This Time, the Defense Holds Their Ground

Even if the Steelers got the runaway victory the team and their fans desired, the qualifier would be that it was against the woeful Lions. The Steelers didn't end up getting that lopsided victory, but they did manage, by dint of three consecutive sacks on a final defensive stand, to get a win, albeit one that isn't giving off the sense that all their problems are yet fixed.

Now the Lions were the worst team in the league last year, and while they're still a subpar team, they're nowhere near as putrid as they were in 2008. They've already won a game, they've had second half leads against Minnesota and Chicago. That said, this improved Lions team was without their starting quarterback for the entire game and their best receiver for most of it.

There were some similar frustrations that Weeks 2-4 offered in this game. Mike Wallace pulled a Limas Sweed and dropped what would have been an easy touchdown grab. Unlike, Limas, however, he rebounded to haul in another bomb for a score. There was a big turnover by the offense that made the defense, which only gave up 13 points - in a tougher position.

The playcalling by Bruce Arians, who despite his checkered past with the Steelers has actually been largely competent this year, got far too pass happy late in the game when the team wanted to salt away its two-score lead. While the passing game has been lethal the previous two weeks, the running game has been right in step with it. How is coming off a 165-yard two-TD game, Rashard Mendenhall given only 15 carries, still at a rate of over five yards, when the team has the lead the entire game? Because the pass blocking started to break down late in the fourth quarter, this gave the Lions a number of quick stops to put their offense in a position to take a shot at a tie.

It's difficult to complain about Big Ben's play when his line reflected a 23/30 performance with three touchdowns and one pick. However, that line betrayed some sloppiness in his play. That one pick was an ugly and very costly one. I incorrectly pinned the pick-six against the Bengals on Ben when it was actually on Santonio running the wrong route, but the one today was entirely on Ben not throwing on an out route soon enough. He also had what would have been a second interception nullified by a low late hit by a Lions defender. The expectation for victory shouldn't be Roethlisberger playing perfectly, but the guy noticeably didn't have his sharpest outing today.

Not that weren't positive signs to take away. The pass rush put up numbers comparable to a outing from last year's squad: seven sacks overall, three by James Harrison (including a forced fumble) to go with one and a half by LaMarr Woodley, who needed badly to get on the board this season. Ryan Clark came away with an interception on a misguided duck by Daunte Culpepper under heat. Despite having the Lions move the ball reasonably well on their two opening drives, the Lions did little offensively after that. Also: the repeatedly mocking of Larry Foote's digging-his-toe-into-the-dirt celebration was a appreciated touch.

Next week the Steelers get another game they should win, this time at home. With Polamalu possibly returning for spot duty before hopefully fully getting into the action in Week 7 against the Vikings, the team is close to wear it needs to be, though as we've seen, it's one or two mistakes that can separate a convincing rout from a competitive battle.


Spatula said...

Not to go all professorial on you, but your fifth paragraph seems to be missing the last sentence. Other than that, I think your analysis of the Steelers play in this game is fairly accurate.

/I'm sure you live for my approval.

Christmas Ape said...

Stupid Blogger cut off that line.

Christmas Ape said...

Fixed now.

Third downs were an obvious concern also. I don't know how LeBeau was so thoroughly fooled by the screen passes. Seems like something a Lions team missing Stafford and Megatron would do frequently.