The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off two straight wins. They have the NFL’s second-best defense and the offense is generated by two guys who are tough to stop — running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
A win on Sunday night for the Detroit Lions, who have lost two consecutive games, is a tall order, but not impossible.
Under Jim Caldwell, the Lions are 3-0 coming off bye weeks. They’re rested and ready now. They needed the week off to heal and to take a good look at the first six weeks.
“Just based off the trend of the last few years I’ve been here and Coach Caldwell it seems like we always trend up in the second half of the season and that’s the plan,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We’re going to start playing our best football real soon and maintain that week in and week out. This division is wide open and there’s a lot of season left. That’s what we’re eyeing right now taking our division, one game at a time.’’
The Vikings (5-2) are atop the NFC North, with the Packers at 4-3, the Lions at 3-3 and the Bears in the basement at 3-4.
Five things to watch in the Lions-Steelers match-up on Sunday night:
1. The consensus seems to be that Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell is unlike any other. “I’ve been trying to see if I could remember someone that has a running style like his, and I cannot. I cannot place a guy that has the ability he has. He’s very patient with exception of vision, and he can start and stop, and hit it into third and fourth gear in a hurry. He’s an unusual guy, really. I mean just pretty special,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. Bell has 313 rushing yards in the past two games. (Ameer Abdullah has 342 for the season.) The Lions’ rush defense has been erratic in the first six games. They held the Panthers’ offense to 28 rushing yards one week and then the next allowed the Saints to run for 193 yards.
2. Antonio Brown is among the NFL’s elite wide receivers, leading the NFL in receiving yards with 765. Tackling him after he catches the ball is as important as the coverage. “It always is. We want to limit — we know people in this league, we have good players, and they’re going to catch the ball, and the quarterback is going to make really good throws and our job is, as defenders is OK, hey they’ve made that part of the play, let’s not let him get any extra. So, that’s going to be extremely important,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “Tackling, angles, pursuit, are going to be extremely important this week and not just with him, but — It’s always important, but especially with a guy like him in the open field who is dangerous, same thing with the running back (Bell).”
3. Matthew Stafford must have his best game. For him to accomplish that, he must get protection from the line, tight ends, backs, whoever, to stay upright and get the ball down the field. He’s been sacked 17 times in the last three games. “My job is to go back there and trust (the offensive line) every time. As a quarterback, that’s what you’re ingrained to do. I can be better in getting the ball out a little bit quicker and helping everybody out, but for those guys I think it’s just reps together are important, and they do everything they can whoever’s in there every week to try and get as many as they can,’’ Stafford said.
4. The wide receivers have to get open so Stafford can get them the ball. This is another reason the quarterback has been sacked so often. Sometimes he has nowhere to go with the ball.
5. Try something different with the run game because it has to be more effective. Along with Abdullah, perhaps it’d be wise to get Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner more involved. Zenner seems to be the best bet when it comes to short-yardage situations. Riddick has been pretty much a non-factor so far with 39 rushing yards and 180 receiving yards and a touchdown. Don’t be surprised to see Abdullah and Riddick on the field together more often.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27, Lions 20. Pittsburgh’s defense will be too much for Detroit’s offense.