The Detroit Lions have roared to first place in the competitive NFC North snatching two-straight big victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. This week they roll onto Art Rooney Avenue to take on the 3-6 Pittsburgh Steelers. Coming off of a 23-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers can only lose one more game in order to finish over .500. That makes this game big because if they lose they’ll have to win out to even have a shot at the Wild Card. Winning out isn’t really an option either because they still face the Cleveland Browns twice, the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. In other words, this game on Sunday is the Steelers’ last stand. They have to win.
But against this Lions team, how do they even go about winning? Besides Denver, Detroit arguably has the most explosive offense in the NFL, definitely in the NFC. With weapons like Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson surrounding Matthew Stafford they’re almost unstoppable. The Steelers’ secondary may be able to cover the lethal Stafford long-ball for most of the game, but what about the short pass? The Lions kill teams with that too, averaging 6.3 Yards After Catch per game (2nd in the NFL). Stopping the run will be dependent on how much Detroit actually runs the ball. They’ve averaged the most passing attempts per game for the last three seasons.
The Steelers need to take away the long ball from the start. Once they take away the long ball they need to limit the Lions’ yards after catch. If they force the Lions to run the ball they have a chance at stopping the offense. It’s a long shot, though. We know the Steelers can cover down; they’re one of the best in the league at that, but it’s the YAC and Megatron’s athleticism that are the issues.
What about on the flip-side? The Steelers’ offensive line should know that they are going to have a hard day at work on Sunday. The Lions’ have one of the best, and scariest, front fours in the league. Ben Roethlisberger is almost undoubtedly going to get hit in this game. The offensive line simply isn’t good enough to give Ben the protection he needs in this game. Expect to see a lot of the classic Ben scrambling to make plays.
Whenever possible the Steelers need to throw the ball down the field. The Lions are 6th in the NFL in Passing Yards Against, so if Ben has good pass protection this game could easily turn into a shootout. The Lions’ secondary is certainly their Achilles heel, and the Steelers need to take advantage of it if they are even going to have a shot in this game.
All in all, it is definitely too much of a task for Pittsburgh even at home to take down this streaking Lions team. I look for the Lions’ wideouts to have huge games as well as Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the defensive line. Big Ben will get sacked quite a few times and the run game will be rendered useless, holding Le’Veon Bell to under 80 yards rushing.
SCORE PREDICTION: LIONS 27 STEELERS 17