Lions’ Den: Lions look to claw their way back vs Pittsburgh

The Detroit Lions (3-3) look to claim their fourth win of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Ford Field in Week 8.

The Lions, who have lost two of their last three games, will look to get back over the .500 mark on Sunday. Detroit will surely have its work cut, as the Steelers come into Week 8 placing fourth in the ESPN’s power rankings.

Despite scoring 38 points against the New Orleans Saints, the Lions walked away with a loss. The Saints managed 52 points, scoring three defensive touchdowns: two pick sixes and a recovered fumble in the Lion’s end zone, all turnovers by quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The Lion’s offensive line has looked absolutely terrible. In the last three games, Stafford’s been sacked 17 times, the most in the NFL over that span. They’re up against a Steelers defense that’s racked up 24 sacks, second in the league.  

The struggling offensive line may be to blame for Stafford’s dip in production. His passing yardage through his first six games last season came in at 1648, compared to 1428 in 2017, down 220 yards.

Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

Stafford’s lacking in the touchdown department too, with 12 through six games, compared to 14 last year. Nothing too significant, but still something to take note of.

The Lions run game has been non-existent this season. It ranks 29th in fewest rushing yards this season.

Despite the struggling offensive line and the non-existent run game, the Lion’s receivers have been trending up as of late.

Both Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. are coming off great games. The two receivers each put up 96 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Tate’s availability is still up in the air and is a game time decision.

Tight end Darren Fells has been a surprise, connecting with Stafford in the end zone three times this year, tied for the second most for tight ends.

The Lions are playing Pittsburgh for the first time in three seasons, the last matchup Detroit lost 27-37 in Pittsburgh.

The Lion’s defense comes into Week 8 giving up 24.8 points per game, 28th in the NFL. That doesn’t match up well against Pittsburgh, a team scoring 21 points per game, fourth best in the AFC.

Photo: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

Detroit has struggled to keep its opponents from scoring, but it’s not from a lack of trying.  The Lions are 11th in the NFL yards allowed this season with 2031. While not overly impressive, it may help keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his weapons in check.

The Lions defense has limited their opponent’s run game extremely well, allowing teams to rush for just 94.3 yards a game. The Lions currently rank sixth in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed this season. This should be key in limiting Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell, who’s compiled 684 yards this season, second most in the league.

The Lion’s lost tackle Haloti Ngata for the season thanks to a torn bicep suffered in the Lion’s loss against the Panthers in Week 5. They are now forced to turn to tackle Akeem Spence to help replace Ngata.

Other key defensive players have been hurting; safety Glover Quin and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah are banged up.

Quin, who left the Saints game early with a concussion, has been limited in practice and Ansah’s in the same boat with a knee injury. If Ansah is not fully healthy going into Sunday, it will make pressuring Roethlisberger nearly impossible.

Detroit has struggled getting to the opposing team’s quarterbacks, with 13 sacks on the year (22nd in the league), and it’ll get worse without Ngata.

Ansah and defensive end Anthony Zettel have been huge in pressuring quarterbacks all year. Each have four of Detroit’s 13 total sacks, but they can’t do it all. With Ansah healthy and Zettel well rested, it could spell trouble for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, but their offensive line is solid, giving up 10 sacks on the season.

Photo: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Despite many defensive struggles, forcing turnovers has come easy. The defense has 18 total turnovers: nine picks, nine fumbles. Cornerback Darius Slay leads the team in interceptions this season with three, with Quin second with two.

Detroit leads the NFL in pick sixes with three. Plus, the Lions’ defense has scored the second most touchdowns in the NFL, with three.

If the Lions can take advantage of Roethlisberger’s struggles this season, as he’s thrown eight interceptions, third highest this year, and is posting his worst pass completion percentage in seven seasons at 61.9.


Keys to the game:

  • The Lions are at home, and Ford Field gets LOUD in primetime matchups. Early on, Detroit isn’t playing great at home, dropping two of their last three game, but were 6-2 at home last year and history tends to repeat itself.
  • Detroit has the advantage coming off a bye. Over the past five seasons the Lions are undefeated coming off of them. The bye couldn’t have come at a better time, the team was banged up. By Sunday night they should be healthy and ready to play.

Writer’s picks:

Noah Goad

Expect the Lions to put up a good fight against a hot Steelers team. This game will be a close one. Pittsburgh’s the better team and will walk away with a win.

Lions 20, Steelers 24

Michael Downes

This is going to be a tough one for the Lions. Yes they’re playing at home, yes they’re coming out of a bye week, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Steelers are firing on all cylinders as of late. Their front seven is going to dismantle the poor, poor Lions offensive line. This is going to be another long day for Stafford.

Lions 17, Steelers 27

John Dolan

The Lions will have the national stage this Sunday night, and also their toughest test of the season thus far as the Steelers will visit Ford Field for the first time since 2009. The Lions are coming off a bye, which could play in their favor.

The biggest factor in this game will be shutting down Pittsburgh studs: Bell alongside wide receiver Antonio Brown. Much easier said than done. The Lions defense can try locking up cornerback Darius Slay on Brown and stacking the box to slow down Bell, but if that doesn’t work, the key is forcing turnovers.

If the game was in Pittsburgh I’d take the Steelers, but a rowdy Ford Field crowd and some timely turnovers by the Lions defense will give them a slight edge.

Lions 24, Steelers 21