The Steelers look to take out their previous 4 weeks frustrations against the detroit Lions on Sunday. At 2-2, no win has been easy up to this point. Even a 28-0 lead against the Chargers on Sunday night ended up turning into a nail biter.
This Sunday second year running back Rashard Mendenhall will get his second start of the season with Willie Parker still sidelined by turf toe. Mendenhall had 29 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. It will be interesting how he handles the fame from last week as he heads into Detroit. The Lions are ranked 32nd in the league in yards allowed per play as they give up 6.23 yards per play run thus far in 2009. The Steelers will look to run on the 20th ranked defense that is allowing 121.3 yards per game and 5.16 yards per carry. It will be a huge disappointment if Mendenhall runs for less than 100 yards on Sunday.
A good running game should loosen up the Lions secondary that is ranked 25th in pass defense allowing 7.34 yards per pass play. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have a field day and pick and choose his spots. Underneath first against the Lions 4-3 defense and then over the top as the safeties cheat up. There should be an opportunity for several big plays for Santonio Holmes and rookie Mike Wallace.
Defensively, the Steelers main concern will be keeping Lions receiver Calvin Johnson quiet. Ike Taylor will draw the most man coverage with occasional safety help over top. Daunte Culpepper will likely start for the Lions and is not very mobile. Culpepper needs to be pressured all day into bad decisions. The Lions offense ranks tied for 18th in the league in the sacks per pass attempt category with a 6.67% rating. Steelers linebacker James Harrison should have a field day defensively.
The Lions main running threat is Kevin Smith. The Lions average 101.5 yards per game on the ground which ties them for 18th in the league. Conversely the Steelers defense ranks 3rd in the league in rushing yards a game allowed. Through 4 games, the Steelers average giving up only 61.5 yards a game on the ground. The defense shut down the Chargers ground game last week, allowing only 16 yards rushing and forcing the Chargers to rely on their passing game. They want to force the Lions to do the same.
On paper this is a mismatch of epic proportions, but they game is not played on paper. Merely not turning the ball over and keeping Roethlisberger up right will go a long way in this one. The Steelers must learn how to shut teams down better in the 4th quarter with more pressure. They need to show they can get turnovers and sacks in key situations of the game. Sunday against Detroit should be an opportunity to build back whatever confidence is missing in the defense. Safety Troy Polamalu will once again be sidelined and a great performance on Sunday may give the Steelers thoughts of resting him next week as well versus Cleveland. This would ensure Polamalu would be 100% healthy by the Vikings game.
In closing, this should not even be close. If it is, something has gone horrible wrong for the Black and Gold. Mendenhall should run for 125 plus and Roethlisberger should have a handful of touchdown passes in this one as well. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch might even get a few snaps in this game.
Prediction: Steelers 45 Lions 13