ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Pittsburgh may not appear to be the typical Steelers team this season, under .500 and barely hanging on in the AFC North divisional race, but don’t tell Detroit that.
The Lions are convinced the Steelers are a good team that has played a lot of close games -- and they aren’t underestimating the Pittsburgh defense, which is still one of the top units against the pass in the league.
“I don’t know that you’ll ever have a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that’s underrated,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “They have played some really good games this year.
“We’re going to have our hands full. They have players.”
So how does Detroit beat Pittsburgh? Here are four keys.
Pressure Ben Roethlisberger: The Lions reasserted themselves as a front four last week against Chicago with defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh each reaching the Bears' quarterbacks four times. Now they face a quarterback known for staying with a play and in the pocket until the last possible second in Roethlisberger -- as well as the quarterback who has been sacked more than any other in the past five seasons.
So the more pressure Detroit is able to get on Roethlisberger, the better its chances are of forcing him into a mistake or bringing him down a few times, crushing Steelers drives.
Embrace the favorite role: It is a new place for the Lions, perennially looked at as a potential spoiler for playoff teams by this time of the season instead of a team trying to reach a divisional title. But this is where the Lions are now and this will be the first time they will be on the road in that type of role. While Detroit’s players have said they don’t look at themselves in that favorite type of role, that is what they are now. A game like this against Pittsburgh is one they potentially should win and, if they are going to elevate from playoff contender to a team that could make a run in the playoffs in January, one they should be able to win. It’d be a big confidence boost in that regard.
Don’t be rattled by a Matthew Stafford interception: Here’s a fun stat. In Detroit’s six wins this season, Stafford has thrown an interception in each game. In its three losses, he has been interception-free. So while I’m not advocating for Stafford, who is having the best season of his career, to throw an interception, I’m saying it isn’t the end of the game if he does. Stafford has been accurate this season and has compiled a really strong year. There’s a pretty good chance he becomes Detroit’s all-time passing leader Sunday as well. So stick with him and don’t get fazed if he turns the ball over.
Keep Bell in check: Detroit has turned into one of the top rushing defenses in the league (ranked eighth at the moment allowing 100.67 yards a game) and have held their last three opponents under 100 yards rushing as a team. Le’Veon Bell is a local guy -- he played at Michigan State -- who has emerged as Pittsburgh’s top running option as a rookie.
“We’re still a work in progress there,” Schwartz said. “But if we can get the run stopped it goes a long way to getting us to where we want to go.”