Good, bad (and yes, ugly) highlight Steelers win in Detroit
I’m not sure about anyone else, but the Steelers/Lions game on Sunday ended up about the way I expected. The storyline that got it to that final 20-15 score wasn’t anything I had anticipated, however. It was a game that showcased some of the Steelers strengths and definitely highlighted their weaknesses.
It was a strange game. So much offensive yardage piles up, 874 total yards to precise (almost all of it through the air), but all that output resulting in very few points (the Steelers managed two TDs and 2 FGs, the Lions settled for 5 FGs).
At the end of the evening, the Steelers emerged 6-2 with a share of the best record in the AFC (and first seed overall thanks to tie-breakers) as they headed into their bye week.
Let’s break down the good, the bad and the ugly from Sunday night’s contest.
7 receptions on 10 targets, 193 yards and 1 TD.
If this is what happens when someone steals JuJu’s bike, then somebody needs to steal that thing every week.
Yes, we all are wowed by JuJu’s 97-yard TD receptions (and that was, without doubt, the best ball Ben threw all night – perfect throw). Set that aside though, and JuJu (minus one really bad drop) still had a pretty good game.
There is no question this young man is improving each and every week and is becoming more a part of the offense as a result. He’s young, he’s tough and he’s fairly clutch. He is proving to be a reliable (minus that one drop – he is still a rookie after all) target for Roethlisberger, and that is going to pay dividends as the year progresses.
He is not Martavis Bryant though – and let’s not start asking him to be. He is a great addition, and he may be a better overall receiver than Bryant in the long run. However, it would behoove the Steelers to get Bryant’s head straight and find a way to utilize all 3 of their receivers (Brown, Bryant, and JuJu). They could make a scary trio if they can all get on the same page.
Red Zone Defense
Allowed 0 Red Zone TDs
Joe Kuzma and I talked about it on the post-game podcast. It was if the Steelers defense was a leaky bucket until the Lions got close to the end zone, at which point they turned into Gandalf the Grey, and as if they were speaking to the Balrog, said: “You shall not pass!”
0 for 5. That’s what the Lions were in the red zone – and I’m about to complain about our red zone issues. When their backs were against the wall, the Steelers defense stood up strong and took on the mantra of the Steel Curtain of old, making huge stops on fourth and goal, not once, but twice. Vince Williams, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu all made huge impacts, and the Lions simply had no answer.
The red zone defense is why the Steelers are 6 and 2 and not 5 and 3.
The Steelers defense as a whole gave up nearly 500 yards of offense to a Lions team that was near the bottom of the league offensively. There is no way that can be viewed as anything but bad. Yes (as noted above), the red zone defense was phenomenal, but it would have been nice to see a few more stops occur somewhere outside of the red zone.
Stafford tortured them when the field was long. 5 different receivers had passes of over 20 yards. Stafford spread the ball around to 9 different receivers to amass 423 yards passing on 27 completions (for an average of 15.6 yards per completion). Stafford was shredding the zone coverages the Steelers were playing, and this in large part was due to the lack of overall pressure the Steelers were getting.
The Steelers did manage two sacks, but for the most part, even when they did start to look like they were getting to Stafford, he was able to move out of the pocket, and either scramble for positive yards or find an open receiver. Lane discipline and containment was a problem.
They shifted from rushing 4/5 guys in the first half (because the Lions patchwork offensive line was doing a great job of blocking, and their running backs were doing a really solid job of picking up the Steelers blitzers) to rushing only 3 or 4 guys in the second half. While there were definitely times that the Steelers were still able to pressure Stafford with three (notably when Javon Hargrave drove the Lions center right into Stafford on fourth and goal to cause an errant throw), for the most part Stafford had plenty of time to rip them apart, and he did.
This is the best quarterback they’ve seen so far, this season, and it wasn’t a good look for the Steelers. If the Lions red zone problems weren’t actually worse than the Steelers (imagine that!) this game would have turned out much differently.
