The Pittsburgh Steelers finish out the first half of the season with a road trip to the Motor City. They lead the all-time series against the Detroit Lions with a 16-14-1 record, and have dominated since 1966. The Steelers should win this game based on NFL rankings, but the Lions are tougher than they appear. They have an aggressive, athletic defense, and one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL leading their offense. It would be a big mistake for anyone thinking the Steelers should have an easy win. Granted, the Steelers should win this game, but they are in for a fight. The Lions will once again keep it close to the end.
Week Eight Pittsburgh Steelers Preview: Detroit Lions
The Steelers are looking to finish the first half of the season with their third win in a row. The 3-3 Detroit Lions are standing in the way of that goal, and are somewhat of an enigma. They rank eighth in points scored, but rank 28th for points given up. The Lions rank 26th in total yards, 24th in rushing and 19th in passing. Defensively, they rank 19th in total yards given up, 13th in rushing and 22nd in passing. Their average drive in offense consists of 5 plays, 23.8 yards, with a time of possession of 2:26. The opponents average drive is five plays, 27.1 yards, and a time of possession of 2:22 seconds.
Steelers Must Control the Clock and Win the Field Position Battle
The Lions offensive stats could skewed because they spend quite a bit of time operating on a short field. Their prime starting position can be attributed to turnovers and Jamal Agnew, an explosive punt returner averaging 23.7 yards per attempt. The Steelers must control time of possession, and win the field position battle. Matthew Stafford may not have the weapons he once had, but he still knows how to take advantage of great field position.
Stafford has been excellent at distributing the ball to multiple receivers, since Calvin Johnson retired prior to last season. While he doesn’t have great receivers, he knows how to use them to move the chains. Keith Butler has to find a way to keep him off balance. Stafford has thrown seven of his 12 touchdown passes from the redzone, and two others have come from the 22 yard line. Redzone defense will be key for the Steelers.
The Offensive Line Must Contain Ansah and Zettel
The Lions defense has recorded 13 sacks on the season. Eight sacks have come from Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel, who have four each. Alejandro Villanueva and Chris Hubbard will be largely responsible for containing them. Villanueva will face someone his own size, in a Ansah, rather than some of the smaller ends he has faced this season. He is going to have to play as well as he ever has to help keep Ben Roethlisberger standing.
Ansah is a physical freak, but so is Villanueva. This will be the matchup to watch along the line. Hubbard, who did a solid job against Carlos Dunlap, will be matched up with Zettel. If the Steelers control these defensive ends, both Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell should be able to have their way with the Lions defense. The Steelers could go with more no-huddle to help wear the Lions defensive front down.
I ain’t as Good as I Once Was, But I’m as Good Once as I Ever Was
Years of abuse and punishment have slowed Roethlisberger down a bit, forcing him to change his game. While he’s been mostly a game manager this season, the old “Big Ben” is available, especially for prime time. Roethlisberger’s record in prime time is 35-16, with a 96.1 rating and a touchdown to interception ratio of 2:1. It wouldn’t be a shock at all if Roethlisberger puts on a show Sunday night, throwing to Antonio Brown. He’s done some of his best work in the national spotlight.
Obviously the Detroit Lions are capable of winning this game, but much of their success is smoke and mirrors. Their turnovers have come at an unsustainable rate, while a number of individuals are playing above their talent level. The Steelers do have a way of playing down to their competition, but this is prime time. The Steelers have won six straight games on Sunday Night Football, with an average margin of victory of over 20 points. The cumulative score over this streak is 225-103.