The NFL season is slowly but surely winding down and for the Detroit Lions every game is very important if they plan to win the NFC North. After winning last week against the Chicago Bears, the Lions have a one-game lead in the NFC North. The Lions truly do control their own destiny and must understand that each victory or defeat could help or hurt them seeing that the NFC North is still up for grabs.
Going into this game, the Lions are the favorite going into Pittsburgh to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Lions should win this game, the Steelers are still not to be underestimated. The Steelers have had their struggles this season but a win against the Lions could help keep their somewhat dim playoff hopes alive. The AFC North is similar to the NFC North, mainly because the Steelers, Ravens and Browns are fighting for a chance to be a wild card and a win here could help the Steelers get back in that battle. The Lions should be able to win this game but only if they follow certain keys.
Offensively, it all starts with establishing the run game with running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. The Steelers run defense hasn’t played well this season allowing 127 rushing yards a game. I look for the Lions to run the ball early and often. As always, I look for Bell to be that sturdy runner that can help the Lions in the red-zone. However, with Bush I look for the Lions to use him in variety of ways and exploit this Steeler defense with screen passes, dump-offs or even using him at wide receiver. The most important thing is that the Lions use both Bush and Bell together because these two are an underrated force together.
The next step has to obviously be the passing game. I look for quarterback Matthew Stafford to play well in this game but he must also play smart. As he has done the last few games, I want him to continue spreading the ball around and use every part of his receiving core. I also look for this receiving core to continue to stepping up. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been great as expected but I love the fact that wide receiver Kris Durham and tight end Brandon Pettigrew have gotten more involved. I look for them to continue playing well in this game. However, Stafford and this receiving core do need to be aware of this Steeler secondary that is ranked 4th in the NFL in opponent passing yards, limiting opponents to 201 passing yards a game. I think Stafford can exploit the Steelers safeties in this game but he must be smart about certain chances he takes and make a point to fit the ball into those small windows of opportunity.
So again, the Lions must first not turn the ball over, while this Steeler defense may not be what it once was, they can still make you pay for turning the ball over. This Lion offense must also take advantage of all scoring opportunities. I have said all season long that this defense makes up for the lack of a consistent offense at times and it’s time for this offense be more consistent, starting now. This Lion offense has shown the ability to get down field but sometimes they stop themselves from scoring with turnovers or simply not executing once they get in the red-zone. While I love the fact that the Lions are able to score in the clutch and win games, I would also like to see this offense be more consistent and help put games away early so clutch heroics are necessary all the time.
Defensively, it all starts with the Lions defensive line who so far this season has done a good job of pressuring quarterbacks. Going into this game they must pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steeler offensive line has been extremely inconsistent allowing Roethlisberger to be sacked 35 times so far this season. While Roethlisberger has shown the ability to still make plays when pressured, he still tends to force passes when he is pressured which will be key in the Lions winning the turnover battle.
The Lions secondary also needs to be prepared to step up. While the receiving core of the Steelers has been inconsistent, the Steelers still have talent in the receiving core. The Steelers will make a point to exploit the Lions secondary and they are going to force the Lions to make tough decisions on certain assignments/match-ups and doubles teams. Think about it they have wide receivers Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton and Jerricho Cotchery and you can’t forget about tight end Heath Miller. As always when talking about the Lions in coverage, you have to watch how tight end Heath Miller performs because the Lions have had issues covering the tight end position at times this season.
However, the most important key for this Lions defense is to make the Steelers one-dimensional and to do that they must contain the running game. While the Steelers struggled earlier this season with the run game, that hasn’t been the case since rookie running back Le’Veon Bell has gotten back on the field and the Lions should respect that. Nonetheless, I expect the Lions front seven to do what they have done all season long which is contain the running game. The Lions have only allowed 52 rushing yards per game and only 2.5 yards per carry in the last three games which is very impressive. So going into this game, the Lions defensive line must control the line of scrimmage, which will allow linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy to fill the holes and make the tackle in the backfield.
Overall, this should be a good game and again I stressed that the Steelers are not to be underestimated. I expect the Lions to be prepared and most importantly ready to execute. If they follow the steps above there is no reason to think they won’t come out victorious in Pittsburgh.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com