The Steelers played for the second time at Ford Field in Detroit since their victory in Super Bowl XL in 2006, and it was a game with plenty of excitement. As the Steelers looked to continue their winning ways, Detroit was fresh off of a bye week, trying to recover after losing two straight. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly from Sunday night in Detroit
- The defense’s performance in the red zone. The defense allowed the Lions to get into the red zone five times (more on that in just a bit), but the stingy defense denied Matthew Stafford and company entry into the end zone, including two stops on fourth down inside the ten yard line. The Lions were tied for fifth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, scoring 60% of the time they get inside the 20, but the defense did their job with their backs up against the wall and made the Lions go for it or settle for field goals.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster. He had a career night, catching seven passes for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown on third down-and-nine. JuJu showed elusive speed, getting behind the coverage, while Ben Roethlisberger read the safety’s coverage pre-snap, the rookie receiver and veteran quarterback connected for the play of the game. JuJu had an almost flawless night (one crucial drop on a third down), but his performance was much needed Sunday night, as the offense struggled most of the night.
- The Steelers’ third down efficiency was vastly better Sunday night, converting 7-of-14 third downs, a much higher percentage than their season percentage going in, which was 36%. Ben looked sharp on third downs, making smart throws and not forcing much on crucial third downs. This is one area of the Steelers’ offense that has mightily struggled all year, and they elevated their game in this crucial scenario.
- While the offense was much better on third down, they struggled in just about every other in some form or fashion Sunday night. Eli Rogers dropped a sure touchdown on the opening drive of the game, forcing the offense to settle for a field goal, leaving four points off the board. Big Ben sailed a pass to Antonio Brown into triple coverage, which was intercepted, and killed a promising drive moving down the field. Sure-handed Le’Veon Bell fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 on another promising drive near the end of the first half, which gave the ball to Detroit, who went down the field and got three points before the end of the half. The offensive line struggled to establish the running game, granted, against a stout Detroit run defense that was ranked 7th in the league going into the game. The lack of a running game forced the offense to throw a bit more than they wanted. Overall, there was too much lack of execution, which put the Steelers in bad predicaments constantly throughout the game.
- The Steelers, for the most part, struggled to pressure Stafford and make him uncomfortable. They did register two sacks, but this was against an offensive line that has struggled protecting their expensive quarterback most of the year. The lack of pressure on Stafford definitely attributed to the amount of “chunk plays” as head coach Mike Tomlin referred to at halftime, which will be addressed shortly.
- Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t too sharp tonight. Some people on social media were really hard on him, and he definitely missed some passes, but he wasn’t awful. He sailed at least three passes, one of which was intercepted, and had a couple other forced throws picked off. He made a couple nice throws, but overall, his performance wasn’t great, which the Steelers need him to be better. That’s why he ends up with “The Bad.”
- There’s really only one thing ugly about the Steelers Sunday night, and man, it was a stinker. Going into the game, the Steelers were the highest-ranked pass defense, allowing only 147 passing yards against per game. Matthew Stafford threw all up and down the field against the Steelers’ secondary, racking up 423 yards the air. They were getting beat in man coverage, and then getting eaten up in zone coverage later on in the game. Detroit virtually had zero issues moving the ball down the field, where as stated before, the defense tightened up and didn’t allow the Lions to get in the end zone. It was still an alarming performance. A team like New England, who is the team the Steelers are trying to get over the hump against, will not settle for field goals every time. While the pass rush struggled, the secondary struggled at keeping receivers close to them. There were a few nice plays made, but most of them were in the red zone. This should be a wake up call for a secondary that has had a great first half of the season up until Sunday night. Overall, it looked like lack of execution more than anything. And unfortunately when that happens, especially when playing man coverage, it forces defensive coordinator Keith Butler to draw up more soft zone coverage, which quarterbacks like Stafford (and Tom Brady) will devour and pick apart all night, and that’s exactly what happened.
While a win is a win and you take as many as you can, especially when you’re trying to keep ahead of the Patriots, the Steelers still have much to work on, especially on the offensive side. The third down efficiency was a positive, but the lack of execution, especially in the red zone, is still staggering. This is an uber-talented offense, and with the way they’ve performed this season, calling them overrated isn’t a hot take. They’ve got to work out the issues they’re having to finish off drives and get the ball in the end zone.
The secondary should get a pass for being lit up like a Christmas tree in Times Square. They’ve been solid all year and it took eight games to have a bad performance. However, this is an eye opener if the front seven can’t pressure the quarterback. Guys like Burns and Haden need to be able to lock down man coverage so the defense doesn’t have to revert to the soft zone coverage that teams like New England pick apart.
The Steelers are now 6-2, and sit atop the AFC North, and via tie-breakers, the entire AFC. The Steelers have their bye week in week nine, but then travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts in week 10 on November 12th. It is a 1:00 P.M. ET kickoff.