As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X-Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Here’s our X-Factor for tomorrow afternoon’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions.
X-FACTOR(s): Devin Bush And Joe Schobert
At the risk of minimizing the wide receivers on the Detroit Lions’ roster, the two key pass-catchers to worry about aren’t in the wideout room. They’re TE T.J. Hockenson and RB D’Andre Swift. On the year, Hockenson has 48 receptions, first on the team and second of any tight end, while Swift has 47 catches, second on the team and the most by any back in football.
Detroit is going to feed those guys as much as possible, especially with #2 RB Jamaal Williams missing this one. If the Lions want to pull off the upset, it’ll be via Hockenson and Swift carrying the load. Pittsburgh will probably have a couple different approaches to defending them but ultimately, slowing those guys down comes down to the off-ball linebackers. Devin Bush and Joe Schobert. Those are the two who will be taking Hockenson and Swift on option routes, on intermediate throws, and defending screens in space. All things the Lions do early and often.
Those guys have to understand their leverage, knowing where their help is at, make plays on the football and failing that, tackling the catch. Swift’s name is apt for his elusive style of play while Hockenson is a big guy, not quite in that Waller/Kelce mold, but not too far off either.
So far this season, Bush nor Schobert have been terribly effective in coverage. Bush’s QB rating against is 124.4. Schobert’s isn’t much better at 106.3. Context here is important. Sample sizes are small and it’s hard to be a great coverage linebacker with the way offenses are set up. But both guys need to step up.
There’s no question the Steelers’ system is demanding on their inside linebackers. They have to do everything and don’t even get the luxury of old-school Steelers’ fronts, whose focus was taking on blocks and freeing up the linebackers. Now, the Steelers’ line shoots and penetrates and linebackers have to work through trash and routinely get off blocks. But those guys have to step up in big ways. Limit Swift and Hockenson’s impact. Do that and not only should the Steelers win, they’ll win big.