Things have gotten very interesting for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the past week. After a dominating win over the Buffalo Bills 23-10, the Steelers find themselves in a spot where another win could plant them firmly in a second place tie in the AFC North.
This Sunday the Steelers will host the Detroit Lions, who are coming in on a two-game winning streak, primarily on the backs of quarterback Matt Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. These two form one of the most intimidating tandems in all of the NFL. The Steelers have had to go against some talented pass-catchers this year, but none are on the same level as Johnson, who is averaging just over 100 yards receiving per game and already has nine touchdowns.
The Lions are leading the AFC North and eyeing the playoffs, while the Steelers are scrambling in a muddied up AFC in hopes that a lot of things go their way. Here are some of the things you need to know heading into Week 11.
The AFC North has gotten much more interesting in just two weeks. The Bengals have dropped two in a row after looking unbeatable, leaving all four teams in the division firmly in the mix.
Obviously, with the situation in the AFC West with Kansas City (9-0) and Denver (8-1), the best shot for the Steelers to make the playoffs is to win the North outright rather than battle with a mob of teams fighting for that last Wild Card spot.
The injury bug bit once again as three more Steelers went down with injuries. Their status for the Lions game is unclear.
"On the injury front, we had a few. Shamarko Thomas had an ankle. LaMarr Woodley hurt his calf, and Ramon Foster hurt his ankle as well. All three guys are being evaluated. I don't know about their availability here moving forward. I'll have more detailed information on Tuesday."
If any or all of these players can't play, it'll be next man up for the Steelers.
Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones will probably see more reps in place of Woodley. Cornerback Cortez Allen will end up on the field more in nickel-and-dime packages, and if Foster can't go, it could be tackle Guy Whimper in his spot.
What Needs to Improve
It would be easy to sit back after a win and say that everything is glorious and it's just a matter of maintaining the momentum from last Sunday's win; however, the challenges that the Lions will present to the Steelers is very different. Looking back two weeks ago, the Steelers struggled mightily to find a way to cover New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Covering Johnson will prove to be an even more daunting task for the Steelers secondary.
Many of the mistakes against the Patriots were simply missed assignments, so if there is something that must improve this week, it's shoring up those mental lapses and having the entire secondary on the same page.
Another area that needs improvement this week is containing edge pressure. The Steelers tackles are going to be on their own, due to the strength of the middle of the Lions' defensive line. Running backs and tight ends going out into the route will need to chip the Lions defensive ends, but the focus of any double-teams must be up the middle, where Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger is most susceptible to pressure and the Lions excel.