Le’Veon Bell – Receiver
Let me make it clear that I have no problem with Le’Veon Bell the running back. While he wasn’t used extensively in the game, he did manage 76 yards on 25 attempts (a paltry average of just over 3 yards per carry). When people whine (and yes, I hear them whining) about Bell not being the focus, look at that as part of the reason why – 3 runs at 3 yards per carry = punt. The Lions did a solid job of containing the running game – remember this was a top 10 rushing defense coming into the game.
Still, it’s not the run game that I’m concerned with here – it’s how Le’Veon Bell is being used, and how he’s performing in the passing game. Bell the Receiver is not making his case that he deserves to be paid like both a RB and a WR.
Is it in part due to how he’s being utilized? Probably. Bell isn’t being targeted downfield much, primarily being used as a dump off or safety valve. In the Lions game, Bell had 3 targets, 2 receptions and 5 yards in the passing game. Those numbers are not an anomaly this year either.
In the Bengals game, Bell was targeted 3 times, and had 3 catches for 58 yards; however, one of those was a 42-yard catch and run that was, in fact, another dump off pass. Take that away and the average isn’t nearly as good. Overall this season, Bell is averaging 5.6 targets, 4.4 receptions and 27 yards per game at this point in the season. Over 12 games in 2016 those averages where 7.9 targets, 6.3 receptions, and 51.3 yards. That’s a huge drop in yards per game, and while some of those targets, catches, and yards might be going to others, I also notice that Bell is getting extremely minimal YAC (yards after catch) yardage this season. Other than that, long 42-yard catch and run against Cincinnati, the longest catch and run Bell has had this year is 18 yards against Baltimore.
Teams are aware of Bell’s potential, and they are not letting him slip underneath and break big gains on them. This is why I’ve maintained that he’s not the number 2 receiver, and it’s why I have him in the bad area this week – Bell the receiver is not getting it done.
Of course, the minute I tweeted that Ben’s accuracy is just not what it was, he throws the perfect pass to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster in stride for a 97-yard touchdown.
Even though it felt like a refutation of my point, it wasn’t. Ben simply isn’t as accurate as he’s been in the past. He is missing wide open receivers (Jesse James just prior to JuJu’s TD, and Darrius Heyward-Bey for a TD earlier in the game) and it wasn’t just the Lions game. It’s been problematic throughout the season so far.
Is it age? Is it, as I have been hoping, just a matter of them getting back in tune with each other? I don’t know, but Ben’s throws have seemed to either be high or behind receivers consistently, even when they result in completions. Instead of the majority of his throws were accurate as they were in previous seasons, the majority seem just off.
Hopefully, this can be correct, because it needs to be.
Oh Yeah – The Refs Stink
I feel like I will just leave this comment here in perpetuity.
The. Refs. Stink.
Red Zone Offense?
I felt a little better about the Steelers short yardage offense when they were able to close the game out with a shovel pass to JuJu to ice the game. Even though they were 1 for 3 (and should have been 2 for 3 if Eli Rogers had been able to hold on to a pass that he absolutely should have caught for a TD) they are still struggling to cap off drives with TDs rather than FGs.
They are finding ways to get around the problem, but I can’t help but wonder if (for once) Chris Collingsworth said something accurate – and it’s starting to get in their heads. I can’t understand how they move methodically down the field the way they do, but the minute they hit the 20-yard line, something changes.
Is it the predictability of the play calls? Poor execution? Overthinking it, or worrying about it? I really don’t know, but there is no question that my own level of confidence in their ability to get in the end zone dwindles considerably once they cross the 20.
Hopefully, the bye week will provide some insight as they try and diagnose the problem.
It wasn’t a pretty win, that’s for sure. It wasn’t even a pretty game. It was strange and ugly and frustrating and at the end of it, the Steelers emerged victorious. There is something to be said for not caring how you win – just win.
The Steelers enter the bye week with a conference-best record. They have a 2-game lead in the division as well and are well placed to make a run towards a seventh Super Bowl over the second half of the season. They own a 3-game winning streak and are 4-1 on the road, and 2-1 at home.
They’ve had bad losses and dominating wins. They’ve squeaked by and fought hard to win. It should be a first half that this team can grow from and improve on.
See you all on the other side!