Detroit Lions vs Pittsburgh Steelers: An In Depth Game Review

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The Lions Narrowly Lost To The Steelers 20-15.

1st Quarter

The scoring in this game was opened as the Steelers quickly moved down the field and kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The Lions answered this with a field goal drive themselves, leveling the score.

After that, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception to Lions safety Glover Quin and the teams traded punts for the remainder of the opening quarter.

2nd Quarter

The Lions offense was able to move down the field with relative ease in the second quarter but struggled to get into the end zone. They kicked three field goals throughout the quarter.

Pittsburgh had one possession end in a punt, and another with a fumble, but they were able to score a touchdown from star running back Le’Veon Bell in between those two drives.

Lions Lead 12-10 

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3rd Quarter

Pittsburgh dominated the third quarter, kicking a field goal and scoring a touchdown on a 97-yard reception by rookie receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. This offensive explosion put them firmly in front of the Lions heading into the fourth quarter.

Steelers Lead 20-12

4th Quarter

Detroit opened this quarter with a field goal on their first possession, making this a five-point game. Detroit was able to move the ball down the field multiple times after the field goal, however, they squandered all of their opportunities.

Matthew Stafford hit Golden Tate for a 34-yard gain midway through the fourth quarter, but Tate fumbled the ball and Pittsburgh recovered. Towards the end of the game, Eric Ebron made a 44-yard reception to put the Lions in the red zone. They were unable to score a go-ahead touchdown though, and turned the ball over on downs.

Steelers Win 20-15

Key Stats

Detroit outgained Pittsburgh 482 to 392 offensive yards

The Lions offense had no trouble moving the ball for most of this game, as they racked up the most yards they have had in any game this season. However, the defense also gave up several big plays and the Steelers offense had a big game too.

Detroit won the turnover battle 2 to 1

The Lions continued to win the turnover battle, as they have in all but two games this season. They intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and recovered a Le’Veon Bell fumble. Detroit’s lone turnover was costly, however, as Golden Tate fumbled the ball in Pittsburgh territory late in the game.

The Lions gained 21 first downs, Pittsburgh 17

Again, the Lions offense was good last night. They gained four more first downs than the Steelers and won in time of possession.

Detroit held Pittsburgh to 2.6 yards per rushing attempt

Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL, and Detroit did a good job of containing him as he had just 76 yards on 25 rushing attempts. Bell’s longest run of the game was for only eight yards.

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The Lions scored 0 touchdowns on 5 red zone trips

This was the biggest statistic from this game. Detroit made it inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line five times, and walked away with only nine points and no touchdowns. That is huge in a five-point game.

Pittsburgh averaged 10.2 yards per pass

As good as Detroit’s run defense was, their pass defense looked equally bad. They consistently left Pittsburgh receivers open. The only reason this wasn’t even worse was because of a few drops from the Steelers’ receivers and inaccurate passes from Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh was 7 for 14 on third down conversions, Detroit was 2 for 12

Detroit also could not convert on third downs throughout this game, while the Steelers offense did it relatively routinely.

Detroit’s defense made 0 sacks

This was the second game in a row where the Lions defense made zero sacks, and it was a big factor in this game. If the Lions could have pressured Roethlisberger at all, this may have been an entirely different game.


Big Plays From The Jones’ 

With rookie receiver Kenny Golladay out with injury and Golden Tate playing injured, receivers Marvin Jones and TJ Jones stepped up big time. Marvin made six receptions for 128 yards and TJ reeled in four passes for 88 yards. Both made big plays throughout the game, here are a few of them.

This play is from the first Lions possession of the game. Facing a 2nd and 14, Matthew Stafford was able to scramble out of the pocket and throw a pass deep downfield to Marvin Jones. Stafford’s pass was extremely accurate as he was able to hit Jones on the run for a huge gain.

On this play, Marvin Jones got wide open against the Steelers cover two zone defense. The pass from Stafford was less accurate, as Jones had to slow down and leap into the air to make the catch, but he was able to do it. If Stafford had been able to hit Jones on the run, this could have been a touchdown.

This reception from TJ Jones is both a fantastic throw from Matthew Stafford and a great catch by the third year receiver. Stafford threw a dart in between the Steelers zone coverage, and Jones did a great job of hanging onto the ball despite a big hit from the Steelers safety.

This is TJ Jones’ biggest play from the game. He was just running a simple go route on the outside, and Stafford again threw a missile between the Pittsburgh zones. This time he hit Jones on the run, and TJ was able to get about five extra yards before going out of bounds.

If both of the Jones’ can keep this level of play up, the Lions downfield passing attack will be much more dangerous in the second half of the 2017 season than it was in the first.

Stafford Played His Best Game Of The Season

Matthew Stafford played by far his best game of 2017 so far. He completed 27 of 45 passes for 423 yards. He didn’t score any touchdowns, but also did not turn the ball over. He averaged 9.4 yards per passing attempts, besting his previous single-game season high of 7.12 in week one.

