- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers will try to avoid their first 3-7 start since 2003 Sunday when they host the 6-3 Detroit Lions. A shootout probably doesn't favor the Steelers, and preventing the 1 p.m. game from becoming one will be a challenge.
Detroit's troika of quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush will challenge the Steelers like few opposing offenses have this season. The Steelers have held four of their last five opponents to under 300 yards. The one exception during that span? The New England Patriots game in which the Steelers surrendered a franchise-worst 610 yards in a 55-31 loss.
Here are three keys to victory for the Steelers -- and three things they must avoid to beat the Lions.
Steelers win if they ...
1. Control the ball: The Steelers have to win the time of possession battle, and nothing would help their cause more than if they monopolize the clock the way they did last Sunday in a 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers had the ball for just over 35 minutes, and if they can keep Stafford & Co. on the sideline, the better chance they have of keeping the game from becoming a high-scoring one.
2. Take advantage of the Lions' secondary: What will be tricky for offensive coordinator Todd Haley is establishing the run but also trying to take advantage of what is easily where the Lions are most vulnerable on defense. The Steelers got back into the Patriots game by attacking New England's cornerbacks, and they should have favorable matchups against Detroit's secondary.
3. Disrupt Lions' passing game: There is a way to stop the Lions' passing attack, which averages just under 307 passing yards per game, according to Dick LeBeau. “Get the quarterback on the ground before he can throw it,” the Steelers' defensive coordinator said. “That works pretty well against all passes.” It is not realistic, however, to think Stafford will spend a lot of time on his back. The Steelers have just 16 sacks while Stafford has been dropped only 10 times. The Steelers have to hurry Stafford in the pocket and hope he gets careless -- the fifth-year veteran has been prone to that at times this season -- while also making it difficult for the Lions' receivers to run their routes.
Steelers lose if they ...
1. Continue to struggle in the red zone: The Steelers have to score touchdowns instead of field goals when they get inside the Lions' 20-yard line. Their percentage of scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season is just 44.8 -- only four teams are less efficient in that area -- and settling for field goals probably won't allow the Steelers to keep pace with the Lions.
2. Lack balance on offense: The math is obvious. The Steelers have thrown the ball almost 70 percent of the time in their six losses and have run it more than they have passed it in their three wins. Achieving balance will be critical to the Steelers' winning time of possession but establishing the run won't be easy. The Lions are stout in the middle, and their defense starts with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Steelers' offensive linemen will have to match the nastiness of those two behemoths and provide enough running room for rookie Le'Veon Bell, who is still looking for his first 100-yard game in the NFL.
3. Lose turnover battle: The Steelers are minus-11 in turnover differential, and they have to find a way to create some takeaways while also limiting the kind of miscues that gives the Lions' offense extra possessions and possibly some short fields. The Lions are averaging less than one giveaway a game so the onus in the all-important turnover battle will most likely fall on the Steelers' offense.