Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steelers Defeat Lions to Improve to 4-6

Antonio Brown on his way to a first-quarter touchdown.
(photo credit: Gene Puskar, AP)
It was a tale of two halves.

After allowing the Detroit Lions 27 points and nearly 400 yards in the first half, the Steelers' defense yielded zero points and only 72 yards throughout the entire second half.

Somebody made adjustments. The offense came to life, too.  In the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger completed 10 of 13 passes, including two touchdowns.

On the day, Roethlisberger was 29-45 for 367 yards passing, four touchdowns and, most crucially no turnovers. No interceptions; no fumbles; just one sack taken. He operated out of the no-huddle much of the day and seemed extremely comfortable doing it. For all we know, he called his own plays all day.

On the other side, Matt Stafford threw an interception, Detroit lost two fumbles, and the Steelers had two sacks (by Jason Worilds and Ziggy Hood).

The Turning Point: "Either a Lot of Faith or No Respect"
Early in the fourth quarter, on 4th and five and with a chance to increase a four-point lead to seven, Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz either showed a lot of faith in his defense or no respect to the Steelers' offense when he called for a fake field goal that ended with the Steelers taking over the ball at their own three-yard line. Sixteen plays, eight minutes and 97 yards later, the Steelers had taken the lead and the momentum.

For the day, the Steelers won time of possession (32:16) and had just four penalties for 23 yards.

Antonio Brown's second TD in the first half.
Although the offensive line had trouble opening holes for the running backs, kudos to them for protecting Roethlisberger.  The Lions took him down for just one sack.

Antonio Brown had seven catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Detroit's Calvin Johnson had six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

As for the running game, there is room for improvement. The Steelers managed just four first downs rushing. As a team, the Steelers managed just 1.5 yards per carry (40 yards net rushing) on 27 rushing attempts. Running back Le'Veon Bell had little running room and gained just 36 yards on 18 carries.

For the record, Detroit doesn't play in Pittsburgh very often but still hasn't won in the Steel City since 1955. The so-called Curse of Bobby Layne continues.

All in all, a good day. Next game: At Cleveland.

Game Day 10: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers

Detroit DT Ndomukong Suh kicking
 Houston QB Matt Schaub in the groin
Traditionally, this is the kind of game the Steelers win. Traditionally, however, the Steelers aren't 3-6 in mid-November.

Detroit's defense is nasty but mediocre. It has allowed an average of 24 points per game this season and has only 15 sacks, which is one fewer than the Steelers' own defense.

If there was a day for Ben Roethlisberger and Co. to step up their game and put 30+ points on the board, this is it.

It would help if they could ramp up their 27th-ranked running game. It will be going up against a Detroit run defense that has stepped up its game the past three weeks, allowing a total of just five first downs rushing in those three games (three to Dallas, one to Cincinnati and one to Chicago).

Detroit's offense has the much-ballyhooed trio of QB Matt Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson and RB Reggie Bush, who leads Detroit in all-purpose yards. Last week in Chicago, Bush averaged 7.5 yards-per-carry (14 for 105 yards). The Lions use Bush to exploit space opened by the attention Johnson requires, and Bush is lethal as an open-field runner with ability to maneuver in tight spaces.

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have had a queasy feeling all week about another guy the Steelers will need to account for, and that is tight end Brandon Pettigrew (6'5, 265). The Lions selected Pettigrew with the second of their two first-round choices in the 2009 draft in which they picked Stafford first overall.  He had seven catches vs. the Bears last week and also has been receiving accolades in Detroit for his fierce blocking.

Even with two rookies (RG Larry Warford and RT LaAdrian Waddle) getting lots of playing time on the right side of the offensive line, Detroit's run the ball well and, just as crucially, has protected Stafford. He's been sacked a league-low 10 times. That's not a good match-up for a Steelers' defense that has only 16 sacks this year.

As noted by Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in a story by the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, sacking the quarterback would go a long way toward stifling Detroit's passing game. "Get the quarterback on the ground before he can throw it," LeBeau said. "That works pretty well against all passes."

Dick LeBeau, Detroit Lions CB
It would be cool if LeBeau could suit up at cornerback today, even at age 76. One of the greatest cornerbacks in Detroit history, LeBeau spent his entire 14-year playing career with the Lions (1959-72). A three-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer, LeBeau still holds the NFL record for most consecutive games played at cornerback (171), and is currently tied for eighth all-time with 62 career interceptions. His nine interceptions in 1970 led the NFC, and his 62 career interceptions ranked third in the NFL at the time of his retirement. Dick LeBeau could play.

Well, since LeBeau will be on the sidelines today instead of between the lines, it will be incumbent on the players to do the job.

Let's hope the Steelers win and Ben Roethlisberger survives the inevitable late hits, cheap shots and other calamities that await him.