Well Steelers Nation, this is it. If Pittsburgh loses to the Detroit Lions next Sunday, that will be all she wrote for the Steelers’ 2013 season.
If they can pull off a victory at Heinz Field, there is still some life in this season. If not, while they will still be mathematically alive, the chances of a playoff berth will shrink considerably.
Can the Steelers beat the Lions?
Standing in the way of a Steelers playoff push are the 6-3 Detroit Lions, who are on a two-game win streak and must be feeling pretty good about themselves. Can the Steelers slow down Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and, most importantly, Calvin Johnson?
Well, it will not be easy. Stafford is playing like an elite quarterback, throwing for 2,836 yards and 19 touchdowns over 10 games. He is completing 61.4 percent of his passes and only has seven interceptions on the season.
Clearly Stafford is cutting down on mistakes and stepping up as a leader, but guys like Bush and Megatron are playing out of their minds. Bush has provided the spark at running back the Lions desperately needed, tallying 623 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry so far this season.
The biggest threat on the Lions is Megatron, a player so dominant he is nicknamed after a transformer. He already has nine touchdowns and 904 yards receiving this season, which includes that performance against the Dallas Cowboys where he went off for 14 receptions and 329 yards.
I have not even mentioned Stafford’s other offensive weapons like tight end Joseph Fauria or defensive beasts like Ndamukong Suh. How can the Steelers deal with a unit with so much talent from top to bottom?
Ben Roethlisberger and the offense will do their thing, putting up somewhere between 19 and 24 points, as usual. If the Steelers expect to win this game, it will be because the Steel Curtain shut down that prolific Lions offense.
The Steelers have so far given up 1,812 yards to opposing receivers and 1,145 yards on the ground. Not the best year for this proud but aging defense, but there is no reason they cannot at least slow down Detroit’s offense.
In each of Pittsburgh’s three wins this season—against the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills—the Steelers have held their opponents to under 100 yards rushing. So, they should know what they have to do in stopping Bush, Joique Bell and the rest of Detroit’s rushing corps.
Limiting Megatron, on the other hand, will not be nearly as simple. He does things like this to defenses that are considered good at defending the pass:
The Steelers have had some gaping holes in their secondary this season. Just two weeks ago they gave up 143 yards to Rob Gronkowski, 130 yards to Aaron Dobson (I repeat, Aaron Dobson) and 122 yards to Danny Amendola. Imagine what Megatron can do to a defense with that many problems.
The best thing the Steelers can do to slow down Megatron is to put Ike Taylor on him and tell him to not let Megatron catch the football under any circumstances. Troy Polamalu should help out on third downs to force the Lions to get that yardage without their star receiver.
If Megatron is ever allowed to catch the ball with space, then it is already too late. He can carve up a defense faster than Giovani Bernard and Darren Sproles combined.
So, to reiterate, the keys to success here are: score just enough, limit Reggie Bush and contain Megatron as much as possible. That is totally doable, right?
If the Steelers can pull that win off, the difficult goal of finishing the season with a 10-6 record and making an unlikely playoff push will seem that much more possible. Admittedly, Detroit is the only remaining opponent left on Pittsburgh’s schedule that they probably will not defeat.
The rest of their schedule includes two matchups with the surprisingly tough Cleveland Browns, a rematch with the up-and-down Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, a trip to a possibly Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay and a showdown with the scandalous Miami Dolphins.
Assuming Rodgers is out, all of those games are incredibly winnable. Pittsburgh already beat Baltimore and can do it again on Thanksgiving. The Bengals are banged up and the Browns are starting Jason Campbell, who will eventually have his hot streak end and subsequently revert back to Jason Campbell.
The Dolphins are in a state of flux thanks to the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy that will surround them for the rest of the season. And even if Rodgers does play for the Packers, Green Bay’s defense is weak, and it is down to a mostly backup-receiving platoon.
Reality check: The chances of Pittsburgh going 7-0 for the rest of the season are more or less nonexistent and the idea of the 2013 Steelers in the playoffs is laughable. But in a year when Riverboat Ron is a thing, anything can happen. Keep the faith Steelers Nation!