter, who has done this kind of thing before and has been in the NFL for 10 years. Filling in for Urlacher will be Hunter Hillenmeyer, who lost his job as a starter on the outside last year, and now steps into one of the storied defensive positions in football: middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

In 2004, Urlacher missed seven games with a variety of injuries, and the Bears lost them all.

"It's a big blow," Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said. "It's one of those things where he's a guy who makes all the adjustments. He's the signal-caller, the quarterback for our defense."

Pittsburgh is 1-11 at Soldier Field, but the last visit was in 1995, when the Steelers won.

Also Sunday, it's Baltimore at San Diego; the New York Giants at Dallas; New Orleans at Philadelphia; New England at the New York Jets; Arizona at Jacksonville; Seattle at San Francisco; Minnesota at Detroit; Houston at Tennessee; Carolina at Atlanta; Cincinnati at Green Bay; Oakland at Kansas City; Cleveland at Denver; Tampa Bay at Buffalo; and St. Louis at Washington.

The Monday night game has Indianapolis at Miami.


Baltimore (1-0) at San Diego (1-0)=

The Ravens were among the NFL's most dominant teams in their opener - on offense. Where did that come from? Well, from rapidly maturing quarterback Joe Flacco, the three-headed running back combination, and surprisingly effective receivers, particularly wideout Mark Clayton and tight end Todd Heap.

San Diego went to the limit to beat Oakland, and now LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle) might be hobbled or sidelined. That can't bode well against a defense that normally shuts down an opponent's best running back, and the Chargers also had blocking issues against the Raiders.

New York Giants (1-0) at Dallas (1-0)=

Jerry Jones' palace finally gets its true Cowboys debut, and who better to provide the opposition than one of Dallas' top rivals. The focus will be as much on the billion-dollar stadium and all its accouterments as the players on the field.

One player who likely won't be on the field is Giants cornerback Aaron Ross (hamstring), which could be decisive because Tony Romo and his receivers seem revved up. Then again, can the Cowboys shut down New York's powerhouse running game?

New Orleans (1-0) at Philadelphia (1-0)=

One game in which the quarterbacks truly should be spotlighted, for entirely different reasons.

Drew Brees comes off a six-touchdown passing effort, albeit against Detroit. It won't be so easy in Philly, but the Eagles can't expect to entirely shut down last season's Offensive Player of the Year, especially with a healthy Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Marques Colston surrounding Brees.

Kevin Kolb figures to make his first pro start with Donovan McNabb nursing a cracked rib. The raw Kolb could be on a very short leash after Philly brought back veteran Jeff Garcia following McNabb's injury. If he has to match stats with Brees, the Eagles are in trouble.

New England (1-0) at New York Jets (1-0)=

Two teams whose performances in their openers turned heads, the Jets for how well they played and the Patriots for how mediocre they were until the final quarter. Both won, with New York particularly impressive in shutting down Houston's offense and getting a solid debut from rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.

New England was fortunate to get by Buffalo, looking passive at times with the ball and off-balance on defense. With linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee) sidelined, the Patriots will be challenged by RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Of course, Rex Ryan's D will be challenged even more by Tom Brady, who needs to throw a lot less than 53 times. A win will be his 22nd straight in the regular season, tying Jim McMahon's Super Bowl-era league mark for quarterbacks.

Arizona (0-1) at Jacksonville (0-1)=

Super Bowl losers in February, the Cardinals are in danger of falling two games behind in the NFC West if they can't come east and win. They struggled mightily on the Atlantic coast in 2008, going 0-5 in the regular season before breaking through with a playoff romp in Carolina. In last week's loss to San Francisco, the offense sputtered, and that's no way for Arizona to prosper.

Jacksonville acquitted itself well on defense against Indianapolis, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew could break out against the Cardinals after a 97-yard game against a similar kind of defense.

Seattle (1-0) at San Francisco (1-0)=

The winner will be alone atop the NFC West.

