Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions: Who Has the Advantage?
Steelers vs. Lions - Who Has the Advantage?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-6 and attempting to keep their season relevant. The Detroit Lions are 6-3 and looking to keep their division lead within the NFC North. On paper this seems like a slam dunk pick, and you take the Lions to defeat the Steelers. However, if the modern day NFL has taught fans anything it's that you never know what's going to happen. Any team can win on any given day regardless of their record. So, taking a look at the Steelers vs. Lions game, there is no shortage of intriguing storylines.
The Detroit Lions have not won in Pittsburgh in over 20 years, and that is a statistic that a lot of fans and media overlook. There is something to a number like this. Look at the Steelers' record in Oakland for example. For whatever reason the Steelers cannot seem to get over that proverbial hump that is the Oakland Raiders in Oakland.
Calvin Johnson seems nearly unstoppable. The Steelers defense is a great pass defense, but at the same time they haven't faced a team that protects the quarterback as well as the Lions and has a wide receiver like Calvin Johnson. Even with a solid pass defense, Steelers fans are cringing at the thought of what "Megatron" might do when he gets to Heinz Field this Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are typically the team that will come into a matchup and bully the opposition. Not anymore. That bully moniker goes to the Detroit Lions. With their defensive line as stout as they come in the NFL, they play a down and dirty style under head coach Jim Schwartz. With the Steelers playing at home in front of their home crowd, who will come out on top?
Does home field mean anything to Pittsburgh anymore? The Steelers have won two of their three games on the Heinz Field turf, but will they be able to show up and defeat their first real contender this Sunday? Or will the Steelers fall victim to the Lions and watch their season slip away from them?
Let's take a look at who has the edge in terms of the following categories: Offense, defense, special teams and coaching. When all is said and done you will get a prediction for the game this Sunday at 1:00p.m. Let's break this inter-conference game down.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz
Offense: Head to Head Matchup
Statistically the Detroit Lions dominate in this category. The Lions are 3rd in the NFL with 306 yards passing per game. Detroit loves to air the ball out, and when you have a receiver like Calvin Johnson, why wouldn't you? Their running game isn't as dominant as they rank 21st in the NFL, but they still average over the century mark with 103 yards per game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rank 11th in the NFL with 256 passing yards per game, and a big reason that number is so high is simply because the Steelers struggle to run the football. Pittsburgh uses their wide receiver bubble screens as an extension of their running game rather than trying to run behind a beat up offensive line. The Steelers are ranked 27th in the NFL in terms of yards rushing per game. Pittsburgh is only garnering 80 yards per game.
Advantage: Detroit Lions
Defense: Head to Head Matchup
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a strange anomaly this season on the defensive side of the football. They rank 4th in the NFL in pass defense only allowing 201 yards per game. The strange part about the Steelers' defense is that they are the complete opposite in terms of rush defense. The Steelers are allowing 127 yards per game on the ground, and that has them ranked 29th in the NFL. The Steelers can't run the ball and can't stop the run this season, and that could be a direct reason why this team is 3-6 and not 6-3.
The Detroit Lions are essentially the complete opposite of the Dick Lebeau led defense. The Lions are 8th in the NFL in rush defense giving up 100 yards per game but rank 27th in the NFL in defending the pass, giving up 275 yards per game. The Steelers stop the pass and the Lions stop the run, but neither team does the opposite very well.
Special Teams Matchup
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that has had decent special teams this season but often times can make the blunder that will cost them field position. The weakest link of the special teams unit is at punter. After releasing Drew Butler before the season and Zoltan Mesko midway through the year, it is now Mat McBriar's job in the punting department. McBriar has been underwhelming so far this season, but that has been an ongoing trend since training camp from the Steelers' punters. Shaun Suisham is a solid kicker and is reliable even after his two crucial misses in Oakland. A positive has been the signs of life for the Steelers' return game. Antonio Brown is finally returning to the form that made him a Pro Bowl selection two years ago.
The Lions' special teams are a typical NFL special teams unit with David Akers handling the place kicking duties. Akers is 12-for-16 this year missing his four kicks from the 30-49 yard range. Lions punter, Sam Martin, has a very nice 48.1 yard punting average and is relied upon heavily to flip field position if the Lions offense is unable to sustain a drive. The Lions' return game doesn't have a star studded returner, but Michael Spurlock is used as the primary return man for both kickoffs and punts.
Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers
Coaching is often overlooked in terms of breaking down an NFL matchup, but the reality of the situation is that coaching can certainly play a role in who wins and who loses any particular game. Jim Schwartz is a fiery coach that certainly has had his share of criticism from the local and national media from his outburst against Jim Harbaugh a few years ago to his unnecessary challenge flag that ended up hurting his team's chances of victory. Schwartz has been rumored of being on the hot seat for the past few years, but he has the Lions playing the way he wants: Fast, physical and even dirty if it means winning a football game.
On the other side of the field is Mike Tomlin. The latest mainstay on the sideline for the Steelers has been criticized up and down this season with a lack of leadership, questionable time management and even an inability to manage the lineup during the games. With all of that against Tomlin, there is just as much to point towards in terms of support. The players have not quit on Tomlin and he still has them playing inspired football. On top of that, the Steelers are a team that seems to thrive off of their coach's words and criticism. Although Tomlin has and will make mistakes, he is still a top tier coach in the NFL.
Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers
Who Wins: Prediction
Looking at this matchup is truly difficult to gauge. The Steelers thrive on passing the ball, and the Lions' defense is susceptible to the pass. The Lions rely on throwing the ball, and the Steelers' strong suit on defense is stopping the pass. Something has to give in this matchup. The Lions have won their last two games and three of their last four while the Steelers are coming off just their third win of the season and are playing back to back home games for the first time this season. The Steelers have surprisingly won three of their last five games and are a truly desperate team.
Some may call me crazy, but there is something about this game being a desperation game for the Steelers being played at Heinz Field and news now that Lions WR Calvin Johnson has missed practice and is questionable for the game Sunday that has me leaning towards the Steelers pulling out the upset.
Final Score: Pittsburgh Steelers - 31 Detroit Lions - 28