As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in today’s game against the Detroit Lions.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Mason Rudolph Plays Mistake Free
There’s been some, uh, editing going on from the original draft of this article. Ben Roethlisberger out, Mason Rudolph in. Rudolph will make his first start since Week 17 of last season, and this one means a lot more than the last one. The goal is the same, Roethlisberger or Rudolph, but taking care of the football is priority number one. Best way to lose to 0-8 teams is by turning the football over and giving the opposition an extra possession and short field. In likely less-than-ideal weather conditions, he just has to manage the game. Not a bad thing in this one. Hit the underneath throw on first down, get in 3rd and 4 or closer.
Knowing that, Rudolph doesn’t need to play scared. He can hit the deep ball, and I’d expect at least 2-3 vertical shots, probably to former teammate James Washington, and maybe off play action. If he can connect on a couple of chunk plays, the Steelers should remain in control of this one.
2. Combination Routes And Bunch Sets Confuse A Confusable Lions’ Defense
We noted in our scouting report the communication issues Detroit has had this season. Difficulty in defending and distributing stack and bunch sets, allowing receivers to run free over the middle of the field. With no Roethlisberger or Chase Claypool, Matt Canada should rely on scheming things open more than any other game this year. And it should force a couple coverage busts.
3. WRs Get Involved In The Run Game
Not talking about them as blockers, either. Teams have been able to run on the perimeter with receivers. The Eagles had success on jets and end-arounds and getting the ball out on the edge. This is in the Steelers’ playbook and something they’ve been able to do more often with a positive game script, getting ahead in games and being able to stay on-script. Newly-elevated receiver Steven Sims could have an impact here.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Lions’ Pass Game Wins The Middle Of Field
Two main weapons to worry about here for Detroit are RB D’Andre Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson. Guys who can win the seams and middle of the field. That’s why the Steelers’ off-ball linebackers, Devin Bush and Joe Schobert, are the X-Factors of the game (at least, pre-Roethlisberger news). They have to defend those guys and minimize their impact. Do that, and it won’t take a Rudolph-led offense to score much and still win. Could be a 14-10, 17-13 kind of game.
2. Detroit’s Trickery Fools Pittsburgh
It might be the worst kept secret. Watch out for the Lions going into their bag of tricks. New head coach Dan Campbell’s been aggressive all year, running a surprise onside kick and fake punt in the same game against the L.A. Rams, and off a bye, there could be a trick play coming. What that looks like, who knows. That’s the problem.
3. Lions’ LB Blitzes Work
Because of a lack of pressure, Detroit has had to blitz more than they probably would like. They do that in a variety of ways, but watch out for their off-ball ‘backers twisting and blitzing. Protections have to be sound, and Kendrick Green and Mason Rudolph better be on the same page. Najee Harris needs active eyes, too. Two rookies and a QB making his first start who can’t make errors and let RBs run free.
Given Roethlisberger’s absence, modifying it a bit from my Friday prediction.
Season Prediction Record