Although Seattle already is struggling with injuries, much as it did in going 4-12 a year ago, it dominated St. Louis with sharp running and passing, and sharper defense. Julius Jones rushed for 117 yards and a score and TE John Carlson, a player to watch, had six receptions, two for TDs.

San Francisco can legitimize itself as a contender with a win here. Regardless, coach Mike Singletary has this team playing hard and avoiding big mistakes.

Minnesota (1-0) at Detroit (0-1)=

Brett Favre apparently will set the mark for consecutive starts when he makes his 271st appearance, his second in Vikings purple. DE Jim Marshall started 270 games in a row for Minnesota from 1961-1979. He played 12 games with Cleveland in 1960, but official records of starters were not kept before 1961. The Browns' research, including highlight films, score sheets, game-day programs, newspaper clips and conversations with former players, indicates Marshall started the first game in 1960, but did not start the final 11 games that season.

Detroit has, indeed, won some games since Marshall retired - but none since Dec. 23, 2007. The Lions' 18 straight losses are well short of Tampa Bay's NFL record of 26.

Houston (0-1) at Tennessee (0-1)=

The Titans have nothing to hang their heads about from the opening loss at Pittsburgh. They usually handle the Texans well, going 11-3 overall against the franchise that succeeded them in Houston.

Many Texans were hanging their heads following a 24-7 loss to the Jets in which no one impressed. They need to protect QB Matt Schaub much better, and defensive playmakers Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans must contribute a lot more.

Carolina (0-1) at Atlanta (1-0)=

Jake Delhomme's second meltdown in a row has everyone in Tar Heels country concerned. The Panthers really have little choice but to let Delhomme play his way out of this turnover funk - or out of the lineup.

No team was more impressive in its opening victory than the Falcons over Miami. The offense, as expected, was in high gear, and the defense, quite unexpectedly, never let the Dolphins get going. A two-game lead over the defending division winner would feel very good in Georgia.

Cincinnati (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0)=

Give the Bengals kudos for the original ways they find to snatch defeat from almost-certain victory. When Cincinnati's defense allows only six points for more than 59 minutes, it should spell a win, but Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and the rest of the Cincy O was invisible.

Green Bay comes off an emotional and exhausting win against archrival Chicago during which the new 3-4 defense was impressive. The passing game could cause even more nightmares for the Bengals.

Oakland (0-1) at Kansas City (0-1)=

It's sad what has happened to one of the great AFL rivalries that continued through several decades as a top draw in the NFL. At least both teams showed a lot of moxie and some skill in competitive defeats against strong opponents last week.

Cleveland (0-1) at Denver (1-0)=

Just what the Broncos ordered to take attention away from their dysfunctional offseason and preseason: another weak team from Ohio on the schedule. Josh McDaniels' group is not looking to produce another miracle finish, and might not need one against the Browns. Cleveland hung with Minnesota for a half, then got blitzed.

Tampa Bay (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1)=

Buffalo had the Patriots on the ropes last Monday night and couldn't finish. A home loss to the Buccaneers could mean an early finish to any postseason hopes in western New York.

Tampa Bay already has slipped to 30th in pass defense, which means Terrell Owens might have an impact for the first time as a Bill.

St. Louis (0-1) at Washington (0-1)=

Although the Redskins lost by six to the Giants on the road, they didn't impress. There was nothing pretty about St. Louis' 28-0 flop at Seattle, the only shutout of the opening weekend.

Indianapolis (1-0) at Miami (0-1)=

Peyton Manning will tie John Unitas for fifth in career victories by a starting QB if he gets No. 119 at Land Shark Stadium. The last time he played there, Manning got soaked. He also led the Colts past the Bears in the only Super Bowl played in the rain.

The Dolphins disappointed mightily at Atlanta, and it's clear they need to get their downfield passing game going. Chad Pennington averaged just 6.07 yards per gain despite going 21 of 29.

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