The Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions will be under the lights on Sunday as they will meet in Detroit for Sunday Night Football. Pittsburgh comes in riding a two-game win streak, while the Lions are coming off a bye week after giving up 52 points to New Orleans on October 15th. This will be a game of possession, as the Lions average 27 points per contest, but their black and yellow opponents only allow 16. All eyes will be on Sunday night.
Matchup #1: Mike Hilton vs. Golden Tate
If I brought up this matchup before the season started you would say, “who is Hilton?”. Well, that question has been answered quietly but deadly. He has secretly put up an incredible season as the Steelers’ slot corner, posting a solid 83.0 PFF grade (#19 CB in the NFL). What a story for this kid as well. Hilton made his NFL debut week 1 of 2017, and soon started the next week and led the team in tackles. Against Baltimore, he posted his first career interception AND sack. Talk about a way to start a career.
As great as it all sounds, he has yet to face a great threat like the one in Detroit: Golden Tate. He has put up okay stats with 363 yards on 36 catches and ranking as the #7 receiver. Hilton and the Steelers have not faced the quickness like Tate quite yet, so this will be the first true test for the “top” pass defense in the league. I personally am intrigued by this matchup because of the upside I see in Mike Hilton, and Golden Tate is a great task for him to have.
Matchup #2: JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. DJ Hayden
Wow, am I excited to watch this 20-year old play on the outside this weekend. Barring any setbacks because of the concussion and the missing bike, I expect a much-expanded role for JuJu for multiple reasons. Reason #1? The absence of Martavis Bryant. Yes, I would expand my conversation for him, but it is not worth the time. JuJu has been far more productive when thrown to this year, posting over a 122.0 passer rating when targeted. He is a physical, tough receiver who blocks first, catches second (it seems like).
*Fun Fact: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s three touchdown catches are the most in NFL history by a player before his 21st birthday*
This matchup is not really about the “matchup”, it is more about just JuJu. Like I said, he is a physical receiver who is made for the slot. There’s your issue. How will he adjust to the outside? With Martavis inactive for who knows how long, JuJu will have to step in and take his role and try to be the productive receiver that Bryant was not. The good news is D..J. Hayden has not had a great year whatsoever, posting a mere 43.7 PFF grade (97th ranked CB). This matchup will be more anticipated than you think, especially after all of the chatter during the week about Bryant being demoted because of his comments towards the rookie receiver.
Matchup #3: Antonio Brown vs. Darius Slay
With Quandre Diggs, Darius Slay, and Glover Quin playing incredible ball this season, this may be a difficult matchup for Antonio Brown. The fun part is I expect “Big-Play Slay” to shadow Brown. The Lions have had Slay shadow receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr. (3 rec/30 yds), Julio Jones (4 rec on 8 targets/50 yds), and Michael Thomas (1 rec/4 yds). Four games this season, Detroit has had Slay shadow, so I expect him to shadow Brown at least 70% of the time.
Unfortunately for Slay, Brown has been unquestionably the best receiver in the league to date. He currently has 760+ yards on 52 catches, which is at least 100 more yards than the next receiver on the yardage list. Not only does he have great total stats, 4 out of his 7 games this season he has had over 100 receiving yards (3/4 of those games are over 150 yards). There is not much more to say about Antonio Brown, as his play as stats have really said it all the past four years. I don’t expect the same sparks this Sunday night against this high-level Detroit secondary, don’t be surprised for another historical game from Antonio.
*Fun Fact: Antonio Brown registered at least one reception in 115 consecutive games in which he has played, including the postseason*