If Stafford plays all of the game for the rest of the season like he did this game, then the Lions will not only be in the playoffs, but they will win the NFC North. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lions will host their first playoff game ever at Ford Field if Stafford can keep playing like he did on Sunday night.

Strong Play From The Rookies 

Three Lions rookies made a significant impact on Sunday night. Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin and punt returner/cornerback/offensive weapon Jamal Agnew all had roles for the Lions.

Davis again started at middle linebacker for the Lions defense, and he was rock solid, as he has been for most of the year. He only made two tackles, but looked good in pass coverage.

Reeves-Maybin had the best game of his rookie season by far. He made five tackles (one for a loss) and looked very good in run defense, where he had struggled earlier in the season. He too was solid in pass coverage.

Jamal Agnew is listed as a cornerback, but none of his play came there. Rather, he had a good night returning punts (two returns for 21 yards) and he made a reception on offense for 12 yards.


Blown Coverages

The Lions secondary was responsible for multiple blown coverages in this game. Pittsburgh receivers were startlingly wide open at least a few times on Sunday night, here are a few examples.

This is the first play of the game. The Steelers fake the screen pass to receiver Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster got wide open downfield as the Lions secondary keyed in on Brown. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster for a big gain, and right off the bat, the Steelers had a big offensive play.

The Lions defense again blew a coverage here, as Pittsburgh receiver Eli Rogers got wide open in the corner of the end zone. Luckily for the Lions, Rogers dropped the pass, and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown.

This is another play where Pittsburgh gets a wide open receiver in the end zone, this time it’s Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey ran the exact same route that Rogers did on the previous play, and it again worked. This time, Detroit got lucky because Roethlisberger’s pass was off target.

The Lions secondary needs to figure out why Steelers receivers were able to get so open in this game, particularly by using corner routes like Rogers and Heyward-Bey did. They usually won’t get as lucky as they did in this game.

Complete Lack Of Pass Rush

This was the second game in a row that the Lions defense recorded zero sacks. This is becoming a big problem because quarterbacks have all day to throw against the Lions, and, after long enough, receivers get open no matter how good the Lions coverage is. Here are a couple of examples.

On this play, the Lions blitz linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Quandre Diggs. The Steelers picked up the blitz with relative ease, and, as a result, Roethlisberger was able to find Antonio Brown downfield with a big gain. This is what happens when you’re unable to even get pressure when you blitz.

On this play, Ben Roethlisberger is throwing from inside of his own end zone. The Lions rush four, and are unable to get any pressure. As a result, Roethlisberger was able to stand in the pocket until a receiver came open. He found Juju Smith-Schuster for a huge gain, and this was the turning point in the game.

Not only do the Lions need to get better at generating pressure with their defensive linemen, but they also need to be more effective when they blitz. Right now, they get no pressure whether they only rush four or blitz. They need to figure out how they are going to pressure opposing quarterbacks, or the defense will continue to be burned for big plays.

Inability To Get The Ball Into The Endzone

The Lions offense made it inside of the Pittsburgh 20-yard line five times in this game. They scored touchdowns on zero of those five. Here are some plays that capture Detroit’s offensive struggles in the red zone.

This play near the end of the first half is more good defense by Pittsburgh than it is bad offense by Detroit. Matthew Stafford targeted Marvin Jones in the end zone, but Pittsburgh cornerback Joe Haden did an excellent job of defending the pass.

On this fourth and goal from the one-yard line, Matthew Stafford missed a wide open receiver running an in route at the top of the screen. His primary read is tight end Darren Fells, who is lined up in the slot. One Stafford realized Fells is covered, he tried to run the ball rather than look for other receivers. Stafford was stopped short of the end zone, and Pittsburgh gained possession of the ball.

Here, Detroit is facing third and goal from the two-yard line. Rather than trying to throw the ball, then ran it with running back Dwayne Washington to the right side. The Lions offensive line got no push on this play, and Washington was stopped right at the line of scrimmage.

This was the last offensive play of the game for Detroit. Facing fourth down and seven from the eight-yard line, Matthew Stafford was immediately under pressure. As he was being pushed to the ground by Steelers defenders, he desperately tried to force a pass, but the ball fell incomplete.

The Lions red zone struggles from this game were on Matthew Stafford for missing a read and the offensive line for ineffective run and pass blocking. The Lions have to get better at converting red zone trips into touchdowns, or else it could cost them a shot the NFC North title. I expect this area to improve with the return of left tackle Taylor Decker and 6’4″ receiver Kenny Golladay from injuries.

Player Of The Game

Matthew Stafford is the Lions player of the game from this week. He had his best game of the season and looked very good throwing the deep ball. He also scrambled for a first down and was efficient in the short passing game.

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With Aaron Rodgers injured and the Vikings and Bears each on their second quarterback of the season, Matthew Stafford is easily the best quarterback in the NFC North right now. If he keeps up this level of play, the Lions will win the division.

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